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.

Want Your Marriage to Succeed? Harvard Study Shows What Can Help

Wedding cake visual metaphor with figurine cake toppers

A recent study by Tyler VanderWeele, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, on the topic of the relationship between religion and health, shows that there is a direct link between church attendance and lower rates of divorce.

The study shows that married couples who regularly attend religious services together are 47% more likely to not get divorced, than couples who don’t go to church.

You can read Tyler’s thesis here.

Want your marriage to succeed? Attend church regularly.

A few months ago I wrote about some of the “bad church statistics” that go around, one of them being that the divorce rate amongst evangelical Christians is just as high as amongst people who are not Christians (roughly 50%). The conclusion that is often drawn based on this incorrect statistic is that being a Christian really makes no practical difference in the way people live. This statistic is, however, incorrect. As this new study out of Harvard shows, the more a couple attends church the less likely they are to see their marriage end in divorce.

Not only is it good for your marriage, but it’s also good for your kids. The more a couple attends church, the more likely their kids are to have faith of their own when they grow up. (Those statistics and more on this topic here)

VanderWeele’s study also linked church attendance to lower rates of depression and suicide.

In an interview with the Christian Post, VanderWeele said,

“Religion is, of course, not principally about promoting physical health or decreasing the likelihood of divorce, but about communion with God. However, it turns out that the pursuit of this goal also has profound implications for numerous other aspects of life, including health and marriage.”

“religion is about both communion with God and the restoration of all people to their intended state of complete wholeness and well-being. The evidence suggests that it can indeed accomplish both,”

“The religious community provides social support, a constant reinforcement and reminder of the religious teachings, family programs, and a communal worship and experience of God.”

On a personal note, I believe in the Church. I believe in it not only for practical reasons, but for theological reasons. Even if I were not a pastor, I would be committed to church; in fact, it was my belief in and commitment to and service in local churches which led me to become a pastor – a path which I had never sought after or imagined for myself.

I believe in the church because I see in the Bible that it is something which was ordained by Jesus, built by Jesus, and commissioned by Jesus, not only to spread the gospel, but also to start more churches!

It isn’t because church “works” that church is true, it is because church is true that it works.

Charitable Giving Habits of Americans

Living abroad for many years, one of the things which I came to realize and be impressed with, is how much American citizens give to charitable causes.

I was living in Hungary when the monster earthquake hit Haiti, and Hungarians were blown away to hear that average people in the United States were giving generously to help provide aid and relief for people they had never met in some faraway country. They were used to governments giving aid to regions with humanitarian crises, but for regular people to do such a thing was surprising to them.

It could be because people in the United States have more expendable income than people in most parts of the world, and that our currency is strong and goes further than other currencies. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that there is a culture here in the United States of using what we have to do good for other people.

Perhaps it comes from our history: having been a nation of immigrants, whose ancestors moved here to seek a better life or to escape poverty, and so it is built into our collective psyche, to use what we have to help others, knowing that we have experienced divine providential fortune to live in this country.

It also can’t be ignored, that a great number of Americans identify as ‘religious’. Part of the Judeo-Christian ethic is that, like Abraham, if we have been blessed, it is so we might be a blessing to others – that God wants to bless other people through us (Genesis 12:2).

The Sacramento Bee published an article last month, showing the Adjusted Gross Income of every county in the US compared to how much was given in that county to charitable causes, non-profits and churches.

Interestingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, it was the poorer counties which gave more per capita than the richer ones. One of the major factors in how much people in a given county gave to charity seems to be religious affiliation; places with more people who attend religious services saw higher rates of charitable giving.

The idea that people who have less tend to give more may not be surprising to everyone. Jesus drew the attention of his disciples to a woman in the temple who gave her last 2 mites – all that she had, whereas other people who had more gave less of what they had. Preachers have long cited statistics which show the same thing: ironically, the more one accrues, the more miserly they tend to become with it.

How about Boulder County, Colorado, where yours truly is located? 2.6% of income was given to charity. That’s pretty low, and pretty ironic, because people in Boulder County, in my experience, talk a lot about being “locally minded and globally conscious” and caring about the well-being of other people, even if most of them are not Christian or attend religious services of any kind.

Neighboring Weld County was not much better at 2.7%, Larimer County came in at 3.2% (there are quite a few more church-going folks up there).

Here is the map with each county’s income versus charitable giving:

http://public.tableau.com/javascripts/api/viz_v1.js

Dashboard 1

 
Do you give charitably? The Bible recommends 10% of one’s income. The only places that came close to that number were the heavily Mormon populated counties of Utah.

Where do you direct your giving towards?

 

Church: Love It or Leave It?

I recently read a statistic that 80% of people in the United States believe you can be a good Christian and have no connection with a church community.

That means: follow Christ, know Christ, relate to Christ.

80% of Americans polled said that it is possible to do these things without being related to any church.

Jesus would disagree.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 17, as Jesus is praying to the Father the night before he is crucified – he looks at his disciples, and he looks forward to the church, which he is going to create by what he’s about to do, and he says:

Father, for their sake I consecrate myself, so that they may be sanctified. (John 17:19)

That word “consecrate” means: “I set myself apart for them!  I am dedicated to them! I live for them!”

Jesus lives for the church. He died for the church. He is wholly committed to the church.

That means that there is never a time when Jesus says to himself, “The church… that little organization I left behind down there… I haven’t thought about them in a while; I wonder how they’re doing… ”  

No! Rather, he lives for the church, he died for the church, and he is wholly committed to the church.

 

The church is God’s masterpiece, which he gave his life to create – and which he promised to protect forever, never allowing it to be overcome by evil.

In Ephesians chapter 1, it says that Jesus rules all things for the church.

The church is God’s expression of Himself in the world.

The church is God’s chosen and designed vehicle for the carrying out of his mission in the world.

In the Book of Acts, we see God bringing the church into existence, then adding to the church, then multiplying the church – and then sending out missionaries to start more churches.

In the Book of Revelation, where do we see Jesus? He is walking amongst the lampstands, which represent the churches.

God loves the church! It is his masterpiece. Jesus lived and died to create it, and he actively sustains it. He is fully committed to it – and you should be too.

And not just in the sense of the invisible worldwide communion of all who follow Christ – but the local church in particular. It’s easy to say, “Oh, of course I love “the church” in the sense of all the followers of Jesus out there – you know, as long as I don’t have to actually see them or interact with them or have any responsibility towards them…”

The idea that Christianity is a purely private, personal matter and that the church is optional and unnecessary – or even as the leader of a parachurch organization put it to me once: a “necessary evil” – is the product of our individualistic culture rather than the heart of God.

It has been said that the church is like a work of art, a masterpiece which mediocre and even bad artists have been painting over for centuries.

This happens sometimes: a great artist created a masterpiece, but over the years other artists – mediocre or even bad artists – tried to touch it up, and they painted over the top of it, and the challenge is to get underneath, back to the original masterpiece. That requires slow, hard work of scraping away and removing layers.

There is much about the church which turns people off, but there is no way you can say, like 80% of Americans that you can be a good Christian and write off the church and have no commitment to it.

The answer is not to write it off or dismiss it, but to return to the original masterpiece.

If Jesus loves the church, if Jesus is committed to it and lives for it and gave his life for it – then to love Jesus and follow Jesus means to love his church and be committed to it as well.

 

About Those Muslims…

I ran across this factoid in my reading today:

In my experience working with muslim refugees from places like Iran, Afghanistan and Kosovo, I found that many people born and raised in muslim families in majority muslim countries are open to hearing and considering the Gospel – sometimes more open than people in “Christian” Europe and North America.

Many people born and raised in Islam know very little about what the Koran teaches, and for them being muslim is more about cultural identity than theological conviction.

Consider this: the majority of muslims in the world do not speak Arabic, yet the Koran is to be read only in its “pure” form: in Arabic. What this means is that the majority of muslims have not read the Koran for themselves. The largest muslim majority country in the world by population is not even in the Middle East: it is Indonesia, and in Indonesia Christianity is legal, there is a sizable Christian population and there is opportunity for muslim people to hear the Gospel.

Did you know that Christianity is the most culturally and racially diverse religion in the world – by far?!  Every other major faith has 80% or more of its adherents on 1 or 2 continents, but roughly 20% of Christians are in Africa, 20% are in South America, a little less than 20% are in Asia, a little more than 20% are in Europe and North America each.  No other religion even comes close to the ethnic and cultural diversity of Christianity.

One of the differences between Christianity and Islam is that whereas Christianity affirms other cultures and languages, Islam does not. Wherever Islam has spread it imposes a foreign (Arabic) language and culture, including dress, art, music and other forms of expression upon its adherents. Christianity does not; rather Christianity liberates the African to be fully African and the European to be fully European in regard to language, dress, art, music and other forms of cultural expression. Considering the fact that the majority of muslims live outside of the Arabian Peninsula, this is a particularly compelling aspect of Christianity compared to Islam, which has imposed Arabic culture upon people at the cost of suppressing their African, Persian, Indian, etc. forms of cultural expression. For the Arab, while Islam does represent a distinctly Arab cultural expression, the fact remains that for 600 years a strong and healthy, culturally-Arab Christian community thrived in the Middle East, the remnants of which still remain – although they are currently endangered – in Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.

Christians, we have been given a mission which is greater than protecting and preserving our comforts. We have been given a mission to “preach the Gospel to all creatures” and to “make disciples of all nations”.  This includes the 1.6 billion people on around the world who self-identity as muslim. We live in unprecedented times, in which more people raised muslim have come to faith in Jesus Christ in the last 20 years than in the previous 1400 combined. May God do an even greater work in the years to come, and may we share His heart for all people.

Bad Church Statistics

I ran across this article this week about Bad Church Statistics and the lies that are commonly believed as a result. I’ve copied the 7 myths part below, which is the core of the article.

I don’t know about you, but I have heard almost all of these before. I guess the sky isn’t falling quite as bad as we’ve been told it is. But, as Winston Churchill said: “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”

Myth #1. The divorce rate among Christians is as high as that of nonbelievers.

Reality: Christians have significantly lower divorce rates than the religiously unaffiliated. Further, the more regularly a Christian attends church, the less likely that person is to divorce.

Myth #2. Christian young people are leaving the Christian faith in record numbers.

Reality: It’s true that younger people are less affiliated with church than older people, but that’s the case in every generation since scholars began tracking it. We always need to help the next generation connect with church, but the overall percentage of Americans who affiliate with evangelical churches has remained rather stable for the last 30 years.

Myth #3. The majority of American evangelicals are poor and uneducated.

Reality: This quote from the Washington Post has some truth to it. The problematic term is “the majority of” which should be replaced with “many.” On average, evangelical Christians are less well educated than mainline Protestants, Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated. But evangelicals cover a wide spectrum from poorly educated to highly educated. Themajority, however, are not poor and uneducated.

Myth #4. The prayer life of American evangelicals is diminishing.

Reality: It turns out that evangelical prayer is on the increase. For example, 75% of evangelicals today pray on a daily basis, compared to 64% of those in the 1980s.

Myth #5. Evangelicals are less active in sharing their faith with others.

Reality: About half of all evangelicals report sharing their faith with non-believers, and rates of evangelism have held rather steady over the past several decades. This evangelism rate is more than double the rate of mainline Protestants and Catholics, and is higher than most other religions. We all have family and friends who seek a closer relationship with God, plus we know of entire people groups that have little exposure to the Gospel, so let’s keep ramping up our efforts.

Myth #6. Evangelicals preach one thing about sex outside marriage, but practice another.

Reality: Actually, evangelicals have relatively low rates of adultery, premarital sex and pornography usage, and these decrease with more frequent church attendance.

Myth #7. The more educated you become, the more likely you are to give up your faith.

Reality: Belief and practice grow stronger with increased education, evangelicals included.