Beginning a New Year – 2018

Refuse to Waste the Opportunity

I was about 17 years old.  It was New Year’s Eve and I was working.  I was working at an all night fast food hamburger place in Dallas until 3:00 AM.  I resented working that evening.  After all, it seemed that everyone else was with friends or had some place to go.  Here I was on New Year’s Eve working!  I was not happy.

We were very, very busy that evening and into the night.  Just before midnight, two guys (who appeared to be in their late twenties) walked up to the outside window to place their order.  They began to argue over who was first in line.  They both had obviously been drinking and in fact were quite drunk.  They began to fight, hitting one another in the face.  Finally, the police separated them and each, with a bloody face, went away.

Later I thought about that moment.  Here we were, minutes from a New Year and these grown men usher in the year fighting over a place in line at a fast food restaurant.  Wow.

Surely, there are better ways to begin the New Year.  Yet, if we are not careful, we can let a great opportunity slip by.

We can make the same old mistakes, carry out the same destructive habits, and use the same poor judgement in our relationships.

Or, we can begin the New Year thanking God for his grace.

  • We can thank God for his forgiveness for our sins of 2017.
  • We can pray for clarity and self-control regarding our hearts, our actions, and our intentions as we begin 2018.
  • We can ask God to give us the power and strength to overcome bad, destructive habits.
  • We can pray that God will help us to use better judgement in terms of our relationships and friendships in the coming year.  Yes, we can make better choices.

2017 is almost over.  I can do nothing about the actions of others during this year or even my own actions.  The year is over.

As you and I enter the New Year, however, we can get serious about our “next action.”  Start small.  Whatever you face, no matter how seemly small and insignificant, by the grace of God, make the next action one that gives God pleasure.

You and I can start now.

Start 2017 With a Commitment to Get Unstuck

We are just days away from 2017.  This new year might be one of my best years ever!  How about you?  I do remember a few years ago when in December, I felt stuck.  I needed to make progress in my life but felt immovable. I felt like my intentions were good but I really had nothing in place that developed beyond my thoughts. Consequently, I had no reason to believe the new year ahead would be any different than the current year.

Some people move ahead. They get better. Meanwhile others remain the same or even digress. Many people end the year with regrets, excuses, disappointments, and “buts.”  They are stuck.

“I should be more attentive to God in prayer and Scripture reading, but . . . .”

“I need to deal with a particular sin that keeps reappearing in my life, but . . . .”

“I need to spend more time with my wife.  I know I haven’t invested much energy into our marriage, but . . . .”

“I have a habit of making commitments and starting projects that need to be completed, but . . . .”

“I know I need to make progress in my walk with God this year, but . . . .”

“I can be pretty harsh and overbearing at home. I know this is wrong, but . . . .”

“My job takes so much energy and time. I feel exhausted much of the time. I need to nourish my inner world, but . . . .”

“I’m losing the emotional connection with my children. I know the answer is not to buy them more things to compensate for this, but . . . .”

“I know I should make this right with my friend, but . . . .”

Think about these statements. Each one describes the reality of a person’s life. However, the description of this reality is then derailed by the word “but.” When you and I stop short of our intentions, we are sabotaging our own lives. Instead of thanking God for the insight and awareness into the reality of our lives, we discount the first statement with “but.”

Eight Ways to End the Year Well

(New Year's Eve)

NewYearAhead300*Take a fierce inventory of your habits.  What are some defeating or even ungodly habits that need to change?  What are a few positive, life giving habits that could be put in place?

*Get brutally honest with yourself about your role as a husband or wife, father or mother.  Are you taking the initiative to do the right thing as a husband or wife?  Or, are you passively waiting for your spouse?   Are you sarcastic, angry, passive aggressive, or manipulative with your spouse? Would your spouse say that you are overly critical or negative?  Do you tend to be selfish and stubborn?  Are you a moody person and emotionally unpredictable?

Men, by the grace of God, consider stepping up and being a heroic husband or father.  The heroes are not those guys you see with numbers on the back of their jerseys on Sunday afternoons.

The heroes are husbands and fathers who dare to do what they’ve been called to do by God!    

*Take care of unfinished business from 2015.  Have you made certain promises that you’ve not kept?  Do you tend to say you are going to do something but often do not follow through?  Have you intended to apologize to someone but for some reason have not?  Does your spouse feel like you haven’t followed through on some commitments you made to him or her? Do your children remember unfulfilled promises?

*Check your spiritual GPS.  Are you headed in the right direction in your life?  Do you take responsibility for your life?  Or do you tend to blame your spouse, your parents, your boss, etc. for the condition of your life?

*Refuse to live one more day engaging in passive aggressive behavior!  This kind of behavior is neither mature or Christ-like.  Some examples:

  • One husband made a joke about the messiness of their home deliberately embarrassing his wife in front of their friends.
  • A wife made a big deal, in front of her adult siblings, about something her husband needed to repair but had not.  Of course, he was very embarrassed.
  • A family was talking about which restaurant to go to for dinner.  Mom and two daughters wanted to go to a particular place.  The father did not want to go there.  They went anyway. After dinner they returned home.  He sat in his recliner for much of the evening, refusing to speak to his family and pouting about the evening.

*Get honest about the sin in your life.  Consider where the evil one might have a “foot in the door.”  Look for behaviors that you might be justifying in reaction to what someone else has done.  For example, I once knew someone who justified taking supplies from work because “they don’t pay us what they should.”  Consider your thoughts during the past few weeks.  Bring before God any ungodly fantasy that you might be harboring.

*Believe that God is able and willing to move mightily in your life during 2016.  What was 2015 like for you?  Perhaps it was one of your best years ever!  Or, 2015 may have been a year of failure, frustration, and defeat.  Regardless, God is able and willing to move through you in 2016.  Refuse to get stuck in 2016.  The last chapter in your life has not yet been written!



Don’t Let Shame & Regret Ruin Your Hope

(End the Year With Hope instead of Defeat)


For a long time, I thought that one day, I would be exposed, humiliated, and shamed before everyone.

I imagined that on Judgement day, God would turn on a projector and would show my mother, dad, grandparents,  and the people in our church a picture of all my sins.  Every sordid, humiliating detail would be right there for all to see, exposing me as a complete fraud.  This is what I thought for many years as a child.

I had not understood God.  I had not understood his forgiveness.

Yet, the evil one wants to constantly remind us of our guilt and shame.  At the close of a year, it is easy to become focused on the failure of the previous year (or even the previous decade).  If we are not careful, we can become more focused on defeat than on Jesus who died for our sin.

Priscilla Shirer in her fine book, Fervent, writes

If I were your enemy, I’d constantly remind you of your past mistakes and poor choices.  I’d want to keep you burdened by shame and guilt, in hopes you’ll feel incapacitated by your many failings and see no point in even trying again.  I’d work to convince you that you’ve had your chance and blown it–that your God may be able to forgive some people for some things, but not you . . . not for this (p. 93).

The evil one is the father of lies.  At first he attempts to seduce us to do what we know is wrong. However, once we yield, he turns on us like a rabid dog and attacks us with accusation and shame.

How to Begin a New Year (2)

new-year-countdown-2015In the last few weeks, I have been thinking about the New Year.  This is a great time for review, reflection, and being intentional about one’s actions.  One dimension that I want to consider as I begin the new year is my relationships with various people.  When Jesus spoke about the two greatest commandments, he said that what was front and center was loving God and loving people.

As I reflect upon the previous year, I want to consider my relationships with various people:

  • my spouse
  • my children
  • my mom and dad
  • my friends
  • my neighbors
  • my co-workers
  • my employer
  • my fellow church members
  • my extended family

It is very easy to get accustomed to behaving in certain ways toward another even though such behavior may be manipulative, self-serving, and destructive.  At the very least, such behavior can violate the spirit of what it means to love.  It can violate the teachings of Jesus.   Yet, we may become numb and callous to what we are doing.

A number of years ago, I watched an exchange between two people that made me feel very uncomfortable.  There was no argument.  No heated words.  None of that.  In fact, during this exchange both men were smiling and the conversation was pleasant.  What was disheartening was to see one of these men act one way in the other’s presence and then see how he spoke about the other man in his absence.  He made derogatory and insulting remarks about the other man.  He questioned the other man’s intelligence and belittled him in a variety of ways.  This was always done in the other’s absence, never in his presence.

I thought about my own words and behavior.  Do I live, speak, and behave with integrity toward others?

This is my point.  I don’t want to live from one year to the next without thinking about my relationships.  I don’t want to be on autopilot and never give serious thought to the way I behave toward others.  This is not just a matter of eliminating negative behavior.  Rather, I want to think about practical ways to express love toward some significant people in my life.

What do you think?  What would you add to this as you think about your own life?   


How I Begin a New Year (1)

2015I have always enjoyed beginning the New Year.

This is a time in which I consider my life, my direction, and my future.  The New Year is a time for reflecting on my walk with God, the condition of my heart, and my habits.

Without such a practice, it is far too easy to minimize bad habits and ignore the obvious faults in one’s own life.

You may be a mother or father.  You may be married or single.  You may be a schoolteacher, a medical technician, or a homemaker.  Regardless, there is something very useful about reflecting on the previous year.  Without reflection, one can easily continue patterns and habits that are ineffective at best and may even be destructive.

I find it useful to examine the center of my life.  My intent is for the center of my life to be Jesus Christ, Son of God.  I want to begin with the center and then examine some of various components of my life.  I ask questions that invite reflection on some of my primary relationships.  For example:

  • Are there significant people with whom I am experiencing conflict?
  • What is the condition of my relationship with my spouse?  Is my spouse being built up and encouraged in our marriage?
  • How will my children speak of my relationship with them when they are adults?  How will they remember life with me as their dad or mom?  Was I nurturing and encouraging?  Or, will my children remember me as difficult?

At some point during this process, I want to think about 2015.  What kind of person do I want to become this year?  What does God desire for me to become?

If I wish to grow in a certain area or if I wish to address a neglected area of my life, what will need to happen?

Perhaps this series will be useful to you.  Maybe in some way, it will spur you to act as you begin the New Year.

10 Ways to End 2014

year-end-review-300x225The following are a few suggestions that you might find helpful.  Ending and starting a new year is something that I typically give a lot of thought to.

1.  I need to let some things go.  No one ever became more Christ-like through resentment.

2.  I need to be honest about my sin.  I need to be honest both with God and with others about my sin.  My failure to deal with my sin is a failure to deal with the reality of my life.

3.  I need to think about what others see in me and compare that with what others might not see but nevertheless exists in my heart.

4.  I need to deal with the habits I have accumulated over the past year.  Have I taken on habits that are not good or wholesome?  If I continue to practice these habits, what kind of person will I be one year from now.

5.  I need to take into account how I have changed or haven’t changed over the past year.  Are my friends concerned about my marriage or relationship with my children?  Has a friend approached me with concern about my behavior or my attitude?

6.  I need to acknowledge my plans.  What is in my heart regarding the future?  Do I fantasize about a future with someone else besides my spouse?  Am I planning something ungodly?

7.  I need to evaluate my health.  What about my sleep habits, my eating, and my exercise?  Do my habits and behaviors in these areas reflect the heart of one who wishes to honor God with his/her body?

8.  I need to pray about my year that it might be clear to me what areas of my life might be out of God’s will or in someway might displease him.

9.  I need to reflect on my relationships.  Is there a family member with whom I need to reconcile with?  Could a word from me restore my relationship with that person?  Could it be that an apology is long overdue?

10.  I need to ponder on the areas of my life that have not been surrendered to Jesus.  Are there clearly areas of my life where I have refused to allow Jesus to rule as Lord?

New Year: 4 Ways to Move Ahead Instead of Remaining Stuck

Some people move ahead. They get better. Meanwhile others remain the same or even digress. Many people end the year with regrets, excuses, disappointments, and “buts.”But.jpeg

“I should be more attentive to God in prayer and Scripture reading but . . . .”

“I need to deal with a particular sin that keeps reappearing in my life but . . . .”

“I need to spend more time with my wife. I know I haven’t invested much energy into our marriage but . . . .”

“I have a habit of making commitments, starting projects and not following through but . . . .”

“I can be pretty harsh and overbearing at home. I know this is wrong but . . . .”

“My job takes so much energy and time. I feel exhausted much of the time. I need to nourish my inner world but . . . .”

“I’m losing the emotional connection with my children. I know the answer is not to buy them more things to compensate for this but . . . .”

“I know the kind of friendship I have with this man really isn’t right but . . . .”

Think about these statements. Each one describes the reality of a person’s life. However, the description of this reality is then derailed by the word “but.” When you and I do this, we are sabotaging our own lives. Instead of thanking God for the insight and awareness into the reality of our lives, we discount the first statement with “but.”

Maybe some of us do not grow, develop, or mature because we rarely address the reality of our lives. Maybe we have allowed “but” to excuse our behavior. The following are 4 ways to move ahead into this New Year instead of remaining stuck.

1. Seek the truth regarding your life without punctuating this reality with an excuse. Look in the mirror and simply describe what you see as you reflect on your life. At this moment, the last month of the year, what does a truthful snapshot of your life look like?

2. Thank God for his love for you in spite of the areas of your life that really need attention. Keep his love and power before you. This will enable you to acknowledge the reality of your blemished life instead of sweeping it away.

3. Pray to God for wisdom to know how to address these areas in your life. Know that you probably did not get this way overnight and, by the grace of God, it will take time to press through some of these issues.

4. Look for a step to take immediately. The time to address the condition of your life is now. Know that your procrastination will only complicate matters, not solve them. You are making progress by taking a single step.

(I recently read a portion of the book Get Off Your “But”: How to End Self-Sabotage and Stand Up for Yourself by Sean Stephenson. This book was useful in helping me think through this post.)

This is a New Year

Today begins a new year and a new calendar2.jpg decade.


As this new year and new decade begins, I am reflecting on three characteristics that are very important to me. I want these qualities to be exhibited in my life. These are not recent values. These have been important to me for a long time.

1. Graciousness. I love to be in the presence of gracious people. These are people whose very demeanor exhibit grace. They are thoughtful and respectful in their relationships. They do not look for ways to take advantage of others. Instead, they are known for treating people right.

Many years ago, I went on a camping trip with a number of guys, most of whom lived in different parts of the country. We had been camping for a number of days and and were ready to return home. We decided that after we broke camp we would drive into a nearby town for a hot meal in a local cafe. At the conclusion of this meal, one young man volunteered to charge everyone’s order to his credit card, instead of asking the waitress for separate checks.

While we waited at the table for his credit card to be processed, we began reimbursing this young man with cash. For the most part, the guys were very gracious. They made sure that they gave him enough cash to cover the cost of their meal including tax and tip. One person asked the young man to count the money to make sure that he was fully reimbursed for the amount that he had charged onto his credit card. “We want to be sure that you get enough money.”

He counted the money and came up short.

One man in the group had not given him enough money to pay for his meal (much less covering the tax and tip.) This was not a situation in which the man had forgotten his money. Rather, it was an awkward moment because he apparently knew he had not fully reimbursed the young man and was not going to give any explanation. Finally, an older gentleman who was sitting nearby quietly insisted that the guy give the young man more money so that he did come up short.

Gracious people do not try to take advantage of someone else in order to save themselves money. In fact, gracious people do not try to take advantage of another for any reason.

2. Generosity. I love to be in the presence of people who are generous. Some people are generous with their time. Others are generous with their encouraging words. Still others are generous with their money.

Far too many people are less than generous. They seem focused on keeping instead of sharing. They live out of their scarcity instead of their abundance. Meanwhile, some people hardly ever, offer to pay for a friend’s coffee or lunch. In fact, they rarely offer to share in any expense. They will gladly receive someone else’s offer to pay but do not display the same spirit of generosity.

Suppose several families get together for pizza one night in someone’s home. Several plan to go to the grocery store after the meal to get the ingredients for a dessert that they are making that evening. Before these people leave for the store, several hand them cash to help cover the cost of the dessert. Generous people offer to help cover the cost. They want to participate and not just consume.

Generous people are not cheap. They don’t look for ways to avoid paying for something. Rather, they are eager to join in and participate.

This example involves money but there are often opportunities to be generous with time. Have you noticed that some people who are stingy with their time often leave the impression that they are busier than anyone else? Meanwhile, some who are generous with their time rarely call attention to their own schedules.

3. Learning. I love to be in the presence of people who continue to learn and take intentional steps to practice life-long learning.

During the holidays, I read a new biography on the life of Flannery O’Connor (written by Brad Gooch). As I read this wonderful book, I was struck not only by her commitment to write but also her commitment to learn. She read widely and deeply on a variety of subjects. She was interested in theology and philosophy but also birds and her peacocks in particular.

Meanwhile, some of the most boring people are those who long ago became bored themselves. Some people grow older and lose any desire to grow. Their bodies and minds are stuck in a recliner. They get sentimental about past years while they squander the time they have in the present.

Meanwhile, learners never lose their desire to grow and learn. They maintain a genuine curiosity about life.

Do you want to avoid losing your edge? Do you want to keep from being stagnant and stale?

Keep learning!

These three qualities are not New Year’s resolutions. Rather, they reflect some of my values for life. As the new year and new decade begins, I want to consider again some of these values which are so important to me.


What about you? What values are important as you begin this new year?


Getting Out From Under the Clutter

Today, the world’s tallest skyscraper opened in Dubai. It is 2,684 feet tall, with 160 floors. The building has space for 1,044 apartments, 49 floors of office space, as well as an Armani hotel. Supposedly, the 160 floor tower can be seen as far as 59 miles away.

The building was designed by a Chicago based firm. According to one structural and civil engineer with the firm, “We thought that it would be slightly taller than the existing tallest tower of Taipei 101. (Emaar) kept on asking us to go higher but we didn’t know how high we could go. We were able to tune the building like we tune a music instrument. As we went higher and higher and higher, we discovered that by doing that process… we were able to reach heights much higher than we ever thought we could ”

No doubt this building will receive the attention of a lot of people.

Today, is the first Monday of the new year.

Most of us are not beginning the year with a grand opening nor are we making headlines in some way. No, most of us are beginning the week doing the ordinary. We got up this morning and made a cup of coffee just as we do every day. Most will go to work and expect an ordinary day.

Yet, we might use this rhythm of time (this New Year) as an opportunity to pause for a moment and think about the way we have been living (2009) and the way we intend to live (2010).

One question to consider: Do I live in clutter? dubaitower.jpg

Maybe you know what it’s like to have a home that is cluttered. (No, I haven’t seen your garage.) In the house there might be stacks and piles of things: papers, magazines, and all sorts of gadgets. Rarely is there anything thrown away. Perhaps you have an office. Maybe there are stacks of papers or books on your desk.

Perhaps such clutter is not even an issue for you. Yet, there are many people whose lifestyles are very cluttered. Sometimes we find ourselves so busy that we feel like our lifestyles have become cluttered. When our children were growing up, they were involved in all kinds of extra activities and team sports. There were times when it just got to be too much. They (or we) has said “yes” to too many things. Does this sound familiar?    

Some of us may be constantly on the go. Yet, we may not be experiencing any depth at all in our lives. We simply skim the surface, bouncing from activity to the next. People have described such a lifestyle as: “… frustrating; like I can’t breathe; I feel like I’m under constant pressure; whatever I’m doing I feel like I should be somewhere else; I feel trapped; I hear the clock ticking; life is zooming by and I’m missing it.” In his book Margin, Richard Swenson writes:

People are tired and frazzled. People are anxious and depressed. People don’t have time to heal anymore. There is a psychic instability in our day that prevents peace from implanting itself very firmly in the human spirit.  

Beware of a cluttered mind that has no sense of purpose or mission.

Peggy Noonan wrote a terrific piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding the problem with organizations and institutions that have lost their mission or purpose:

And as all these institutions forgot their mission, they entered the empire of spin. They turned more and more attention, resources and effort to the public perception of their institution, and not to the reality of it.

Everyone gave their efforts to how things seemed and not how they were. Press secretaries, press assistants, media managers, public relations experts—they abound more than ever in our business and public life.


When have you recognized that your life had become cluttered with too many activities, projects, etc.? What was helpful to you in addressing this problem?