3 Priorities for Day 1 of your new year

 

Happy New Year to you all!

I am immensely thankful to you all for reading and commenting on my posts in 2015. Before I dive in to today’s post, I want to thank my top 5 commenters:

  1. Vincent S Artale – thank you for reblogging (sharing) so many of my posts! I greatly appreciate it!
  2. SlimJim from Domain for Truth – your comments have been very encouraging. Thank you!
  3. Debbie from Sisters Reach Out – Thank you for the uplifting and delightful comments. You always have such kind thoughts!
  4. Beckie Lindsey from Spotlight – Thank you for your comments and for promoting my posts on Twitter! You are a kindred spirit.
  5. Debbie Lees – Thank you for your encouragement over the past several months!

This blog began as an outlet for my thoughts about Bible reading and has grown into a mutually encouraging corner of the web. Through this medium I have “met” so many people who desire to draw near to God. Deepest thanks to you all for helping me in my walk with the Lord and the encouragement to press on.


So, I know I said in my post on goals that my next 2 posts would be on How to achieve daily bible reading and daily prayer. I have already completed the post on Bible reading, but as it is Day 1 of 2016 and I’m still in the process of writing the prayer post, this one will come in between.

Today is the day we start taking our goals from ideation to reality. 

Priority 1: Post your goals. If you haven’t posted your goals somewhere that you frequently look, that ought to be your primary task today. Write down your specific, measurable goals and post them on the fridge, your bathroom mirror, the lock screen on your phone or the dash of your car. If you’re still having trouble formulating your goals, I recommend these two posts from Michael Hyatt’s blog:

If your goal is daily Bible reading, start today! Stop reading this post if you haven’t done that and go do that first.

Priority 2: Take 1 small step toward one or more of your goals. Today. If your goal is to pray daily, grab an index card, write down your prayer requests and put it at the table where you’ll be eating. Before you start eating, read your card and then pray. The card will remind you to pray regularly. (More on prayer to come shortly!)

Priority 3: Before you go to sleep this evening, set yourself up for tomorrow’s action. For example, if your goal is to walk 3 times this week and today was only walk #2, set your walking clothes, shoes, socks, earbuds etc in an accessible place and figure out a realistic time to go tomorrow. If you are working towards paying off debt, get your budget done today and setup your first payment toward that debt. Set up a bucket to collect excess change. At the end of the month, see how much you have to go toward that debt. Even if you only collect 3-4 dollars in change, after 12 months you would be $48 closer to paying off that debt. Set yourself up for success!

Its day 1. Start strong and build momentum. The days of inertia are going to come, but if you’re momentum is strong, they won’t stop you from getting close to your goals.

What small step are you going to take today toward your goal? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

 

Coffee Chat 8 – Are you putting family or God on the back burner?

coffee chat

I love a good discussion with a friend over a steaming cup of chai, but since I can’t gather all of you at a comfortable cafe, I’ll have to be content with this little corner of the Internet.

I want to thank each and every person who has come to these coffee chats and commented. I have thoroughly enjoyed your insights and inspiration! Thank you for your time.

Read previous coffee chats under the “discussion” category or click here.


It has always mystified me how a godly parent can have awful children and how awful people end up with godly children. The most common answer is, of course, that people make their own choices in spite of upbringing. While that maxim is certainly true, it still shocks me when I read about Eli, Samuel, David and their children. The accounts of all three families are sobering.

Eli’s sons 1 Samuel 2:12-36

Now the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord.

1 Samuel 2.12

If you click on the passage, it will take you to the full context so that you can read, in detail, the wicked deeds of Eli’s sons. In that scripture, it details how they “treated the offering of the Lord with contempt,” and that they would “lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting.” Eli rebuked them, but he did not stop them and it was within his power to do so.

Samuel’s sons 1 Samuel 8:1-5

Yet [Samuel’s] sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice.

1 Samuel 8.3, ESV

The people of Israel were so frustrated with Samuel’s sons that they demanded a king!

David’s sons

  • Amnon – 2 Samuel 13 (Amnon raped his stepsister)
  • Absalom
    • 2 Samuel 13 (Absalom kills Amnon because he raped his [Absalom’s] sister)
    • 2 Samuel 15 (Absalom conspired to overthrow David and rule the kingdom)
    • 2 Samuel 16:20-23 (Absalom had relations with his Father’s concubines on the roof of his house for all to see).
  • Adonijah – 1 Kings 1:5-7 (Adonijah set himself up as king without authorization from David)

Now, those three men—Eli, Samuel and David—were recognized as godly men, but the state of their households was deplorable! They pleased God, and yet it appears they neglected to instruct their children in the ways of the Lord.

I know of instances in which missionaries, preachers or pastors decide they are going to do some “great work” and they go on to accomplish great things in the name of the Lord… but while they are off changing the world, they leave their families behind to crumble from neglect. Is this acceptable to God? Is this how God wants us to put Him first?

It’s an interesting conundrum. In the book of Matthew, Jesus talks about the need to put God above family.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.

For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Matthew 10.34-39

When two people choose to be married, that relationship is a covenant relationship. Vows are made between two people before God and other witnesses that they would love, honor and cherish one another under every circumstance while they are both living. There will be times in which that commitment requires one spouse or the other to set other obligations aside. When a couple decides to bring children in the world, those children are entrusted to their care (unless for some reason both parents are suddenly killed). We are told repeatedly to train our children in the ways of the Lord. Training children up in the way of the Lord is putting God first while still caring for the needs of those children. The two are not mutually exclusive.

God told the Israelites that they were to teach their children, and we know how well they did that… (sarcasm intended):

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

Deuteronomy 6.4-7

Here are some cut-and-dry scenarios:

  • Your kid’s Sports/Extra-curricular activities on Sunday or… worship? (Ahem. Worship, of course!)
  • Your child doesn’t want to go to Bible class because it’s boring. In order to keep peace, you decide to stay home. (Negative! They are under your roof and you are charged with teaching them. Don’t be wishy-washy!)
  • Your child or spouse or parent has a medical emergency or illness and you are missing services or losing out on bible reading or class to care for them. (Yes!)

Here is where the gray area emerges: I have read about (and observed) missionaries and preachers so engrossed in working for the Lord that their families are neglected. Their care for a congregation is phenomenal and the church is thriving, but their children don’t love the Lord. The spouse begins to seek affection elsewhere. They may be doing a great work for the Lord, but what about their family? I read the story of one woman who was sent off to boarding school so her parents could go be missionaries in a foreign country. Apparently this was not an uncommon practice in the early twentieth century. Would you entrust the teaching and raising of your child to someone else so that you could go off and teach the gospel? Which one is right?? If you take your children with you, will you be able to care for them physically and spiritually? I’ve read about it being done successfully from time to time. Again, how do you find balance?

Maybe you aren’t a preacher or missionary, but you are very involved with your local congregation. Are you still meeting the spiritual and physical needs of your own children?

As a blogger trying to share the Word of God with others, are there times you have to set aside your blog to care for the needs of your family?

Maybe you have the opposite problem and you make excuses not to do this or that because you have to take care of family. (I will be the first to admit that I have been guilty of this in the past.)

I firmly believe that our walk with God and care for our family should be intertwined, but the how is not always clear.

How do we uphold our commitments to our families in a way that honors God without neglecting the work that God has for us outside the home?

How do we achieve balance?

Have you read the most influential bestseller in history?

20150807_005I remember the day they released the novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I sped home from work with the afternoon commuters, ate a hurried dinner and headed over to Costco to pick up my copy. I didn’t do the midnight event at Barnes & Noble or Borders (I’m not that die-hard), but I had been counting the days nonetheless!

In the weeks leading up to it’s release, somebody (probably Rowling’s P.R. team) “leaked” the following teaser:

One major character will die. (cue the sinister music!)

This one-liner stoked the excitement of fans everywhere.

Stephen King publicly appealed to J.K. Rowling to spare Harry (the protagonist) from death. I knew, as well as he did, that Rowling was not one to shy away from tragedy.

Filled with anticipation, I raced home, found a comfortable spot, briefly savored the new-book smell, gently opened the cover and began to read.

I kept saying I’d put it down at 1 a.m….

…well, ok, maybe at 2 a.m….

…had to finish that chapter…

…maybe 3 a.m…

As the soft light of dawn crept through the window, I gently closed the book, replete with satisfaction. I finally knew the ending… what a luxurious moment.

My best friend awoke, came out to the living room and laughed at me, utterly dumbfounded by my quick read and thoroughly amused that I had lost a full night’s sleep to finish a book.

Have you ever had a similar experience with a novel?

Well, get ready, because I have an embarrassing confession to make:

I have not always possessed the same all-consuming appetite for God’s Word.

I am extremely shamed by the admission, but I would be a liar if I said otherwise. When I get my hands on a great novel, I can’t put it down unless there is a compelling demand, but with the Word of God, there are times I just can’t seem to get into it.

Anybody else have that problem?

Reading God’s Word, like so many worthwhile tasks, is not always easy. It takes concerted effort to understand many of the passages therein and, as such, is difficult to digest. When we are tired, foggy-headed or distracted, it’s all too easy to give up time with the Word for things that are less taxing on the brain. Things that are thoroughly entertaining, but not life-changing.

What are some reasons we fail to read the number one most influential bestseller (not to mention the Word of our all-powerful God) daily?

1) It’s not our top priority.

My second job out of college was a Customer Service Support position with a mid-size corporation in El Dorado Hills. I reported directly to a Sales Director and provided support to business clients nationwide.

Shortly after my employment began, my boss enrolled me in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People training course offered on our corporate campus. Since my load of clients at that point was still minimal, the all-day training wouldn’t greatly interfere with my work. I was acquainted with the book of the same title, yet I was in for a real surprise. I discovered that many of the principles of the class were aligned with Biblical truths.

The third habit, “Put first things first,” included a video of Stephen Covey demonstrating how priorities work. A woman walked nervously onstage and was provided with sand, pebbles, stones and one large rock which she had to fit inside a glass jar. She tried putting sand, pebbles and stones in first, with the result that the large rock jutted grossly out of the mouth of the jar. Covey then advised the embarrassed woman to try again, only this time, he asked her to first insert the large rock, followed by the stones, then the pebbles, and lastly the sand. As the grains of sand poured into the jar, all the glittering specks rolled easily into the nooks and crannies between the large rocks. The jar was full, with no substance jutting from the top. Everything fit because the larger materials were handled first.

Our priorities are like those rocks. We have to start with the most important first (i.e. your large “rocks”) and let all the little stuff pour into the crevices afterwards.

In the sermon on the mount, Jesus told the crowd:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?

And why are you anxious about clothing?

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Matthew 7.25-33

Focus on that last sentence: Seek first the kingdom of God.

How do we seek the kingdom of God? How can we know what God requires?

Begin with the source.

Devotionals, sermons, songs and blogs are helpful and they stimulate the mind, but they aren’t the source. If we truly desire to know God—how He interacts with people, what His purpose is for us, His personality, His character—we need to read the Word that He supplied. It’s too easy to be deceived by false teaching when we aren’t reading the text personally.

Make reading His Word a top priority. Think of it as a large rock that you have to squeeze into that tiny jar of time. If you have time to eat, check your phone or watch a show, you can make time for the Word.

Recently, I have made every effort to read the Bible before I leave my room in the morning. Sometimes, I listen to an audio version while I get ready for the day. With three little ones, it’s easy to get sidetracked, so it is preferable to do this task before they wake up.

So, put first things first and get into the Word of God. It should be our top priority.

2) It’s too difficult to understand.

It is the glory of God to conceal things,
but the glory of kings is to search things out.

Proverbs 25.2

Truly understanding the Bible takes a lifetime. Even after a lifetime of study, many mysteries will remain unsolved until we meet our Maker face to face. The Bible is not a single book, it is a collection of books. Connecting the dots is much more difficult to do.

When I was 12, my dear friend Cecil McFarland (who was significantly older than my parents) was teaching our home study when he made the statement, “I’m still learning new things from the scripture.” When you are 12, everybody older than 30 is old; everyone over 60 is ancient. At that time, I assumed that elderly Christians knew just about everything; and Cecil was wise. Even now, after all the experience I have gleaned, I still consider him one of the wisest Christians I’ve had the privilege to know.

So, imagine my shock as my 12-year-old self took in his words, uttered in quiet humility. After all his years of study (more years than I had been alive), he was still discovering.

I pray that I have the same humility of spirit that allows me to learn more and more about God as I age.

Since the Bible is challenging to understand, let me make a couple suggestions, particularly to those who are new in the faith:

1) Get a version that is easy to read like the New American Standard Version or the English Standard Bible. Steer clear of the RSV (Revised Standard Version) and if you do decide on the NIV (New International Version), read it with another version nearby.

2) Start simple. Do not begin daily reading with the prophets or Revelation. Start with one of the following:

  • The gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
  • Genesis through Ecclesiastes
  • Read a chapter of Proverbs every day for 31 days (there are 31 chapters—one for every day of the month!)
  • Read the Psalms
  • Use a daily bible program.

Note: I said to start there, but don’t ignore the rest! Once you get a feel for the easier-to-read books, move on to the harder ones. Get into a class with a solid teacher who has a firm grasp on prophetic language.

At 19, I had a one-time study with a young man in the book of Acts. Based on his love for God, his kind, charitable nature, and the fact that he always had a bible with him, I assumed he knew the Word pretty well. So, in our study, I said, “You know about the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, right?”

He looked at me blankly, shook his head and smiled sheepishly.

“Well, are you familiar with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8?”

Again, he shook his head.

I was utterly perplexed. These were accounts I had learned since childhood. I thought all Christians were familiar with them.

I had assumed too much.

I was embarrassed, because I had unwittingly made him feel foolish, and I hadn’t intended to do that. I have no way of knowing, but I have often wondered if he thought me arrogant. That whole scenario still makes me cringe!

The problem wasn’t that he was failing to read daily. The problem was that he only read his favorite sections. He felt that the rest was too hard for him to understand. In our class, we read those passages I mentioned and more. I was determined that he should read the Bible’s account and not my synopses.

(I realize that my approach was not the best one, but hey, cut me some slack… I was only 19 and not experienced nor trained in teaching people.)

My friends, I cannot say it enough: open up God’s Word and read, read, read.

Read and do not be afraid to ask questions.

Ask heaps of questions and read it again!

Be curious!

Think critically!

If something in the Word of God doesn’t jive with what you espouse or what your preacher is teaching, question it! Be a critical thinker! I am amazed at how many Christians blindly follow charismatic preachers and teachers, never realizing the rank contradictory teachings to God’s Word.

One more thing: Have you ever noticed that when someone challenges your beliefs, your faith grows?

Why?

Because you have to dig into the Word to mount your case. Once you do that, you have to be able to formulate your answer in your own words.

Albert Einstein once said, “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.” Now, I know some things are beyond a six-year-old’s experience, but you should be able to articulate the basics…

To understand the Word of God takes seeking. Seeking takes effort. Effort takes time. Time is in short supply, so use it wisely.

3) We already know the plot.

“I know all the stories.”

“God created the world, people sinned, it got bad, there was a flood, Abraham had a son and the Jewish people began. That Moses guy sent some plagues, the Israelites left Egypt. They went to the promised land, did some stupid things and had some ups and downs. Somewhere in there (before Jesus came) there were some people named Daniel and Jonah and Esther. Then Jesus came to earth, died on a cross, rose from the dead and His followers spread the gospel.”

Does that sum up the Bible?

I’d say that it’s a start, but so much pertinent information is excluded from that summary. It isn’t even good for Cliff’s Notes!

My best friend is not quite the bookworm that I am. When go to a movie adaptation based on a book, I’m always filling him in on the “whys” if the screenwriter has failed to make good connections. My friend may know the plot, but the depth and emotion of the book is lost.

Have you seen the movie Unbroken?

I read the book long before the movie came out and I can tell you why the movie fell flat—it lacked substance.

A quick synopsis: A young soldier and olympic athlete is lost at sea when his plane crashes into the Pacific Ocean during the hostilities of World War II. He survives in a life raft for over a month with his best friend only to be captured by the Japanese military. He’s placed into a prisoner of War camp where he spends the remainder of the War. He is later released and succumbs to drinking and PTSD. When he is close to falling apart, he remembers the promise that he had made to God that if God saved his life, he would serve him until he died. He turns his life around and goes on to help hundreds of troubled youths and save his marriage.

First of all, the movie ended when Zamperini arrived home. It left out the most compelling and redeeming part of the book!

The movie failed to capture the interminable length of Zamperini’s time lost at sea, his inhumane imprisonment with the Japanese, the severity of his torture, the self-destructing lifestyle he succumbed to after the War, his remembrance of promises he had made to God, his subsequent redemption, and the lengths to which he went to meet with his torturers to express forgiveness.

It’s not an easy book to read, but it was one of the most inspiring non-fiction books (other than the Bible) that I’ve read in years. The movie just didn’t cut it. My friend knew the plot, but the movie just didn’t do anything for him. It did not inspire. So he survived. Big deal. I could survive a couple hours of torture, couldn’t you?

How about weeks? Months? Years?

Could you handle PTSD? What if your life began to fall apart and you felt helpless to put it back together?

The basic thread of plot wasn’t compelling. The details, the unremitting suffering is what made the redemptive portion inspiring. Leave that out and it’s just another story.

The crux is this: Don’t allow your basic Bible plot knowledge trick you into thinking you know it all. If you read the Bible with the purpose of knowing the Lord, it will be an inspiring read.

The Bible is often considered one book, but it is actually a collection of 66 books. Those 66 books were hand-written by many different people and cover thousands of years worth of history.

Those 66 books are the key to better things.

Those 66 books outline the plan of God.

Within those 66 books is the meaning of life.

Within those 66 books lies the ultimate way, the ultimate truth and the ultimate life.

Open the number one bestselling book of collected works in history and discover what you’ve been missing.

Don’t wait until tomorrow. Make time today, while you still have breath and access to a Bible.

Special thanks to Albert Krabbe of Studio Twenty Photography for the awesome photograph. Visit studiotwenty.net to view their excellent portfolio!