Holidays (Other), New Year's

Sanctification > Resolutions: 6 Ways God Could Sanctify You in the New Year

Originally published January 1, 2018

Happy New Year!

There’s just something about the beginning of a new year that brings with it a yen for getting a fresh start. We think back over the past year, evaluate what we’ve spent our time and efforts on – or what we should have spent our time and efforts on – and, invariably, there’s a desire to make this year better.

Lots of people will make lots of resolutions on January 1: to lose weight, to stop smoking, to exercise more. And by mid-February, some 80% of those people will have failed and given up on their resolutions.¹ Why? Partly because (statistically speaking) most of those people are lost and the flesh is exceedingly hard to tame by sheer “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” willpower. Even Holy Spirit-indwelt Believers can testify to the pull of the flesh.

Should we, as Christians make New Year’s resolutions? Is it OK to set a goal to get a certain area of our lives under better control? Sure, there’s nothing wrong with that. But, is it possible there’s a bigger picture we need to take a look at?

The Christian life is not one of putting out fires via resolutions. We don’t tackle one problem, get it under control and then move on to each of the other five problems that popped up while we were working on the first one. It’s more like fire prevention. We get up every day and hose down the house and yard by resting in Christ, communing with Him through prayer and the Word, and seeking to obey Him throughout the day. Sanctification is not mainly reactive, it’s proactive. And it doesn’t come by our own outward effort and striving, but by Christ growing us, changing our hearts, and enabling us to obey Him from the inside out.

And guess what? Along the way as Christ is conforming you to His image, you’re going to fail. You’re going to give in to temptation, and you’re going to sin against your Master. But here’s what biblical sanctification offers you that New Year’s resolutions cruelly withhold:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23

You don’t just get a fresh start once a year. You get a fresh start every time you confess your sin, repent, and receive Christ’s cleansing and forgiveness. You get the mercy of Christ, the grace of God, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to move forward in submission to God’s Word. You get the steadfast, never ceasing love of the  Father who is out for your good rather than the unfeeling “do more, try harder, be better” taskmaster of New Year’s resolutions.

So, bearing all that in mind, how might God be trying to grow you in Christlikeness this year? What are some ways you can get up each day and proactively rest in, and obey Christ? Let’s prayerfully consider the following aspects of our walk and ask God to sanctify us and help us submit our will to His as we follow Him in this new year.

Growing in the Word

1. Daily personal Bible study. Do you set aside daily time for the personal study of God’s Word? Have you ever read the Bible from cover to cover? Have you considered, maybe just for this year, putting away all of the Bible study books and materials authored by others and using only the Bible during the next 365 days of your personal study time? Evaluate your daily time in God’s Word. Here are some resources you might find helpful:

📖 Bible Study Resources (how to study the Bible)
📖 Bible Studies
📖 Bible Reading Plans for the New Year- 2022
📖 You’re Not as Dumb as You Think You Are: Five Reasons to Put Down that Devotional and Pick Up the Actual Bible

2. Scripture memorization. This is something God has gotten a hold of me about recently. It’s important to store up God’s Word in our hearts as a weapon against temptation, for comfort, for prayer, and to encourage others. Try starting with verses you’re already somewhat familiar with. Many find it easier to memorize Scripture in song form, or by typing it out. If your pastor is preaching through a certain book, memorize a verse or passage out of each chapter as he comes to it. I’ve found it helpful to recite my verses in my head in bed at night. It helps me fall asleep faster, and there’s actually research that shows retention is improved if you study right before bed.

Growth In Prayer

3. Daily prayer time. Of course we should be talking to the Lord throughout the day as we go about the routine of life and work, but that’s not a substitute for having a daily block of time set aside for focusing all of our attention on communicating with God. Jesus set this example for us, and we should follow it. Do you have a daily time of prayer? Do you know how to pray in a way that’s pleasing to God and helps you grow in Christ?

🙏 Prayer
🙏 After this Manner Therefore Pray
🙏 Basic Training: 8 Things You Need to Know about Prayer
🙏 Sweet Hour of Prayer (Bible study on prayer)

Growth in the Body of Christ

4. If you don’t have a church, find one. Physically gathering with the Body of Christ for worship, teaching, fellowship, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, giving, serving – and so much more – is not optional. It’s vital to your growth in Christ.

 Basic Training: 7 Reasons Church is Not Optional and Non-Negotiable for Christians
 Six Ways Not to Forsake the Assembly
 Searching for a new church?

5. Faithful church attendance. At a minimum, Christians should be at Sunday morning worship and Sunday School/Bible study class/small group every week unless Providentially hindered (circumstances beyond your control: illness, emergency, the rare out of town trip, occasionally having to work). That’s not legalism, that’s loving the Bride of Christ and having your priorities in line with Scripture. Contrary to popular metrics, habitually missing Sunday worship twice or more a month (when you could be there if you made it a priority) is not faithful attendance. If you’re lackadaisical in church attendance, examine your heart. What’s going on in your spiritual life that’s keeping you from wanting to gather with your brothers and sisters in Christ? (And if it’s a problem with the church itself, see #4.)

6. Don’t just “go to church,” invest yourself in it. Are you serving your church in some capacity? Do you regularly and fervently pray for your church, your fellow church members, and your pastors, elders, and teachers? Have you poured yourself into personal relationships with others at church for fellowship, care, and discipling? Do you regularly, sacrificially, and joyfully give offerings? Are you sharing the gospel with the lost? As with anything else, you get out of it what you put into it. God loves you and wants you to invest yourself in His Bride for His glory and for your joy.

⛪ The Servanthood Survey
⛪ Let Me Count the Ways: 75 Ways Women Can Biblically Minister to Others
⛪ Servanthood
⛪ Top 10 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor
⛪ To Tithe or Not to Tithe…
⛪ Evangelism
⛪ 10 Fun, Practically Effortless, and Free Ways to Do Missions and Evangelism

How might God want to conform you more to the image of Christ this year? Could it be in one of these areas? Maybe another area? New Year’s resolutions are often about how you want to shape your life. Sanctification is about how God wants to shape your life. Not just for the new year, but for eternity.


¹Luciani, Joseph. “Why 80 Percent of New Year’s Resolutions Fail.” U.S. News & World Report. December 29, 2015. Web. December 29, 2017.
Holidays (Other), Thanks/Thanksgiving

25 Things I Forgot to Thank God For

Originally published March 13, 2015

I’ve just been in a funk, lately. Nothing out of the ordinary is wrong, but it’s been raining for eleventy two days in a row, and the constant darkness and dreariness seems to have wormed its way into my psyche and, I noticed recently, even into my prayer life.

A couple of days ago, I started out my prayer time with a huge sigh followed by a bunch of wimpering and whining about nothing of consequence. I was just moody. And I didn’t feel like praying.

And then God graciously brought a lovely little snippet of Scripture to my mind:

give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Want to know God’s will for your life? There it is: give thanks in all circumstances. When you get a new car. When you catch your spouse cheating on you. When you’re on a glorious vacation. When you get laid off from work. When you’re happy. When you’re sad. When you’re in the mood, and when you’re not in the mood.

Give thanks in – not necessarily for, but in – all circumstances.

Well, this was certainly a circumstance. Why not give gratitude a try? I was in the car headed to pick up my boys from school, and I decided to spend the entire twenty minute drive just thanking God for things.

I started with the big stuff: salvation, forgiveness for my sin, times when God has miraculously provided, specific answers to prayer…

I was starting to slow down and I still had about half the drive left. Surely there was more to be thankful for! And that’s when it struck me. How often do we forget to thank God for all the (in our eyes) tiny little unnoticed things He does for us every day? We thank Him for the miracles, but what about the mundane? What “little things” had I forgotten to thank God for?

1. Air conditioning. I live in the South. Enough said.

2. I know where my next meal is coming from.

3. Social media and e-mail. I can keep up with far off loved ones, and I’ve “met” some awfully nice people.

4. I can see. I can hear. I can think clearly. I can walk.

5. I live in a country where Christianity is not yet against the law.

6. Sunsets.

7. Cute baby animals.

8. I can read and write. That’s not the case for women, globally.

9. I was able to conceive and carry my children to term.

10. Warm quilts on cold nights.

11. The Bible is available in my native language, and I have several copies of it.

12. I have no fear of suicide bombers in my community.

13. The beach.

14. A crawfish boil with friends.

15. Reliable electricity.

16. Hearing my children sing when they think no one is listening.

17. My husband is a believer and is good to me.

18. Mountains. I miss mountains.

19. Indoor plumbing and clean drinking water.

20. Laughing hysterically with my family.

21. Level-headed discernment ministries.

22. Peanut butter and chocolate ice cream.

23. A roof over my head.

24. Home schooling.

25. People who are kind (or crazy) enough to read my blog articles all the way to the end.

Well, that was my list, and I think I’ll keep looking for things to add to it. Thanking God for the “little things,” realizing they might be big things to others, and recognizing the pervasiveness of God’s blessings and provision cheered me up and was truly a worship experience.

What kinds of things would you put on your list?

Church

Throwback Tuesday ~ Revive Us Again

I’m flip-flopping the blog schedule a tad this week.
Enjoy this week’s Throwback Thursday – on Tuesday!

Originally published August 12, 2009

Thirty three per cent of clergy and thirty six per cent of laymen
report having visited a sexually explicit web site.
Christianity Today survey, August 2000

The divorce rate of born-again Christians (32%)
is higher than that of atheists and agnostics (30%).
Barna Research Group 20081

Twenty per cent of women who have abortions
are born-again or Evangelical Christians.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1996

We rarely find substantial differences between
the moral behavior of Christians and non-Christians.
George Barna, Founder, Barna Research Group

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless,
how can it be made salty again?
It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out
and trampled under foot by men.
Jesus, Matthew 5:13

Once upon a time, when I was a little girl, my parents took my sister and me to visit some of our elder relatives. For the evening meal, the lady of the house set a beautiful, formal table, complete with lovely crystal salt cellars at each place.

Having attended approximately zero formal dinners in my decade-long, casual dining existence, I had never seen a salt cellar. Since it happened to be sitting next to my goblet of unsweetened iced tea, I presumed it was my own personal sugar bowl.

I was puzzled as to why the spoon was so tiny, but forged ahead in an attempt to sweeten my tea with spoonful after spoonful…of salt. After one swig, I realized my mistake, but to maintain decorum, I did my best to eat my meal while taking an occasional small sip of the tea-flavored salt water. It was a long dinner.

I have never been so thirsty for a fresh drink of water before—or since—that moment.

We, the body of Christ, are supposed to be salt. Look around. How are we doing? By and large, instead of the church making the world thirsty for the Living Water, we have become so worldly ourselves that we are in danger of losing our savor altogether.

The Western church, the American church, the local church, maybe even your church—is in desperate need of revival. Not a revival meeting. Revival.

Revival is not a special event to win the lost. It is a time when God’s people, both individually and corporately, humble themselves, cry out to God in repentance and return to a fresh, empowered, obedient love relationship with Him.

Aren’t you tired of seeing statistics like the ones at the beginning of this article? Tired of the church having so little impact on a lost and dying world? Tired of simply going through the motions in your spiritual life and at church? Have you ever, as I have, taken a step back, looked at your walk and your worship, and said, “There’s got to be more to the Christian life than this”?

There is more. Much more. God desires that we have a full, exciting, vibrant, dynamic relationship with Him. But it’s going to cost us. It will cost our pride, our time, our repentance, our obedience, and our priority. It will require that we become dissatisfied and uncomfortable with the status quo of complacency.

I think we’re up for the challenge.

Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity,
and revive me in Your ways.
Psalm 119:37


 

1Take these statistics with a “grain of salt”. :0) Not everyone who claims to be a “born-again Christian” in a poll actually is one, the divorce stat has subsequently been proved false, etc. The idea is that the world has infiltrated the church, and the church has embraced the world, and therefore, the behavior of way too many professing Christians is worldly.

Holidays (Other)

Is 2 Chronicles 7:14 God’s Promise to American Christians Today?

Originally published July 3, 2015

Is 2 Chronicles 7:14 God’s promise to American Christians today?

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
2 Chronicles 7:14

This verse is often quoted as a call to prayer and revival for American Christians, suggesting that if we pray, repent, and humble ourselves, God will turn America around and make it “one nation under God” again. Since it’s 4th of July week, you’ve probably been seeing this verse in your news feeds, but is it really a promise to us today about America?

2ch714
Photo courtesy of Please Convince Me.

Not this particular verse, no. Here’s why:

1. This verse is only part of a sentence (you can tell by the way it starts with a lowercase letter). In order to rightly handle God’s word (2 Timothy 2:15), it’s imperative that we consider a verse’s immediate context as well as the way it fits in with the big picture of the entire Bible. Even adding just verses 13 and 15 shows us that this verse was written about Old Testament Israel, not America. Reading all of chapter 7 sheds even more light on this verse, and if we throw in chapter 6, especially 6:26-31, we can clearly see that 7:14 is part of God’s specific answer to Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple.

2. There are no supporting Scriptures in the New Testament (remember, Believers are in the church era under the new covenant of grace) that imply that if Christians humble themselves and repent that God will give them a nation governed by biblical laws and leaders and that we will have a society that behaves itself, morally. In fact, in the New Testament, in the early church, we see the exact opposite. The more the church prayed, humbled itself, and spread the gospel, the more Rome persecuted Christians. And yet, we never hear of them claiming 2 Chronicles 7:14 as God’s promise to them that He would turn things around if they would only humble themselves and seek His face more. The New Testament, even Jesus Himself, says that we will be persecuted for godly living (John 15:20, Matthew 10:22, 2 Timothy 3:12-13).

3. We can’t claim the promise without claiming the punishment. Look again at verse 13. It specifies that pestilence and the agricultural hardships of drought and locust infestation are the ones that God promises to heal. It is a promise of literal healing of the land so that crops will grow unharmed, game will be plentiful, and people will be healthy and able to eat, not a promise of a metaphorical “healing” of a nation’s immorality.

If we claim that this “healing of the land” applies to us today, then we also have to claim that God will punish our disobedience with those very things He promises to heal (drought, locusts, and pestilence), because that’s what these verses are talking about.

4. The reason this passage sounds like it applies to us is because there are some principles in this verse that do apply to us. How do we know? Because they are supported by other clear and direct Scriptures:

Are we God’s people who are called by His name”? Yes (Acts 11:26)

Should we humble ourselves? Yes (1 Peter 5:6)

Should we pray and seek God’s face? Yes (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Should we turn from any wicked ways we practice? Yes (Acts 3:19)

Will God hear from Heaven if we do these things? Yes (1 John 5:14-15)

Does God promise to heal our land of bad morals or the agricultural problems He has punished our disobedience with if we do these things? No.

Asking God to fulfill His promises and thanking Him for those already fulfilled is a wonderful and worshipful way to pray. But, if we truly want to pray “in the name of Jesus” and pray rightly for God’s will to be done, we must use wisdom, discernment, and the tools God has given us to discover exactly what He has promised us.

For further reading:

Properly Praying the Promises by Michelle Lesley

What is the meaning of 2 Chronicles 7:14? at Got Questions?

Mailbag

The Mailbag: God saved me out of a false “church” … what do I do now?

God recently saved me out of __________ “church” / religion. I’m not sure what to do next. I’m scared to start looking for a new church because I don’t know what to look for in a good church, and I’m afraid I’ll choose another bad one. And how do I “do” this whole Christianity thing, anyway?

I’ve received some variant of this question dozens of times, and it makes me so happy every time I do. God is still saving people, y’all! Doesn’t that thought just encourage your socks off and fill you with joy?

Whether it’s someone coming out of the New Apostolic Reformation, Mormonism, Catholicism, a liberal/progressive “church,” or the New Age, walking through the doors of biblical Christianity is thrilling, but can also be a bit daunting.

As someone who has been in church since my parents brought me home from the hospital, it’s difficult to wrap my mind around being new to the church and the things of Christ as an adult. It must be like landing on Mars, or at least in a foreign country where you don’t know the customs and don’t really speak the language.

When you’re doing something new, it’s always best to start by reading the directions. So here are a few basic directions that might be of help to you if you find yourself newly saved out of an unbiblical system and you’re not quite sure what to do next:

1.
Believe the biblical gospel.

The first priority is making sure you understand and believe the biblical gospel. I know you’re saying you’re saved, but, considering your background and my limited knowledge of where you are spiritually, and considering the fact that sooooo many churches and professing Christians do not know or rightly teach the gospel according to Scripture, I’m not sure what you’ve been told about how to be saved, or “become a Jesus follower,” or however it was put to you, but here’s the truth:

What must I do to be saved?

I strongly urge you – even if you’re 100% positive you’re saved – to take your time and slowly and prayerfully work your way through everything on this page to make sure you understand and believe what the Bible says about how to be saved.

Once you’ve done that, if you still need some reassurance that you’re saved, you might want to work your way through my Bible study Am I Really Saved?: A First John Check-Up.

There are two reasons nailing down your belief in the biblical gospel is the first and most important priority:

  1. If you’re not genuinely saved, you need to be, or you’ll die in your sins and spend an eternity in Hell. Even if you think you’re a Christian.
  2. If you’re not saved, you’re not going to understand or accept the things of Christ, and pretty much everything in Christianity and the church is going to rub you the wrong way. First Corinthians 2:14 says: The natural [unsaved] person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

2.
Find a church.

The next most important thing is getting you into a doctrinally sound church where you can be taught God’s Word properly.

For Christians, membership in and faithful attendance at a doctrinally sound church is not optional, and is non-negotiable. The Bible knows nothing of “Lone Ranger” Christians. For 2000 years, even in places of harshest persecution, like first century Rome or current day North Korea, the church has found a way to meet together, even if it had to be in secret.

And yes, this means physically attending worship service and other gatherings, not watching it on Zoom, assuming you are physically/medically able to do so and a decent church within achievable driving distance is open. (If not, you’ll have to find another way to meet together with fellow Christians.)

(Notice, I did not say, “If you’re not afraid to go,” or “a church that’s nearby”. There are Christians in the world today who, every time they meet together, are risking imprisonment, torture, and execution. And some of them travel for hours in very primitive modes of transportation just to meet with the church. Prayerfully consider, just between you and the Lord, if you might need to sacrifice your fear or drive a bit longer for the privilege of meeting with His people. Jesus didn’t promise us a bed of roses. He promised us a cross. It’s time to pick it up and carry it. This is what we signed on for.)

Go to my Searching for a new church? tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. Start your search for a church by reading all of the resources under What to look for in a church including all of the links contained in those resources.

When you’re finished with that, go back to the top of that page and use the search engines to find a good, solid church in your area. Personally, I would recommend starting with the Founders search engine first, then the The Master’s Seminary search engine, then the others.

When you’ve found a church, start visiting it. Set up an appointment with the pastor to ask any questions you might have. Prayerfully consider whether or not this church is a fit for you – a place where you can learn, grow, and serve. If it is, join it. If not, go back to the search engines and find another church to start visiting.

Helpful hint: You’re not going to find a perfect church. Churches are made up of imperfect saints who still sin and make mistakes. Find the best one you can and help make it better.

3.
Get plugged in.

Don’t just sneak in to the back of the sanctuary just as the Sunday morning worship service is starting and sneak back out during the final prayer.

Get invested in the life of your new church. Find a Sunday school / Bible study / small group class to join. Go to midweek services or prayer meeting. Go to fellowships and special events. Get to know people. Find a place to serve.

Be faithful in your attendance. Don’t just go only when you feel like it. Be there at least every Sunday morning unless you’re unavoidably detained. If you wanted to learn chemistry or math or underwater basket weaving, you’d show up for class, right? Well, if you want to learn and grow as a Christian, you’ve got to show up for church.

And if you ever have any questions, never be afraid to ask your pastor, elders, or teachers.

4.
Study up / Pray up

Bible study and prayer are crucial for the Christian. They help you grow, and they foster sweet fellowship with the Lord. Don’t let them loom as some big, scary, new thing that you don’t know how to do. They’re both very simple.

Prayer is simply talking to God. Tell Him what’s on your heart. Ask Him to help you and provide for you. Ask Him to help others. Thank Him for all He’s done for you. Confess your sins to Him and ask Him to forgive you. You might find some of my articles on prayer or my Bible study on prayer to be helpful.

Studying your Bible isn’t as hard as it sounds, either. Start by making sure you have a good translation. Then, pick a book of the Bible. Start at chapter 1, verse 1, and make your way through the book, verse by verse until you get to the end. Then start over again with another book. A few tips:

  • Many Christians find that about a chapter a day is a good amount to study, but take your time and study the amount of Scripture that seems to be a fit for you.
  • You might want to have a notebook and pen handy for jotting down any notes or thoughts that occur to you about the text as you’re studying.
  • If you’re new to studying the Bible, I would recommend starting by reading one (or maybe all four) of the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – the first four books of the New Testament). Genesis is also a good book to read as you’re getting your bearings in Bible study.
  • If you need help studying your Bible, click the Bible Studies tab in the blue menu bar at the top of this page. There are lots of resources to help you learn how to study the Bible, plus all the Bible studies I’ve written. My studies are designed to help you learn how to study the Bible in a “learn by doing” sort of way. Maybe you’d like to work through one of them until you get the hang of studying your Bible on your own.

In addition to Bible study and prayer, I would suggest reading the articles in my Basic Training series. This is sort of a “Christianity 101” series of articles. If you’re new to Christianity and the church, this should help explain some of the things we do, why we do them, and the proper biblical way they should be done.

I would also recommend that women read my Rock Your Role series of articles. This series explains what the Bible says about the role of women in the church.

Welcome to the family, and may God richly bless you as you seek to grow in Him.


If you have a question about: a Bible passage, an aspect of theology, a current issue in Christianity, or how to biblically handle a family, life, or church situation, comment below (I’ll hold all questions in queue {unpublished} for a future edition of The Mailbag) or send me an e-mail or private message. If your question is chosen for publication, your anonymity will be protected.