Why You Shouldn’t Set Goals for 2017

goals“Goal-setting”.

It’s one of those catch-phrases that make up the world’s motivational matrix. The idea is that setting clear, calculated, realistic goals for the future makes them easier to achieve. For example, setting a specific target for your bank account in 2017 is much likelier to succeed than a simple “I’ll make more money this year”, because you have a concrete figure against which to adjust your expenditures.

Sometimes we call this a “New Year’s resolution”, but I’m over that. Calling something a resolution almost dooms it to fail; resolutions are the butt of all our New Years’ jokes. Calling it goal-setting lifts it clear of all that.

So why am I still uncomfortable with it? With the rah-rah determination of goal-setting?

Maybe it’s just the subtle undercurrent of humanism. “You can do it! Imagine yourself succeeding and it will be so!” At the risk of overthinking, the philosophy of goal-setting feels like something you’d get from a corporate solutions seminar or a self-help book, too closely connected to all that power-of-positivity, we-can-change-the-world stuff. We know what Christ thinks of that. Life isn’t about success; our lives are not in our own hands.

Or maybe it’s just that I’m a contrarian, reacting to new ideas by looking for the holes in them. I don’t know. Am I being harsh on goal-setting? A wise man and a true steward of God’s things goes forth with a plan as well as a prayer. Conscious goal-setting could be simple wisdom.

 

See, I’ve got great ideas for 2017. Finish the Christian book I’m writing. Pay off my last debt (within reach this year!). Memorize Romans, or maybe James. Few people would criticize me for those goals. It seems ridiculous that God would. They sound nicely spiritual.

…in my judgment.

But maybe that’s the problem.

Am I stopping to ask God what my goals should be?

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Give the Day After to God

deadtreeAhhh, here it is…the day after.

Adulthood consists mostly of three things, I think: paying bills, keeping your mouth shut, and grappling with the day after.

With Christmas behind us, there is now a comedown. Family is gone, the tree and wrapping paper have mutated from colorful expectation to trash recycling fodder, and now we have to confront just how much the entire affair has strained our waistlines and credit cards. Certainly, there’s some relief in escaping the pressure of busyness and getting to unwrap that “peace and quiet” present we wanted most of all. If you’re don’t struggle with this “day after”, I’m certainly happy for you. Feel free to close this post and have a mineral water or something. But for others of us, there is…a letdown. A crash back to earth. If it hasn’t come already, it might still, once the last of the family has hopped in the van and left, or once New Year’s is past.

 

(A moment of silence for the teachers out there, by the way. Their comedown is the worst, for they are now hitting the longest unbroken stretch of the school year. Heroic souls.)

Post-Christmas blues are a real thing. We spend months looking so forward to the food and the reverent atmosphere. It’s such a refuge. I mean, “the day we can play Christmas music” is now Halloween. Soon it’ll be Labor Day. Then the Fourth of July. But after it passes, we have to go back to work. There’s another cycle of life waiting. Nose back to the grindstone.

Even God seems to fade. He is easy to take hold of during Christmas; indeed, he almost seems inescapable. But in January, he becomes elusive again. Or we do.

It can be really disheartening.

But I wonder whether the distance we are required to “come down” from high points in our lives has been greatly exaggerated. 

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Nine Prophecies in Two Chapters

starI read Matthew’s Christmas story last night. It took no less than two chapters to blow me away.

Reading God’s word is never a chore, for we always uncover something fresh and unexpected. This time, for me, it was the sheer number of prophecies being fulfilled about Jesus before he could even walk. You can’t swing a dead cat in Matthew 2 without hitting a prophecy. These events were seemingly random, sometimes tragic, and it’s difficult to imagine that the prophets who described them even understood how they would unfold. In just the first two chapters, there are a whopping nine prophecies fulfilled, making the likelihood of fulfillment almost astronomical without even accounting for prophecies in other books.

Let’s get into it.

 

#1: The virgin birth fulfilling Isaiah 7:14

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (1:20-23)

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Take Christmas Back From Your Pain

15542081_10154850484279695_2005805105793914489_nThis weekend, I put up my first Christmas tree. It was a three-foot-tall noble fir Charlie Brown tree, and it got just a simple arrangement of bulbs, lights, and miniature star.

And yes, that’s totally a Darth Vader ornament. Impulse buy. Be jealous.

I’ve never put up a tree before. Part of the reason was living alone, who else was gonna see it, etc. But part of it was my typical attitude towards Christmas. It wasn’t a holiday I’ve particularly looked forward to. Not for a while.

It was on a December 27 that I received news of my parents’ divorce. I don’t blame anyone anymore (because forgiveness doesn’t let you); I don’t even blame God; I just kinda blame life. But the fact remains that I haven’t gotten into the Christmas spirit much, either.

Some of you who have faced loss this time of year, or taken hits to that precious refuge of family, can relate. It can be frustrating to feel pressured into joyfulness by the radio stations. A friend of mine is bracing for her first Christmas without her father, a good man who passed on last February. That one carol comes on telling us From now on our troubles will be miiiiiles awaaaay and we’re all like…

orly

Because that’s TOTALLY what Jesus said in John 16:33, right? Well, not really.

So naturally, Christmas has not been my favorite time of year for a while.

But what does the rest of John 16:33 say?

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33b)

We’ve got a game-changer here. That’s where God wanted to take me this Christmas.

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A Survival Tip for Holiday Social Media

weights12-point bucks. Festive kitchens or decorations. Caribbean vacations. Professional photos of big rocks on fingers and newly engaged couples making out in front of a barn somewhere.

Yep. Holiday social media is here.

Sometimes it seems like it’s got something to push everyone’s envy buttons. Somehow, even seeing a Pinterest-worthy Christmas lights extravaganze that outdoes yours can feel like a putdown. Not for me, but for some it can, and hey, I’m not gonna judge. We all have our quirks.

It’s not hard to understand why some dread this month.

But this season doesn’t have to be a train of helpless coveting delivered right to your phone. There is a huge opportunity here for us Christians, to let this month actually strengthen us.

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A Little Forgiveness to Try if Your Prayers Aren’t Answered

A year ago this week, I received a gargantuan answer to prayer. I and many others close to me were quite giddy about it.figs

The fascinating thing is – it came very shortly after a week spent forgiving people.

In Mark 11, after seeing a prayer of Christ’s answered (surprise), the disciples receive a glimmer into the mystery of prayer.

“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” (Mark 11:21-25)

This is one of those stories that we don’t quite know what to do with. One look at the world around us confirms that not all prayers are answered. That and our fear of disappointment has made us cautious of prayer. We know we’re commanded to do it; most of us pray over our meals at the very least. But to really dive into deep prayer – to really hit our knees and spend a season there, emotionally invested and powerfully engaged – is like jumping into a new workout program. The thought makes us groan. Will it really be worth it?

Jesus, on the other hand, seems to see prayer more like a pursuit whose ways must be learned, like sailing or creating pottery. The Bible drops hints about prayer being affected by our holiness, by our maturity, and by the kingdom of darkness. Yet even the most basic of these hints – praying with persistence – is not practiced by many Christians, despite the fact that you can’t get through an honest reading of the Gospels without seeing it everywhere.

So it comes as no surprise that the harder “keys” to prayer are neglected also. One of them is forgiveness.

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He Won’t Forget Your Obedience

roadYou’re confronted with a choice. The wrong choice is obvious, but it’s seemingly more gratifying in the short term; you can see the reward in your mind. The right choice is also obvious, but you don’t see any gain to it. All you can see down that road is losing out for the sake of being good. You have to be honest on your timecard when nobody would know either way; you have to break up with that person who’s shown themselves to be apathetic towards God; you have to clamp down on that growing beer habit when it feels like the only thing keeping you going.

I’ve written along these lines before, but…how the church would change if we remembered that God promises rewards for obedience?

I should say this right away: the greatest reward of obedience is God himself. Tim Keller recently said it well: “Don’t obey God to get stuff. Obey God to get God.” More of his peace, his power, his unfettered presence in our lives. That is the best reward of all. And the fact that a small part of us groans and rolls our eyes in impatience at that statement just shows how little of God’s love we have truly tasted. If only we had a wider palette than the world, if only we had experienced more of God, we would not hesitate to seek him above all else. We would be hooked.

I’m so totally stealing my pastor’s encouragement from our morning “fella-ship” at Chick-Fil-A last week that it’s not even funny, but it was a great point: God remembers our obedience. For a long time.

This week, we’ll turn to Numbers. It’s that book squeezed between those boring (but important) collections of genealogies and bodily-fluids-regulations we call Leviticus and Deuteronomy, and a lot of people just assume it’s more of the same. It’s not. Numbers is packed with potent, sobering stories of how Israel treated God after their dramatic exodus from Egypt. (Spoiler alert: not well.)

You’d think that the newly liberated Israelites would be thrilled to arrive at the border of the promised land they’d been hearing about for centuries. I imagine they waited with anticipation while Moses sent twelve scouts, one from each tribe, to get the lay of the land and report back in Numbers 13.

Of course, you and I know now that instead of rah-rah, ten of the scouts threw a wet blanket.

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