Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Most Satisfying New Year’s Resolution

A few months ago, I connected my blog to the Blog Lovin’ App. Of course, they asked for my email address, so being dumb, I gave it to them. You know how the drill goes…now my inbox gets filled with emails from Blog Lovin’. I guess some people may like getting emails, newsletters, and sales ads from every website they’ve ever visited, but personally, I do not. All those emails do nothing but clutter my inbox. Most of the time I simply hit the delete button, but when I saw the Blog Lovin’ Digest this morning, I decided to quickly browse the article titles to see what other people were writing about this week. Here’s a list of the nine trending articles from the weekly Digest:

  • Your To-Do List to Make 2018 Your Healthiest Year Ever
  • 5 Great New Years Resolutions to Make in 2018
  • Be More Proactive about Your Health in 7 Easy Steps
  • Choosing a Word to Define and Guide Your Year
  • Do This for 30 Minutes a Day for Better Sleep
  • How to Plan the Perfect Week
  • 7 Fitness Resolutions that are Better than Losing Weight
  • This Is How the World’s Most Successful People Get It All Done
  • The 8 Best Podcasts to Motivate Your Work Week

Do any of these articles sound like they’d be worth your time to read? Apparently other people thought so because they are the ones featured in the email blast that went out to thousands of people around the world.

What Can We Learn from the Titles of These Articles?

When I step back from the trees and look at the forest, I notice a pattern to these articles. If these are the articles lots of people are reading, then lots of people have some level of desire to make changes to their lives, whether it be eating healthier, working out more, or being more successful at work.

Why would people want to make changes to their lives? If something isn’t broken, then there’s no reason to fix it. This is generally how people live. But since so many people are reading these articles, which are focused on fixing something, I have to conclude that they must think something in their life is broken. To say it another way, they must feel dissatisfied, unfulfilled, or unhappy with something. Maybe they’re dissatisfied with their weight. Maybe they’re dissatisfied with their jobs. Maybe they’re dissatisfied with their marriages. Whatever it may be, it seems like lots of people who subscribe to Blog Lovin’ are at least investigating what types of changes they might be able to make in their lives that would allow them to experience a greater level of satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness.

If we were able to apply all the things in these articles, then we’d all be a bunch of healthy, good looking, corporately successful people with flawless marriages and perfect children. But none of us are there, even after following the 3 easy steps for this, 5 easy steps for that, and 7 easy steps for the other year after year.

I think some of you reading this article have spent years reading every article you can find on a specific self-help topic and have tried to implement everything the writers suggest, yet you feel like failures because you can’t seem to generate the results they’ve promised.

For clarification, I don’t think there’s any ill-intent on the part of the writers nor do I believe the writers are clueless about these topics. Most of them truly believe that the seven steps they recommend are the keys that gave them their success, so they’re doing nothing more than trying to help others achieve the same results.

But when we try to implement the same seven steps, we either struggle to stay motivated or after implementing them for a while, we can’t seem to generate the same results. What’s wrong with us? Why do other people seem to have the power to change their lives while ours still seems to be chaotic messes?

Why did Suzie, who’s before and after picture you saw on a dieting commercial, lose 50 pounds on a certain diet, but you couldn’t even lose 5 pounds on the same diet? Why did Bob, who’s before and after picture you saw on a body-building commercial, gain a six-pack and monster pecs, but you only saw slight personal muscle growth when you followed the same steps? Why does the CEO of your company have a hot wife, straight-A kids, and live in a mansion, but you and your wife seem to fight all the time, your kids struggle to make the honor roll, and you live in an antiquated house that requires a lot of work? Why don’t you experience the same success as everyone else?

Creating change in your life is much more complex than you may realize; there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Most of it is much more outside of your control than you realize. Not to mention that when you watch commercials or read the stuff other people are writing about, you’re being shown the best success stories. How many other people tried the same stuff and turned out just like you? Lots more than you probably realize.

Creating the changes we want to see in our lives is hard work. It takes a lot of money, time, and energy. Actually, it takes more of these three resources than any of us have available. In the end, we can’t make all the changes we want to make, which naturally means we need to prioritize these changes. Which one is most important? And how are you measuring your success? Why not throw the bulk of your resources towards that one thing until you reach your desired level of success?

Can Anything Satisfy Us?

This is certainly a way to help yourself achieve your goals. You may read something similar in other articles about learning how to successfully achieve your New Year’s Resolution. But I don’t want to merely provide you with something you can get somewhere else. I want to challenge you to dive deeper into this topic to find something you may not find somewhere else.

Why do so many people want their lives to change? I claimed earlier in this article that I believe it’s because they are dissatisfied, unfulfilled, or unhappy in some area of their lives. And they think that if they make these changes, they will be more satisfied, fulfilled, and happier. Will they really find it?

Have you ever achieved your New Year’s Resolution? Did it make you happier? Personally, I have had the experience of achieving a few New Year’s Resolutions. When I achieved them, I felt happier for a little while, but then that happiness wore off. Has that happened to you? It doesn’t necessarily have to be with a New Year’s Resolution; maybe it was with another goal you achieved. Maybe you had a goal of graduating from college, saving a certain amount of money, or getting married. Maybe making a change brought you some additional happiness for a little while, but that happiness eventually wore off.

Based on my life experiences, it seems natural that anything which brings us some level of satisfaction, fulfillment, or happiness eventually wears off. For example, when we eat a meal, we are satisfied for a little while, but a few hours later, we’re hungry again.

Most people just accept that this is the way life works and jump from one fleeting pleasure to another. But I’ve never been one to accept the status quo. I have a dream where I and everyone else can be filled up once and for all; it’s a state where we never have to go back again for more because we will be completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy.

I certainly haven’t experienced everything there is to experience in life. So it’s a very good thing that multitudes of other people who have had more experiences than me have taken the time to write down some of their thoughts on their experiences. Wouldn’t you know it…none of us, not me and not anyone else who I read, have been able to find anything on this earth that is able to fulfill my dream. Not a single one. I’ll give you an example of one of these writers.

King Solomon, a king over the nation of ancient Israel, who is revered as one of the wealthiest and happiest kings of all time, wasn’t even able to find the silver bullet. He had 700 wives, 300 concubines, more kids than I can count, so much gold that silver was basically worthless, and exceptional wisdom, yet he recognized that he was still not completely satisfied. See an excerpt of what he once wrote:

So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.[1]

Solomon spent his life chasing after all sorts of stuff in an attempt to find the ever-elusive complete satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness he desired. After having achieved everything he wanted, he stepped back to do some reflecting. And in the end, he concluded that it was all worthless. Even though he had everything he wanted, he still wasn’t completely satisfied, fulfilled, or happy. Of course he was probably satisfied to some degree, fulfilled to some degree, and happy to some degree, but not like he had hoped. Not like the dream he had been holding onto all his life.

Do you have this same dream? If you don’t, did you have it at one point in time? Did you dream of reaching a state in which you would be completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy? Based on my research, it seems all of us have had this dream at one point in time, but more many people, their experiences told them that it was impossible to achieve this goal. So many people abandoned their dream and began to settle for fleeting pleasure after fleeting pleasure, hoping to find some level of happiness in the midst of them.

Why haven’t I given up my dream? Is it because I’m a glutton for punishment? No. It’s because I still believe it’s achievable; I believe I will one day reach a state, whether it’s in this life or the next, where I will be completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy. Am I going to find it in eating healthier, exercising more, or succeeding in my career? No. Am I going to find it in having a better marriage, living in a bigger house, or having more accolades than anyone in history? No. Am I going to find it in stockpiling more money, driving a nice car, or having better sex? No. I’m not going to find it in any of the fleeting pleasures of life. Trust me. Generations of people who have come before us have already told us that it can’t be found in those places. Why do I need to experience the same disappointments all over again?

So where can it be found? What is it that gives me hope for reaching a state where I am completely satisfied, fulfilled, and happy? Check out these claims from two different people:
In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forever more.[2]

Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.[3]

The first quote is a claim made by a guy named David who lived about 3,000 years ago. The “your” he was speaking of was God. He claimed that complete satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness could be found in God’s presence. It’s ironic that his son was the same Solomon I quoted earlier who tried to find pleasures in all sorts of other places. Maybe he wasn’t so wise after all.

The second quote was made by Jesus, a man who is believed to be God (and there is substantial evidence to support his claim). Therefore, God claimed to be able to satisfy us with “living water” so that we would never be dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and unhappy again. If God exists and if he is telling the truth (both of which seem very probable based on the research that has gone into these two subjects), then I have every reason to have hope that my dream will come to fruition. And if you still have that dream, you can have that hope too.

So there’s my addition to the list of trending articles on the Blog Lovin’ digest related to making changes in your life. If you’re tired of trying to find satisfaction by following the 3 steps to eating healthier, 5 steps to making your body sexier, and 7 steps to having a more successful career, consider taking the 1 most difficult step you’ll ever take to pursue God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. I can’t guarantee much of anything in life, but if everything God says about himself is true, then I can guarantee you this: If you pursue God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will not be disappointed with the results.[4]

I hope you’re having a great New Year and I look forward to sharing with you again next week! Feel free to reply to this article in the social media feed. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

[1] Ecclesiastes 2:9-11.
[2] Psalms 16:11.
[3] John 4:13-14.
[4] “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” – Jeremiah 29:13.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

How Do We Treat Authorities Who Don't Earn Our Respect?

Some people respect Donald Trump. Some people don’t’ respect him. He’s done some helpful things for this country while being in office. For example, when was the last time you heard about ISIS? His team has been working diligently to eliminate ISIS. But he’s also done some things that appear, at least at this point, to be detrimental to this country. For example, he has been exchanging verbal threats with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, who now claims to have a nuclear bomb button on his desk that he’s not afraid to use.

Has Donald Trump earned my respect? Not really. Did Barak Obama earn my respect? Again, not really. How about George W. Bush? Eh, not exactly. What about Bill Clinton? He didn’t earn my respect either. All these guys are merely human beings who make mistakes…lots of them, just like everyone else who has ever been the President of the United States. I have very high expectations for people to earn my respect. If every President of the United States has to meet my expectations in order for me to respect them, then I’d have no respect for any of them.

What about a boss at work? Maybe it’s your direct boss. Then again, maybe it’s a boss a few rungs up the ladder. I once had a boss a few rungs up the ladder who did very little to earn my respect. First of all, he was a bully who regularly used his position of authority to poke fun at people who were lower on the totem pole than him. Second, he didn’t appear to be standing up for us, the people working for him, when conversing with other managers across the company. And third, it was well-known that he had been cheating on his wife. Why should I respect him? He didn’t do anything to earn it.

Or how about our parents? I am very grateful to have parents who have earned my respect. But not everyone has parents like mine. What about the young woman whose parents disowned her? What about the young man whose dad told him he was a poor excuse for a son. Or what about the young woman whose mother sexually abused her as an infant and whose dad, who knew what was going on, did nothing to stop it? How are we to respond to these parents? The actions of these parents don’t give their children any reasons to respect them. If anything, it seems like their kids would be justified in disrespecting them.

At different times in life, we all find ourselves under the authority of a person who fails to earn our respect. How do we respond in these people? Do we respond by disrespecting them? Or do we respond by respecting them, even if they do nothing to earn it?

Should We Respect People with Authority?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, then you probably realize that I believe God has the highest level of authority of anyone in the world. And I believe the Bible to be his Word, meaning that it is also authoritative.[1] According to the Bible, anyone who has authority over other people has it because it has been given to them by God.[2] When we don’t respect our authorities, we are in turn disrespecting God since he is the one who put those authorities in place.[3] Therefore, if we claim to be followers of Jesus, then we also must respect the people who have authority over us, whether or not they seem worthy of our respect.

In theory, it sounds pretty easy: respect your authorities. But oh how hard it is to actually live this way. How do you respect a President who appears to fire everyone who reports him for misconduct? How do you respect the boss who pokes fun at you while you can do nothing except sit there and take it? How do you respect the parent who sexually abused you as an infant? I’m definitely not 100 percent there, but here’s a brief overview of what has happened in my life which has led me to respect my authorities, whether or not I feel like they have earned it.

Why I Choose to Respect My Authorities

For many years, I believed God was in some type of control of the universe, but I wrestled with his level of control. Some days I concluded that he was in control of everything and other days I concluded he was in control of nothing. How in control is God? Most of the time, I believed God created the entire universe and everything in it, but I didn’t think he was actually in control of everything that takes place in the universe. I wouldn’t say I believed he took a completely hands-off approach, but for the most part, I thought he left the universe to play out however it played out.

But this belief poses a problem: How could God claim to institute the authorities on earth if he has little to no involvement in the things that happen on earth? He can’t. He’d be taking credit for something he didn’t do. It’d be like me taking credit for a beautiful rainbow in the sky when I did nothing to put it there. Thus, God is either taking credit for something he didn’t do or he’s much more involved in the daily operation of the universe than I believed.

A few years ago, my beliefs began to shift. The Holy Spirit led me to dig deeper and deeper into the Bible, and then began to open my eyes to see just how deep and wide God’s control spanned. Kicking and screaming the whole way, my beliefs shifted to the point where I now believe that God is completely sovereign over all of his creation, meaning that he is in absolute control of everything that happens here on earth. Therefore, if God is truly in control of everything that happens here on earth, then he can rightly claim to have instituted every authority on earth.

But we can’t stop there. The Bible also says that everything that happens on earth happens for a reason.[4] God has a purpose in doing everything he does.[5] For me to resist something that happens on earth displays a lack trust in God. Do I trust that he knows what he’s doing, or do I think I know better than him what’s best? When I resist what he does, I am essentially saying that I know better than him. On the other hand, when I go along with what he’s doing, especially when it’s not what I would do, then I’m displaying trust in him.

This shift naturally led me to begin respecting the authorities in my life, not because they did something to earn my respect, but because of the trust I have in God, my Lord. God placed Donald Trump in the authoritative position as the President of the United States. God placed my boss in his position of authority over me. And God placed our parents in their positions. To fail to respect them would be to fail to trust in God.

What Does It Look Like to Respect Our Authorities?

I want to end this discussion by attempting to provide some brief guidance that will help us live in a way that is respectful to our authorities. When I use the term respect, I’m referring to an attitude which is manifested through our actions. One of the biggest ways we can tell whether we respect someone is the way we desire to talk about that person with others. Do we desire to talk positively about that person or do we desire to talk negatively about that person? If we find ourselves constantly complaining about the person, then we probably don’t respect him or her.

To respect someone doesn’t mean we have to like everything he does or says. We don’t have to believe that everything he does is worthy of respect. And we don’t have to like everything we have to do as a result of his decisions. But that doesn’t give us a right to treat that person disrespectfully.

To respect our authorities doesn’t mean we blindly follow them without exercising discernment. Discernment is one of the gifts of the Spirit,[6] meaning that we are called to exercise great discernment. One of the toughest challenges we will face in respecting our authorities is found when our discernment tells us that something our authorities have asked us to do comes into conflict with living in obedience to God. Our obedience to God is always more important than our obedience to our earthly authorities. But we can’t use this as a pass to not obey our authorities when we don’t want to do something. In my life, when I don’t agree with something a person in authority asks of me, I will provide a logical explanation to explain my reasoning, but will end by stating that I will do whatever is asked of me, as long as it doesn’t come into conflict with my obedience to God.

If we truly love God, then we will respect the people who he has placed in positions of authority, not necessarily because they are deserving of respect, but because God is worthy of our trust and respect. I don’t say this as a guilt trip; I say it as a cold hard fact. How would our world be different if everyone treated their authorities with the highest level of respect?

Do you respect the people who have authority over you? If so, why? If not, why not? How does the realization that God has placed these people in their positions change the level of respect you have for them?

[1] “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” – 2 Timothy 3:16.
[2] “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” – Romans 13:1.
And as Jesus said to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor in Jerusalem, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” – John 19:11.
[3] “Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” – Romans 13:2.
[4] “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” – Romans 8:28
[5] “I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” – Isaiah 43:6-7 (emphasis mine).
“My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose” – Isaiah 46:10.
[6] See 1 Corinthians 12:10.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Hope for the New Year

5…4…3…2…1…Happy New Year!!!

As the sparkling ball dropped in the frigid temperatures of New York City during the final seconds of 2017, millions of Americans sat bundled up with blankets and warm drinks in front of their televisions to reign in the new year. They were excited to hear the joyful cry of “Happy New Year!”

For some people, the new year brings with it new hopes and dreams. Maybe 2017 was an extremely tough year. It may be a great relief to close that chapter of the book. Maybe things didn’t go quite the way you had hoped last year. Now there’s a hope for a new beginning. Then again, maybe 2017 was a great year and you’re looking forward to another great year.

But not everyone is experiencing this same level of joy and celebration about the new year. Maybe you feel like you are just barely hanging on. It was a miracle to make it through 2017, and now you need another miracle to make it through 2018. Maybe you dreamed new dreams for years, but none of them came to fruition, causing you to feel great pain or even slighted by the new year gods. Maybe you feel like 2018 is going to do nothing more than give you more of the same old crap you’ve been dealing with for as far back as you can remember.

Do you have hope for the new year, or do you feel hopeless about it? If you have hope, from where do you find hope? If you don’t have hope, why do you think you don’t have hope? I’d encourage you to spend a little time thinking about those questions as I share about the place where I derive my hope for the coming year.

I have a confession to make: I feel asleep before the ball dropped. Oops! Sorry, I was really tired that night.

Don’t mistake my lack of enthusiasm for the ball drop as a lack of hope in the coming year. I certainly have hope for the upcoming year. But the reason I have hope for 2018 may surprise you.

Some people have hope in their ability to discipline themselves to become better. Some people have hope in their boss to give them a promotion. Some people have hope in their wealth to make them happier. But those aren’t the places I’ve turned to find hope for the new year.

The hope I have is not found in something I can do, something someone else can do for me, or something I own. My hope is in God and his ability to come through on his promises. What has God promised? He has promised to bring glory to his name. He has promised to rescue all of his people from their captivity and raise them to life. He has promised to transform his people into the image of Jesus. And he has promised to unite his people to him for all of eternity. So the hope I have is in God, that he will accomplish all of these promises.

Some of you may feel like this whole God-thing is imaginary, pie-in-the-sky stuff that makes me feel better about myself. Not so fast. To believe everything God says about me is to believe that he’s far greater than I will ever be, that I can do nothing to thwart his plans, that I have nothing short of an evil heart which needs to be completely transformed, and that I can do nothing to save myself from eternal damnation. I don’t know about you, but those four beliefs don’t exactly make me feel better about myself. Quite the contrary. They make me feel worse about myself. It’s a good thing I stopped finding hope in myself!

My hope comes from God. There’s such a thing as faith which comes by believing without seeing. But God knows how much I struggle with that. So he’s been gracious enough to let me see him in the act of fulfilling one of his promises: the promise to transform my heart. When I take a look at my heart today, it looks so vastly different from the heart I had as a child. As a child, I greatly lacked the fruit of the Spirit, but today, my heart bears the fruit of the Spirit every single day. And every single day God is continuing to transform my heart so that it bears more and more of this good fruit.

I don’t tell you all of this because I want to convert you to some crazy religion; I tell you all of this because it seems I’ve stumbled upon the greatest treasure anyone could ever find. And instead of hogging it all for myself, I want to share it with you too. I want you to experience this hope, a hope which isn’t found in the created things of this world, but a hope which is found in the Creator of the things of this world.

I have hope for 2018 because I trust that God is going to continue to fulfill his promises both in my life and in the lives of the people around me.

My hope and prayer for you is that 2018 is that you would get a chance to experience God’s work in you, leading you to find your hope in him, the greatest treasure the world will ever know!