7 Goals for 2017 (and how to reach them)

As we step into a new year, I’m asking myself, “How can I grow closer to Jesus and continue in the calling He’s given me?” Here are seven goals I came up with to keep me balanced and moving forward in 2017. I believe they’ll help you, too.

7Tips_2017900

1. Read.

When I was in college, I read only what I needed to. Now that I’m out of college, I find myself more interested in reading all sorts of books.

HOW: This year, I’m hoping to go through The Rebelution’s 27 Books Christian Teens Should Read (I’m not a teen, but it’s still a great list!). A friend and I are also keeping one another accountable to Tim Challies’ 2017 Reading Challenge.

2. Eliminate Distracting Apps.

It’s not just forming new habits that move us forward in life. It’s also breaking bad ones.

One specific area I find myself often distracted by are apps on my smartphone. These little distractions we use to fill our free minutes are deteriorating our ability to focus.

HOW: This New Year I want to find new ways to focus, and one of those ways is eliminating my Facebook app on my phone. I’ll still use Facebook, but I’m tired of letting Facebook use me. Free yourself from distracting apps that fill moments but ultimately lead to less focus when it counts.

3. Develop one new hobby.

In your chase after a New Year’s resolution, give yourself some breathing room to expand your horizons. Hobbies don’t have to be part of our life calling, but they add enjoyment and discovery to our lives; they add knowledge and experience to our lives.

HOW: Silly as it might sound, my hobby in 2017 is to learn card tricks. It’s enjoyable, a skill, and takes my mind off my other work.

4. Find mentors and communities to spur you on.

Whatever your passion or goal for 2017, I guarantee you there’s a community out there with the same goal. Make the effort to find that community and get connected.

HOW: This last month I got connected to The Minnesota Christian Writers Guild, all because of a simple Internet search. Find community, and find mentors who will help you grow your craft.

5. Spend time with Jesus.

“What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” That question from Jesus should still ring in our ears today.

If you want to be a successful, start by prioritizing time with Jesus. That means intentional time, every day if you can, to come before Him in worship, the Word, and prayer. Don’t be like the rich fool who took great care of his wealth but not of his soul.

HOW: For me, that means using a daily Scripture reading app called Read Scripture.

6. Make goals for every part of life, not just one.

You might be confused why you should make even more goals for 2017, but I promise it’s for the best.

I believe I’m called to write, so my goals for 2017 should focus on writing. However, we’re all wholistic people. We have different facets to our lives that if left unattended will drag the rest of our life down.

HOW: I won’t give you my laundry list of goals, but I’ll tell you that I made categories for marriage, writing, work, ministry, and physical health.

7. Give yourself equal measures of drive and grace.

It’s so important that we take a balanced approach to resolutions. On one hand, giving drive and no grace leads to burnout. On the other hand, giving ourselves too much grace quickly reduces a goal to a good idea. It does take drive and discipline to accomplish our goals. It also takes grace to help us move past our inevitable failings.

HOW: Don’t let yourself burn out. Push hard, and take care of yourself.

At the end of the day, your calling is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Ask yourself if your New Year’s resolutions do that. Adjust your goals if necessary, then get after them.

Heavenward: The Pals Family

I did not know Jamison and Kathryne Pals or their family, though their story came to me through many mutual friends. Their lives were taken, all too tragically, by an accident on an interstate in Nebraska. The Pals family was on their way to Colorado, to prepare to go overseas to serve Japan in Jesus’ name.

The Pals Family
Jamison and Kathryne, with their three children: Ezra, Violet, and Calvin.

This tragedy robbed the world of five vibrant lives. And although I never knew them personally, three elements of their story are impacting my life very deeply.

1. They did not hear a heavenly voice.

With three kids, the Pals family left for Japan—and it wasn’t because they heard a heavenly voice.

Often I lay my life before God like someone waiting on a vision from God. “I’m ready, Lord—just show me the way!” Yet the testimony of the Pals family is this: God is not waiting for you to have a heavenly vision; He is waiting for you to be obedient to the vision He has already given through His Word.

Habakkuk 2:2, 14
And the Lord answered me:

“Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so he may run who reads it.

For the earth will be filled
with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.”

The Pals family desired to run in response to the vision of all people knowing Jesus.

2. They were compelled by love.

Love that is not expressed can hardly be counted as love. If you love someone, you’ll tell them, and you will tell others, too. Jamison wrote richly about this on his blog about the unreached and why we care.

The Pals’ desire for missionary work was not compelled primarily by a specific love for the people of Japan. Don’t hear me wrong—they had a passion and commitment to love the people of Japan. But the source of their desire was a deep and abiding love for Christ.

In Jamison’s own words, “His name is Jesus Christ.  We love him.  He is everything to us.  It is only natural that we want others to forever share in everything that we have in him.  That’s why we care deeply about unreached people groups, and that’s why we will, Lord willing, go.”

3. Their lives were not wasted.

But God did not will them to go, and for that many people will say the lives of the Pals family were wasted. This is a lie we must not believe. As Ecclesiastes says,

Ecclesiastes 7:2
It is better to go to the house of mourning
than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
and the living will lay it to heart.

When we look at the tragedy, we can begin to believe that because they never made it to Japan, their lives had no lasting impact. Yet these five precious lives were far from wasted.

We often define success in the Christian life in terms of milestones like, “I became a missionary to Japan.” Yet isn’t it true that God defines our success as obedience in the journey? Our success is not measured by our accomplishments, but by the inclination of our heart for the King of heaven.

As Oswald Chambers wrote:

We are apt to imagine that if Jesus Christ constrains us, and we obey Him, He will lead us to great success. We must never put our dreams of success as God’s purpose for us; His purpose may be exactly the opposite. We have an idea that God is leading us to a particular end, a desired goal; He is not. The question of getting to a particular end is a mere incident. What we call the process, God calls the end.

In the last moment of their life, the Pals physical lives were pointed toward Japan, but their spiritual affections were pointed unwaveringly heavenward.

Don’t waste this tragedy.

Whether or not the tragedy of Pals family is a waste depends only on our response. How will we react in the face of this tragedy?

I, for one, desire a simpler faith. I want a faith that is not so drawn by the lights of a stage but by the burden for the lost. I want a faith marked by simple obedience to God’s Word. I want a faith that longs for Jesus like Jamison and Kathryne, not desiring fame or miracles or approval of people but desiring people to know and love Jesus.

Let your heart break over the death of this family. And then let your heart break over your own broken affections. Let the penetrating light of Christ into your life, to overturn rocks and cast light into shadows. Let Jesus be your greatest affection, and follow Him.

I never knew the Pals, but I’m certain they would have said the same.

5 Ways We Miss the Countercultural Life

Over nine years of blogging, my focus has shifted. “Countercultural” used to represent a rebellion against worldly culture. But now, I feel, the challenge for myself and for other Christians is not only to live a life different than the world but to live countercultural from the popular American church.

Countercultural Life
Photo Credit: Karl Fredrickson

I’m not talking about “prosperity gospel” churches or ones that preach error but instead about modern American churches attended by evangelicals. Here are some (not exhaustive) ways I’ve seen a “rebellious” sort of longing in my heart for more than the American church:

[callout]

We are isolated, and we don’t welcome others with honesty or vulnerability because of fear of the unknown. This is true both inside and outside the church. This keeps us from loving others through our words and actions.

We have a weak view of faith, prayer, eternity, and being led by the Spirit, resulting in a lifestyle requiring little to no divine participation or sacrifice.

Our view of obedience is on a “as long as it doesn’t inconvenience me” basis, meaning no basis of obedience at all. We’ll obey God as long as He obeys us.

We’re uncommitted to the global (and often persecuted) Church, and as a result our Christianity is often blind to the realities of the world that could change our narrow perspective and deepen our hunger for God.

We have a poor view of work and an inflated view of church roles, resulting in people who feel inferior because their job doesn’t identify as “ministry” and see only people in “ministry” as being effective for the kingdom of God.

[/callout]

We say we follow Jesus, but we have explained away so much of the life of Jesus that we’re left with a dim shadow of Christ. We do not love, give, pray, obey, or disciple like He did. In essence, American Christianity has left us “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5).

Clearing Up a Few Things about “Countercultural”

You don’t write something like I just wrote and not have a few people disagree, and for that I’m thankful. I don’t claim to have a perfect perspective, and I know you don’t, either. So let’s help each other understand one another.

First, every time we hear a word of truth, we can either respond with guilt or conviction. Guilt pushes us down, but conviction pushes us forward.

Second, the Bible clearly says God’s Word is good for “teaching, reproof, correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). One of the functions of God’s Word is to reprove us of beliefs to which we either knowingly or unknowingly subscribe. “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Finally, I love the Church. The Church is the bride of Christ, and I am so excited of the day the Bridegroom appears and washes every trace of hypocrisy from His Bride. In the meantime, we are called to endure and to exhort each other daily (Hebrews 3:13).

God wants to know us, and I hope the desire of your heart is to know Him. This isn’t about legalism, guilt, or relevance. This is about me looking at Jesus and saying, “Lord, I fall so far short. The more I know You, the more I realize how far I am from You. Please lead me to know You, and by Your grace, allow me to lead others a little bit closer to You.”

How to Overcome Doubt and Pray with Faith

Often when I pray, I don’t pray with faith. I think the more I ask God, the more likely I am to get what I want. The truth is, I tend to pray most when I don’t believe God will answer.

Pray with Faith

Luke 18:1
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.

Those crazy students from UW-Oshkosh

Five years ago, in March of 2011, I learned something extraordinary about prayer. I stood in a room filled with more than 4,000 students as the rock band Skillet blasted music through the sports center. You might not believe it, but more than 400 of the college students gathered had just responded the Gospel.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s go back to the beginning of the year.

It was the turn of the new year in 2011. The ministry I work for was planning a big outreach at UW-Oshkosh, and the Christians on campus were pumped.

The students had been praying for the band Skillet to come to their campus, and we were excited to share good news with them. “Hey guys, guess what?” we said to the students, “We talked with Skillet’s tour manager, and it sounds like they’re free on February 18!” We could not have been more surprised at their response.

“No,” they replied. “We really believe God gave us March 4th for this event.”

Excuse me? Here God had answered our prayers and opened a door, and the students quietly responded, “Thanks, but we’re really praying for March 4th.”

Fervent Prayers of Doubt

There’s something admirable about persistence. Just think about the “persistent widow” in Luke 18. She was deprived of justice, so she came to an unrighteous judge again… and again… and again.

Finally, the judge says, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me” (Luke 18:4-5)!

The problem is, I often look at God as more of an unrighteous judge than as a loving Father. If I ask Him enough, then eventually He’ll hear me, right? So we ask and we ask, but our prayers are never filled with faith.

We might be fervently praying, but we’re lifting up fervent prayers of doubt.

The difference between doubt and faith

James has strong words for us,

James 1:6-8
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

In other words, if you’re not going to pray with faith, you might as well not pray. Why?

Prayer is dependent on the object of our faith, not the subject.

The subject is me. I pray. But if I chalk up my success in prayer to how I talk or kneel or sound to myself or others, my focus is wrong. Prayer has always and will always be based on God’s faithfulness to His own character.

[share-quote author=”” via=”camdenmcafee”]Prayer has always and will always be based on God’s faithfulness to His own character.[/share-quote]

Two truths to help you pray with faith

Every truth about God revealed in Scripture can fuel our prayers. However, there are two huge character qualities that regularly give me faith to trust in God.

1. God is Sovereign.

No circumstance you face is beyond the reach of God.

Isaiah 59:1
Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.

God is sovereign, and that means He has the final say over your circumstances. Whether forces of nature or the heart of a king—God has the final word.

Psalm 135:6
Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps.

Proverbs 21:1
In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him.

Isaiah 46:10 (NLT)
Only I can tell you the future before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish.

2. God is Faithful.

If God is sovereign, then He can redeem any situation. If He’s faithful, then He will.

God’s given us a guidebook to prayer, and it’s called the Bible. When our prayers are aligned with words God has already promised to uphold, we can be certain beyond a shadow of a doubt that God will answer.

John Piper contributes in this regard: “Jesus promises that every time we pray, God will answer. He will either do exactly what we ask, or something even better, which he would not have done had we not prayed.”

I love that last part—“which he would not have done had we not prayed.”

One of the best examples to learn how to pray with faith is George Mueller. He’s the guy who ran the orphanage in England in the 1800s. Maybe you’ve heard the story about how he prayed for food, and a milk truck broke down outside the orphanage while a baker brought bread after being prompted to do so in a dream.

Here’s the secret to his prayer life:

I always pray with an open Bible, filling my praise and petition with God’s word. I pray God’s promises, His declarations concerning Himself. I pray His names and titles by which He reveals His nature and character. I pray the rights He gave the believer to bold and confident access. When a need arose, I spread them all out before God who hears His children. My heavenly Father will not break His word to His own child.

What if we approached God with that same confidence, knowing He will hear us?

Hebrews 4:16
Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

What I learned from crazy students at UW-Oshkosh

Alright, back to the story. Those crazy students in Oshkosh? God honored their faith.

About a week after that first phone call, we got another phone call. “Something came up,” their tour management said, “and we had to change a lot of our shows. We’re sorry, but February 18 isn’t open any more. But if you’re interested, March 4th is now available.”

The band came, the Gospel was shared, and lives were changed that night.

Those students taught me an important lesson. When God speaks, listen. And when God promises, pray with faith. God is not an unrighteous judge. He’s a perfect, sovereign, faithful Father.

Luke 18:7-8
And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

4 Excuses to Not Memorize Scripture

Hey! Camden here. I’m so excited to share my first guest post from my friend Dakota. What you need to know about Dakota is he loves Jesus, he loves the Bible, and his JOB is to help people memorize Scripture. I’m excited to have him share his experiences with you.


If the thought of memorizing Scripture makes you cringe, then you know how I felt six years ago when I was challenged to start memorizing myself.

Photo credit: Dakota Lynch
Photo credit: Dakota Lynch

It took me about four seconds to come up with a list of reasons why Scripture memory just wasn’t for me. I was quite proud of my list of excuses:

  1. I have a bad memory.
  2. I don’t have enough time.
  3. Scripture memory might be commendable, but it’s probably not a requirement.
  4. Plenty of good people I know have never memorized a Bible verse.

Despite my excuses, I decided to give Scripture memory a try for the next 40 days and see if it was worthwhile. More than 2,000 days later I’m still memorizing, and here’s what I’ve learned in the meantime:

1. Scripture memory is transformative.

Nearly every expression of your individuality comes from the archives of your memory. Your favorite foods and personal preferences, the ability to recognize the face of a loved one, and even reading this paragraph in English depends entirely on your capacity to remember.

Considering the influence memory has on our daily lives, the value of filling it with Scripture can hardly be understated. The purity and completeness of Scripture is such that it converts the soul and enlightens the eyes (Ps. 19:7, 8) — especially when it’s working from the inside out.

2. Scripture memory makes obedience possible.

Knowledge of God’s Word always precedes obedience to God’s Word. Put another way, conformity to the image of Christ doesn’t happen by accident; it is always the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of a believer (Galatians 5:22-23), as well as our own diligence to study the Scripture and live as doers of the Word (Jam. 1:22).

[share-quote author=”” via=”deerstanddevos”]Knowledge of God’s Word always precedes obedience to God’s Word.[/share-quote]

In John 15:7, abiding in Christ is inseparably linked with His words abiding in us. Again, the Holy Spirit’s vital role in this process is described by the Lord in John 14:26: “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will…bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” Abiding continually in Christ is absolutely necessary (vs. 6), but it’s only possible when His words are abiding in us.

3. Scripture memory is hard.

We’ve all heard about those people who can solve a Rubix Cube blindfolded or perform long division mentally, but don’t expect to uncover some trick that makes Scripture memory a cinch. Over the years I’ve spoken with hundreds of people about Scripture memory in both formal and informal settings, meeting people with hundreds and even thousands of verses memorized word-for-word. Surprisingly, even these “elite” memorizers don’t claim it’s easy; they simply claim it’s worth the effort.

If you’re intimidated by the perceived complexity of an effective memory routine, remember that it’s okay to start slow. Just pick a chapter or a handful of verses to memorize, set a reasonable deadline to keep yourself on track, and start memorizing! Scripture memory is very much an investment of time, and like all good investments, the return is far more valuable than the deposit.

What excuses have kept you back from Scripture memory? What tools or methods have you found helpful for Scripture memory? Share in the comments below!