Ready for an Honest New Year’s Assessment?

connections

These 5 Connections Hold the Key to the Life You’ve Always Wanted

A pivotal moment in my life occurred around this time of year in 2010. My friend Don Wright and I were taking our usual walk around the track of Weddington High School, and I told him quite earnestly, “Don, some things have really got to change in my life next year.”

Don has a way of getting to the heart of a matter, and he reminded me of a sobering truth: “I think you said the same thing last year at this time, Jim!”

How terrible it was to see that many areas of my life had become STUCK. Year after year, I had complained. I vowed that things would be different in the coming months and year. Yet nothing really changed.

I hope you have a friend like Don Wright—someone able to provide a mirror to your life and hold you accountable to making the necessary changes to get unstuck. Otherwise, I have bad news: Your New Year’s resolutions are unlikely to bear much fruit.

But what if you’re not even sure about what’s wrong with your current life? Maybe you’re feeling apathetic and dissatisfied, but you don’t know where to start in diagnosing the problem or making any changes.

After years of studying what the Bible says about having an abundant and impactful life, I’ve concluded that these 5 areas hold the key:

CONNECTION TO GOD: Before you worry about any other changes in your life, this should be the starting place. Without a vital connection with the Lord as your “higher power,” your best efforts will surely fall short.

Since I work for a Christian ministry, you might think this area would never be a problem for me. Not true! I’ve discovered that even when you’re surrounded by “ministry,” your connection with God will be anemic unless you spend time cultivating your personal relationship with Him. There must be intentionality and a constant hunger to keep growing in your intimacy with the Lord.

CONNECTION WITH PEOPLE: Unless you’re a hermit, you already have a number of connections with other people. But are they the right people—those helping you become a better “you” so you can fulfill your highest calling in life? Perhaps you need to delete or minimize some relationships in your life, especially any that are toxic, negative, or overly draining.

In my case, although I have great friends, I find myself desiring to spend more time mentoring the next generation of leaders. I also would really value an older mentor in my own life. Once again, changes like these will require some intentionality on my part if they’re ever going to happen.

CONNECTION WITH TRUTH: In the early days of my Christian life, I spent lots of time studying the Bible, which helped provide me with a strong spiritual foundation ever since. However, I’ve slacked off in recent years. Instead of learning new things, I’ve been relying far too much on my previous studies.

Successful people are nearly always lifetime learners, continually reading, studying, and growing. What are your plans to keep learning and growing in the coming year?

CONNECTION WITH CHARACTER: Knowledge and hard work will only get you so far. Perhaps you need to deal with long-standing issues of character and maturity that have robbed you of joy and hindered your fruitfulness. Has an addiction been undermining your life, or do you need freedom from some negative emotion like fear, anger, or depression?

The Bible has a lot to say about the type of “fruit” coming from our lives (e.g., Matthew 12:33, Galatians 5:19-23, John 15:1-5). A new year is a great time to assess the quality of our fruit and do any pruning that may be necessary.

CONNECTION WITH SERVICE: God put each of us on this earth to make an impact in some way. An ingrown life is inevitably boring and unfulfilling, so it’s crucial to identify our place of service. Ideally, our service should flow from the spiritual gifts and passions the Lord has given us, but sometimes we’ll be called upon just to fill a need we see. As we reach out to bless others, more of God’s blessings are released in our own lives as well (Genesis 12:2, Acts 20:35).

I encourage you to assess these 5 areas of your life as you head into the new year. And if you’re in some kind of leadership or management role, you can encourage your team members to grow in these areas too.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I’ve developed an entire curriculum around these 5 connections, complete with an assessment test to see how you’re presently doing in each area. If you make a tax-deductible gift of any amount to Crosslink Ministries by clicking the DONATE button above, I will be happy to email you some of these great discipleship resources upon request.   

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The Surprising Christmas Story in John’s Gospel

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7 Life-Changing Christmas Facts in the First Chapter of John

When we think about the Christmas story, we usually start with the Gospel of Luke and Gospel of Matthew. There we see the shepherds, the magi, and the angel Gabriel’s stunning declaration to Mary. Other colorful characters appear, including Elizabeth and Zacharias, Simeon and Anna.

But John’s Gospel presents the rest of the story. As the final of the four Gospel accounts, it reveals the deeper meaning of the events in Bethlehem that first Christmas.

In the first chapter of John, we see 7 important facts about the true meaning of Christmas…

  1. Christmas is about eternity, not just about Bethlehem.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.

You see, Christmas didn’t start with Gabriel’s appearance to Mary or with the manger scene. The Son of God stepped out of eternity as “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Numerous Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled by Him, and these amazing predictions came through several different people over the course of five centuries from 1000 to 500 BC. Twenty-four specific prophecies were fulfilled in just the 24 hours before Jesus’ death.

Just as your Heavenly Father could look down through the centuries and foresee the details of Jesus’ life, nothing in your life is catching Him by surprise. The same God who fulfilled His promises in intricate detail in the life of His Son Jesus will be faithful to fulfill every promise of His Word for YOU today!

  1. Christmas has been under attack since its inception, but Jesus and His message are invincible, destined to prevail.

In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not [overcome] it.

King Herod massacred babies in an attempt to eliminate the newborn King (Matthew 2:16-18). Throughout history, others have tried to diminish the memory or message of the Messiah.

But John’s Gospel points out the wonderful fact that darkness is powerless to overcome the light. That’s very good news if you are facing some kind of darkness in your  life today.

  1. Although we love the Christmas stories about Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and the magi (people who loved Jesus), many people either were unaware of Jesus’ coming or else completely rejected Him.

10 He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. 11 He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.

Even today, there still are billions of people in the world who have never heard the name of Jesus even once. Others know about Him, but have rejected His message.

Instead of being offended by this rejection or taking it personally, we should be motivated all the more to proclaim the name of Jesus, the only One who can save humanity from their sins (Matthew 1:21).

  1. Christmas ultimately is not just about a baby born in a manager; it’s about His power to give a new birth to anyone who receives Him as Lord and Savior.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: 13 who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.

As C.S. Lewis well said, “The Son of God became a man to enable men to become sons of God.” Our physical birth is not enough, Jesus told religious leader Nicodemus. We must receive a spiritual birth too, being “born again” in order to see and enter God’s kingdom (John 3:1-7).

  1. Christmas is the story of Immanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14), and His presence is always characterized by both grace and truth.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

God loved the world so much that He didn’t just send a letter, a postcard, an email, or an Instagram. He became flesh, personally stepping into our world.

In contrast to the example of many of His followers today, Jesus was full of BOTH grace and truth. This is a great reminder that we’re called to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)—never shrinking back from sharing the truth, but always communicating it with grace.

  1. Christmas would be a meaningless event if it hadn’t been for Jesus’ death and resurrection.

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

The baby in Bethlehem grew up! John the Baptist accurately discerned His calling as God’s sacrificial Lamb—the Savior who was born to die (Isaiah 53).

  1. Christmas illustrates the promise of an open heaven, with God not only sending His Son, but also every other blessing we need (Ephesians 1:3, Philippians 4:19).

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus was referring to Jacob’s vision of an open heaven, with a ladder between the heavenly and earthly realms (Genesis 28). As John’s Gospel unfolds, we’re told clearly that Jesus Himself is the ladder or bridge to heaven, and there is no other pathway but Him (John 14:6).

Yet Christmas is about more than just getting people to heaven. Jesus also brought some of heaven down to US, and He told us to pray for heaven to be revealed through our own lives as well (Matthew 6:10).

Along with Jesus, we’re privileged to receive everything else that’s included in God’s kingdom (Matthew 6:33). That’s why Paul could say in Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us ALL things?”

This Christmas, I hope you’ll remember that the God who loved you enough to give you His Son will also hear your prayers and give you the other things you need in life. The next time you hear someone say, “Merry Christmas,” keep in mind that it’s not just about a historical event in Bethlehem. It’s a transcendent reality meant to change your life today—and your future in eternity as well.

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The Cure for Bone-Deep Pain

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I once met a man who had become addicted to prescription painkillers.

“That must be terrible,” I empathized. “Where is your pain located?”

I expected the man to tell me about migraine headaches, pain in his back, or some other kind of physical agony. But, to my surprise, he took the conversation in an entirely different direction.

“Well, my wife left me a few years ago, and I’ve been really lonely. I’m also having conflict with my kids, and I don’t like my job. I basically hate my life and feel like a total failure.”

I wasn’t prepared for his explanation. What did any of those circumstances have to do with getting hooked on prescription pain medicine?

However, as our conversation continued, I began to see the connection. While some people become dependent on pills to alleviate their physical  discomfort, this man was desperately trying to numb his emotional  pain.

Perhaps you can’t relate to this. I hope  you can’t relate!

Yet here’s the sad reality for many people: There’s a kind of pain that goes far deeper than pain in our physical body. It goes to the very soul—to the core of our being.

I call this “bone-deep” pain, but it’s actually much deeper even than that.

King David seems to have been quite familiar with bone-deep emotional pain. While some of his psalms are exuberant and celebratory, many describe his deep internal agony, all the way down to his bones:

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak;
O Lord, heal me, for my bones are troubled.
My soul also is greatly troubled…
(Psalm 6:3).

My life is spent with grief,
And my years with sighing;
My strength fails because of my iniquity,
And my bones waste away
(Psalm 31:10).

When I kept silent, my bones grew old
Through my groaning all the day long
(Psalm 32:3).

Some of David’s psalms attribute his bone-deep pain to things like grief, betrayal, and the torment he frequently received from his enemies. But other passages, such as Psalm 39, acknowledge that some of his emotional pain was the direct result of his own sinful, foolish choices:

O Lord, do not rebuke me in Your wrath,
Nor chasten me in Your hot displeasure!
For Your arrows pierce me deeply,
And Your hand presses me down.

There is no soundness in my flesh
Because of Your anger,
Nor any health in my bones
Because of my sin
.
For my iniquities have gone over my head;
Like a heavy burden they are too heavy for me.
My wounds are foul and festering
Because of my foolishness…

I am feeble and severely broken;
I groan because of the turmoil of my heart 
(Psalm 39:1-8).

Fortunately, there’s hope for those who are suffering bone-deep pain. David goes on to conclude that God is with him and well aware of his turmoil (v. 9). Even though there is no lasting relief for such pain through prescription painkillers, alcohol, or illegal drugs, David has found the only source of true hope: “In You, O Lord, I hope; You will hear, O Lord my God”  (v. 15).

David had experienced the incredible pain of internal torment, but that gave him authority to speak with great eloquence about the Shepherd who offers to lead us to a place of peace, safety, and renewed joy: “He restores my soul”  (Psalm 23:3).

Let those four beautiful words sink into the core of your being today: “He restores my soul.”  The Lord understands the severity of your pain, and He offers to penetrate—bone deep and beyond—to restore your soul.

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