Reflection and Taking Spiritual Inventory
Spiritual Inventory

When I was in high school, I worked in the toy department of a department store. Twice a year, we prepared for an outside firm to take inventory. We worked with these teams to count every item on the shelves, and I do mean every item. We even included incomplete or damaged toys and games to ensure everything was counted.

Today I apply the concept of taking inventory in other areas of life. For example, before I head out to the supermarket, I examine the pantry and the refrigerator to determine what we need. On those occasions when I forget this important step, the result is too many of some groceries and not enough of others.

What was good for the toy department and for my pantry is also good for my spiritual life. I need to take spiritual inventory on a regular basis to evaluate my condition. The end of one year and the beginning of another seems to be the right time to ask myself some pointed questions. This week I am:

Taking stock

Proverbs 27:23 tells us to “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds.” In biblical times, wealth was often measured by the size of one’s flocks and herds.

Today we usually measure wealth by the size of our bank accounts. But true wealth has nothing to do with counting dollars. So I will be asking myself:

  • How have I grown in my relationship with the Lord this past year?
  • Which fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) have I cultivated?
  • How have my earthly relationships grown and developed?

Checking up

Psalm 139:23 gives us a glimpse into King David’s heart as he pleaded with God: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.”

It’s natural to want to avoid dealing with unpleasant things. But some things must be dealt with or the consequences will be worse than the confrontation! I may not want to face the areas of my life that require changing, but I do want to be all God desires for me to be. This means asking:         

  • What habits from the old year am I dragging into the new year?
  • What bitterness or resentment do I need to release?
  • Who do I need to forgive before the new year begins?

Planning for the new year

Proverbs 16:3 admonishes us, “Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.”

Like many people, I live a busy life. Without plans and lists, my schedule would soon fall apart. But I also want to be sensitive to God’s plans for me, because I know He has them!

Jeremiah 29:11 reminds me, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” While this promise is specifically for the nation of Israel, the applicable truth for me today is that God does, indeed lead me according to His best for my life. The question is, am I following His leading so I can experience His best for me?

In order to be available for what God desires for me, I am asking myself:

  • Am I serving where I want to serve or where God has called me to serve?
  • How tightly am I holding on to my own agenda and ambitions?
  • How much flexibility is there in my calendar? Am I open to God’s interruptions?

One year from now, I hope to do this exercise again. And it’s my prayer that I will not have wasted the time God extended to me.

What questions are you asking yourself as this year ends and the new year begins?


New Year, Clean Slate

happy new year

We’re almost two weeks into the new year. In many ways, there’s nothing new about it, other than changing the year when we write the date. (Anyone beside me becoming adept at converting a seven into an eight?)

If 2018 is feeling more like “same old, same old,” why all the hype about a new year? After all, don’t we turn the calendar page every month? And if you use a 24-month paper calendar, you can wait yet another year before buying a new one. That is, if you even use paper. Digital calendars and date books just keep adding the next month. A new year is not a concern for your digital organizer.

So what’s the big deal, just because the earth has completed another rotation around the sun?

I wonder if the new year hype—with its focus on a clean slate and resolutions to become better people—is related to something else.

There’s an innate longing in the human spirit that craves a do-over. Failures often haunt us. We find ourselves wishing for a way to rewind the tape of our lives and erase our past mistakes. We’re eager to eliminate today’s consequences caused by yesterday’s errors.

However, no matter how many new years we celebrate, we can’t change the past. And that past often limits our future. Still, our future doesn’t have to be chained to our past.

God offers what the human spirit craves. Forgiveness. Cleansing. A new start.

That’s the message of the Christian life. Faith in what Jesus Christ did for us on the cross means we’re no longer shackled to past sins. We are given the gift of a clean slate—not just on January first, but every day.

If you’ve tried—and failed—to wipe away your own past sins and mistakes, come to the One who has already done it for you. There’s only one way to be freed from our failures.

Christ took your failures and mine onto Himself. He paid our penalty so that we would not have to. He offers the freedom we crave and the future we desire. Jesus is the One who restores us to our heavenly Father. He gives us the gift of His Spirit so that we’re never again have to struggle in this life alone. It’s His Spirit who gives us the strength to say no to sin and its resulting shame and regrets.

When you’re in a relationship with the God who said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:5 NIV), every day is a fresh start. And that beats any new year’s celebration.


How Are You Spending the Week Between Years?

The Week Between Years

This is an odd week. No business meetings. No school. No medical appointments. No expectancy. Christmas is past, the new year not yet arrived. A week of suspended activity.

But it’s just another week, isn’t it? Another seven days like any other seven days?

Yet it’s not.

Political stories are muted in the news. The front page of the newspaper had a picture of a home-crafted nativity scene. Talking heads on television have spent more time on human interest stories this week than the past eight weeks combined.

It’s as if everyone has taken a deep breath and a large step back from the brink of despair. Sure, there’s still talk of the supposedly disastrous tax bill recently passed by the Republicans. But there’s not much fuel for the fire when television network CBS determined that each of three diverse families tested all saved money under the new bill.

Still, nobody seems to be paying attention to the news much this week, anyway. We’ve shifted our perspective…temporarily. Celebrating with family. Visiting friends. Exploring our Christmas gifts. Enjoying a leisurely dinner out. Living life the way it was meant to be lived.

This is the week between years. The week between 2017 and 2018. Between now and then. Between rest and rush. Between play and work.

This is the week we consider resolutions for the new year. Or we choose our “one word” for 2018. This is the week we spend quiet time with the Lord. A time of introspection. Self-examination. A time of asking the Holy Spirit to show us our blind spots. A time of asking Him to show us those areas we have yet to surrender to Him.

Sadly, it won’t last. But we can purpose to take a little of this week with us. We can choose to be intentional about building margin into our packed schedules. To value rest as a way to reenergize. To value play as a way to alleviate stress. To value relationships over possessions. Most importantly, to seek and value a more intimate relationship with the Lord. A time of giving Him the priority in our daily life that we withhold when our schedules control us instead of the other way around.

Yes, it’s only a week. But it doesn’t have to end, not fully, anyway. Take a piece of this week with you into 2018. You won’t regret it.


How Should We Live?

 

Each new year brings the potential for a clean slate. New opportunities, new challenges, new experiences. But that clean slate also produces uncertainty.How Should We Live in 2017

Globally, we’re facing wars, terrorism, and natural disasters. Nationally, we’re weary of political conflicts, division, racism, as well as disillusionment with our elected officials—regardless of who you may have voted for.

All this uncertainty has renewed interest in end times prophecies. But it has also precipitated questions about the correct interpretation of those prophecies. Will there be a rapture, and if so, when? Is the millennium a literal period of time? Who is the AntiChrist? What is the role of the United States in the end times, if it even has a role?

When I recently taught the book of Revelation, I was overwhelmed by the number of class members who enrolled for one reason. They wanted names and dates to complete a timeline of end time events. But if we’re only looking for names and dates, we’re missing the point of prophecy. The Bible calls us to ask ourselves,

In light of the uncertainty in the world and the certainty of God’s sovereignty, how should we live?

Prophecy does more than simply reveal information about coming events. Every prophecy in the Bible also reveals something about who God is—His nature and His ways.

The more we learn about who God is, the more we understand how we are to live in uncertain times.

How we are to live when our government disappoints us.

How we are to live when our culture responds to our God with hostility.

How to live when even our friends reject our choice to surrender to the Savior.

There is no question that we live in uncertain times. Older generations fear for younger ones. And prophetic Bible passages often lead to more questions than answers. Still, the way we live in these unsettled times communicates much about who we believe God is.

Are we sending a message to those around us to “Do as I say, not as I do”? For example, we say we trust God…until a crisis arises and we collapse as our private world falls apart. Or we say we trust God for our nation…until the “other” candidate gets elected and we react with complete despair.

It’s one thing to trust God’s sovereignty when our experiences are positive and pleasant. It’s quite another thing to trust God when events seem to be spinning out of control and the future appears bleak at best.

Which situation do you think will provide the basis for a more powerful witness to a watching world? To the reality of intimacy with God? After all, anyone can claim to trust God when things are going well. It’s when our circumstances are at their worst that we have the opportunity to reflect Christ in ways that cause unbelievers to sit up and take notice.

As 2017 continues to unfold, we can be certain of at least one truth: God is always at work for our ultimate good and His eternal glory. Do you believe this? Really believe this? Will you choose to live in a way that communicates this truth in your personal relationships? On social media? At work? In your family?

If you do, regardless of what the new year brings, you will radiate a peace the world hungers for. You will also have numerous opportunities to share with others how they can obtain this peace for themselves.

When you look back on 2017 twelve months from now, what will you see? A year in which your intimacy with God blossomed through a relationship with His Son, Jesus? Or a year filled with a growing sense of dread that suffocated every opportunity to live for the glory of the One who is still sovereign over His creation?

The choice is yours. Just remember, your choice affects more than you alone. Your choice will impact everyone in your sphere of influence.

How will you and I live in 2017?


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