I was getting ready for Zeke’s birthday party – it was the first of his birthdays since he went home to Jesus – when my phone rang. Though I didn’t recognize the number, it was from the 614 area code and I thought a friend from Columbus might be calling to check in on our family on Zeke’s birthday. Instead, it was a man named Yogi, a pastor with the Christian & Missionary Alliance who was planting a church in the Columbus area. He had gotten my name from Pastors Dean and Troy from LifePoint Church, and he wanted to see if I had any interest in exploring the possibility of joining him on this church plant.

Though Breena and I had just bought a wonderful house in our dream neighborhood in Toledo, I said that I was always willing to explore something that God might have me do. So we talked more the next day, and then Breena and I met him and his wife, Joy, for dinner a couple of weeks later. It seemed to all of us that God might be doing something here, so we agreed to pray and stay in contact.

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I’m convinced that many people today don’t understand the difference between necessities and entitlements. Through social media, we have a tendency to hyperbolize our indulgences and desires. Just look at what people post about coffee on any given day.

But we need to be clear. A necessity is something without which your life would be greatly impoverished; an entitlement (and we could just as easily substitute the word indulgence here) is something without which your life would be slightly less pleasurable. Water is a necessity; coffee is not. (I’ve been off caffeine since Christmas and let me tell you, I have much more energy than I used to.) Clothing is a necessity; a new outfit for a “special occasion” is not. Shelter is a necessity; a house full of the latest stuff is not.

Character-webOur entitlements (or indulgences) are not necessarily bad things. Coffee isn’t evil. It’s not wrong, per se, to buy a new outfit. Owning an iPhone isn’t a sin. But what many of us have to learn (myself included) is where to draw the line between what is necessary and what is not. If that line gets blurred, we act like spoiled brats when things don’t go our way or when we don’t get everything we want. A blurry line between necessity and entitlement is a sure sign of a soul sickness that will poison (or perhaps already has poisoned) your heart toward God.

It’s impossible to be grateful (or gracious) when your soul has been poisoned by entitlement. When you believe in your heart that it is your birthright to get everything you desire, or when you feel that God, the universe, or others owe you something, then you will perceive everything you receive as due wages for your mere existence rather than as the stunning act of a gracious God seeking to bless you with his goodness. Entitlement is the enemy of gratitude.

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Entitlement is a silent killer. It creeps in through your mind, nestles down in your heart, and slowly eats you alive from the inside. Entitlement is a virus of the soul. It puts you at odds with God. It stridently shouts at heaven, “What you have given me is insufficient. I must have more!” Entitlement prays blasphemously, “Give me today my daily bread all that You owe me.”

Entitlement takes many forms, but it is always destructive. Shopping entitlement will impoverish you. Food entitlement will wreck your health. Emotional entitlement will ruin your relationships. Spiritual entitlement will shipwreck your faith.


We don’t recognize our entitlements for the soul-assassins that they are because we have bought into their lie.
My first year of seminary was a difficult time for me, emotionally. I had just left a thriving young adult ministry and a wide circle of friends in Ohio to enroll at a well-respected evangelical seminary in Boston. Moving from the Midwest to New England gave me a serious dose of culture shock. Everything is so much different on the East Coast. As the darkness of winter dominated my days, I sank deeper and deeper into depression. (I hesitate to use that word because I don’t know if I was clinically depressed, but I don’t know what else to call it.) By way of medicating myself, I began to collect DVDs – as in, I would go to the store and buy five or ten DVDs at a time. Shopping became a form of emotional medication, and my DVD collection quickly turned into a source of pride and a sense of entitlement. “I deserve to buy these DVDs,” I told myself. But I was wasting money and feeding a monster by giving into my entitlement. The more you feed your entitlement, the harder it becomes to kill it.

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The Year of No is predicated on the idea that you can only overcome the temptation you are faced with right now. You can’t resist the sins and temptations that are going to face you in six months. You can’t tackle your entire entitlement-mountain today, but you can take one step in the right direction. You can say “No” to what’s tempting you right now.


Small acts of self-denial make room for larger acts of God’s kingdom.
1 Corinthians 10:13 says “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” In my experience, the way out is simply to say, “No.” Granted, this isn’t always easy. We are tempted by things we desire, and most of us are not used to denying ourselves what we desire. We want what we want, and our culture has taught us that self-indulgence is not simply normative, but a moral good. I’m convinced that this is destructive, both to our souls and to our society, and the only way to right the wrongs of self-indulgence is through self-denial. As I wrote last year, small acts of self-denial make room for larger acts of God’s kingdom.

Now it’s time to focus. Just as you can’t overcome today the sin you’ll be tempted by in the future, you can’t tackle every issue in your life all at once. You need to narrow the scope. There are a lot of areas in my life where I want to grow, but I can’t deal with them all at the same time. I need to focus on a few problem areas in order to experience real victory in my life. This means naming the two or three things you want to work on saying “No” to this year. The first step of self-denial is naming that which you feel entitled to or the sins to which you regularly succumb. As I said in the original Year of No post, “clarity is the first step toward victory.” We can only overcome that which we clearly and continually name.

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At about this time last year I had an idea that I thought would help people make lasting changes in their lives. I called it The Year of No. The idea took hold with some folks, myself included, but my life took a very hard turn last winter with my son Zekey’s health, and I quickly lost focus of everything except for him. When he went home to Jesus in March, my family was devastated, and the rest of this year has been spent adjusting to our new normal.

Losing my son has been traumatic, and I will walk with a limp for the rest of my life. But Zekey has also inspired me to try to become the best version of myself I can be, and that’s what The Year of No is all about. So as 2015 stares us in the face, I want to give this thing another shot. Here’s what I wrote about it last year.

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