There has been a pretty great response to the Year of No so far. Lots of folks have been sharing on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #yearofno. I’m really excited about what God might do in the lives of folks who begin to say “No” to their daily entitlements and indulgences. Small acts of self-denial make room for larger works of God’s kingdom. Denying yourself always leads to finding life. 


Small acts of self-denial make room for larger works of God’s kingdom.

The first step of self-denial is naming the things to which you feel entitled or in which you indulge. As I said in the Year of No introductory post, “clarity is the first step toward victory.” We can only overcome that which we clearly and continually name.

Most of the things that we are naming here are not bad things (though some of them could be). They are little things that we feel entitled to throughout the day. They are things that have gotten out of balance in our hearts. They have become too important – so important that we think we deserve them or need them to be content. I’ve decided to post mine online. If you’re having trouble identifying some of your entitlements, maybe reading mine will kickstart your thinking.

1. Eating whatever I want, including eating out and drinking Coke too much.

As things with Zeke spiraled downward and the chaos of our lives escalated, eating out became normative. At first it was an act of desperation and exhaustion, but soon it became the one opportunity I had to experience daily pleasure. It soon formed into a habit and an expectation, and now it’s time to break it. I’m concerned that I’m reaching a critical point in my physical health, so it’s time to start saying “No” to eating out and drinking pop all the time.

I want to return to a time when eating out and enjoying finer foods was an act of celebration rather than an everyday occurrence. I want to be a healthier man for my wife and kids. This, I’ve found, is one of the toughest fights I’ll face this year. The stomach (and tastebuds) is a powerful force, one that is not so easily denied. The temptation will come in manipulative forms: You didn’t drink a Coke for lunch, but you can have one as a snack. You’ve denied yourself long enough, it’s time to enjoy a treat. No!

2. Remaining relationally and emotionally distant.

I’m an introvert, so I tend toward being relationally distant as it is. I enjoy the world of ideas more than, you know, interacting with other humans. But as a pastor, my introversion is one of the main detractors from my ability to minister to others. I’ll never be the outgoing type, but I need to push myself toward being more engaged with the people that God has brought into my life. Saying “No” to my right, as an introvert, to be withdrawn and relationally aloof is important for my character development this year.

3. Binging on Entertainment


We can only overcome that which we clearly and continually name.
My Meyers-Briggs personality type is INTJ, and one of the things that INTJs do when they’re “in the grip” (meaning, when they’re under stress) is binge on entertainment. For me, this comes out in Netflix binges or engrossing myself in a video game. On days like today (New Year’s Day), I’ll lay on the couch and watch football for ten hours straight. (Or I would have before I had kids.) In the midst of the binge, the troubles and stressors are forgotten. By engulfing myself in entertainment, I enter into a false reality, and all false realities cut me off from my true self.

Stress is a part of my life. It’s difficult to avoid stress when one of your children is slowly dying. Being “in the grip” has become the new normal. But binging on entertainment, which is essentially disengaging from reality, does not help me to develop the kind of character God is busy forming within me. To partner with God in my own character formation, I need to learn to say “No” to the entertainment binges in which I try to escape.

4. Sleeping In

This is a tough one because Breena and I both have to get up multiple times each night to care for Zeke. It’s been a long time since either of us have gotten a decent night’s sleep, so you can understand how it can be tempting to sleep in every day. The problem is that we have three other kids, and all of them like to get up pretty early. They need to be cared for, and we can’t effectively do that while sleeping in our bed. (Curse you space-time continuum!) I can’t be the dad they need from my bed, so getting up and getting the day started is vital, both for myself and for my kids.

I hope that by naming my entitlements you’ll be able to be more aware of, and be able to give names to, the small things you feel entitled to, or indulge in, as you go about your day. Remember, the Year of No is not about saying “No” to something forever; it’s about saying “No” to an entitlement right now so that you can say “Yes” to something better and more important.

Facebook does this “Year in Review” thing now, which is pretty cool. I tend to forget about some of the things that I post on Facebook, so it was nice to stumble upon a couple of thoughts that I put up there. These were too long to tweet, apparently, but I must have wanted to get them out before I lost them. They are reflections on how the kingdom looks in the world:

God’s kingdom does not come through political or social activism, nor through “standing up for what’s right,” but only and always through his people embodying the crucifixion and resurrection by laying down their lives, setting aside their rights, forgiving sins, and breathing life where there was death.

I’m not exactly sure what inspired these thoughts, but I think this was somewhere around the time that I was reading Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson. My worldview has also been significantly modified this past year, especially in the ways in which I understand the kingdom’s relationship with this world.

The WAY of God’s Kingdom (the How, the Methods, the Ethos, the Spirit) is fundamentally opposed to the WAY of the world. Because the WAY of the world is victory, winning, and the survival of the strong, the Kingdom of God can only enter this world through loss, suffering, and death. God’s Kingdom does not enter the world through the ways or with the aims of the world, i.e. by the world’s methods. God’s Kingdom comes on his terms and in his ways, which are most clearly demonstrated in the crucifixion of his son. God’s kingdom comes through the weak upending the strong, through the foolish shaming the wise, through crucifixion that leads to resurrection.

New Year’s resolutions are a great idea. The start of a new year is the perfect time to make important changes in your life, changes that will help you to become the person you want to be. A healthier diet. Regular exercise. Reading the Bible every day. All of these are important things that will shape your character for good.


The heart of self-discipline is the ability to say “No” to the wrong things so that you can say “Yes” to the right things.
At the heart of almost every resolution is the issue of self-discipline, and the heart of self-discipline is the ability to say “No” to the wrong things so that you can say “Yes” to the right things. I need to learn to say “No” to the things that steal my time, my health, and my character so that I can become the man God wants me to be. And I think most of us want to become the person God wants us to be.

We want to instill practices in our lives that make us better people. We want to form good habits and participate in daily spiritual disciplines. We want to eat better and work out more. Hence, New Year’s resolutions.

The Problem

But I’ve discovered, after trying this every year for about 20 years, that turning on a dime is nearly impossible. Most of us are like battleships. We need a lot of time and energy to change course. Of all the resolutions I’ve made over the years, I was only ever able to keep one of them. (I read through the whole Bible in 2011, so I’ve pretty much punched my ticket to heaven.) That’s about a 2% success rate. Yikes!

Most of the people I know are close to that number with the resolutions they’ve been able to keep. While some people are significantly better at keeping resolutions, most of us feel lucky to have stuck to one or two in our entire lives. All of this failure makes me want to stop trying. Maybe you’ve reached that point. I know I have. I’m ready to try something new.


New Year’s resolutions don’t work because we’re not used to living lives of self-discipline.
Resolutions don’t work because we’re not used to living lives of self-discipline. It’s a me problem. I enjoy certain things in life, and have come to believe that I am entitled to them.

Whether it’s eating out or sleeping in, the pleasures of life are no longer something I enjoy occasionally, but rather pleasures to which I feel entitled every day, every meal. The problem isn’t that I’m not saying yes to the right things; it’s that I’m saying yes to the tiny pleasures of life all the time. Saying “Yes!” to these tiny pleasures, these entitlements, too often leaves no room to say “Yes!” to the things that create character in your soul.

I drink Coke at almost every meal.

I get on Facebook and Twitter dozens of times each day, at work and home, stealing time from my vocation and my family.

I read sports blogs instead of good books.

I watch Netflix instead of exercising.

This list could go on and on. While these things are not bad in and of themselves, and they can be part of a healthy and balanced life, what I’ve discovered is that the development of my character is won or lost in a thousand tiny decisions each day. Trying to cut out sugar, Coke, or Facebook all at once on January 1 just doesn’t work for most people. It has never worked for me. So I want to try something new, and I’d like to invite you to participate with me.

The Solution


The development of my character is won or lost in a thousand tiny decisions each day.
I’m calling 2014 the Year of No. It’s not the Year of No Netflix, or the Year of No Fast Food, or the Year of No Shopping. I’m not quitting anything cold turkey. 2014 is just the Year of No – the year of saying “No!” to something to which you feel entitled each day. It’s the year of celebrating small victories of self-discipline and self-denial. Radical, immediate life change is very rare. More often than not, life change is a long, slow process of saying “No!” to your entitlements which then opens up space for you to say “Yes!” to the practices and disciplines that allow for character development.

In Mark 8:34-35, Jesus said:

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.

I’m convinced that following Jesus is not a decision I make once, but is a long series of decisions made everyday. It’s not a prayer I pray once, but a persistent prayer of “No!” against the entitlements and temptations of my heart. You have to learn to say “No” before you can say “Yes.” You have to lose your life before you can save it.

I need to learn to say “No,” but I know that I can’t learn it all at once. I’ve tried that. But maybe I can learn to say “No” one decision at a time. I don’t need to cut Twitter out of my life, but I do need to learn to say “No” when I’m tempted to scan through it eight times at work or while my kids are awake. That’s what this is about: cutting back what is out of a balance rather than cutting it out of my life completely. I know myself too well to think that I can do the latter at this point, but I remain optimistic about being able to do the former.

The Plan

So here’s my plan.

Identify some of the things to which you feel entitled, and write them down. It could be anything. Eating out. Watching TV. Sleeping in. Drinking alcohol. Buying clothes. Facebook. Comments sections on news websites. (Okay, that one you should cut out completely!) Wherever you find yourself indulging, that’s where your entitlement lives. Identify your entitlements, write them down, and keep them somewhere you’ll see them everyday. Clarity is the first step toward victory, and writing is important for remembering.

Say “No!” to one of your entitlements every day. Have a glass of water at lunch instead of Coke. Stay off of Facebook or Twitter while at work. Put your phone away when you get home and interact with your roommates, spouse, or kids. It’s not about saying “No” to something forever; it’s about saying “No” to an entitlement right now so that you can say “Yes” to something better and more important. This is how you win the battle for self-discipline: denying one little entitlement at a time.

Share your experiences – the victories and the failures – using the hashtag #yearofno. At the risk of being both cheesy and self-congratulatory, I think it’s important to share this stuff with each other because self-discipline isn’t something I can do by myself. I’ve tried that already, dozens of times, and failed every time. We need each other for celebration and accountability. So when you say “No!” to that second dessert, or cigarette, or Netflix binge, share it on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #yearofno so we can all celebrate with you. (Of course, if your entitlement is social media, find an appropriate time to share it. Hint: Not when your kids are asking for your attention!)


It’s not about saying “No” to something forever; it’s about saying “No” to an entitlement right now so that you can say “Yes” to something better and more important.
This is not a resolution. This is not about quitting something cold turkey. This is about strengthening your will through tiny exercises of self-discipline. It’s about denying yourself in small ways every day so that you can become the person God wants you to be. It’s about denying yourself so that you can find true life.

If this is something that you would like to do, you don’t have to sign up for anything or even tell me. You can just start saying “No!” to your entitlements and use the hashtag on Twitter or Facebook. Then, if you see someone else doing it, you can offer them encouragement and support. Feel free to share this post so that other folks can know what you’re doing and participate, too.

It was a busy year for me, and I wasn’t able to read as much as I would have liked. Still, I was able to get into some good books, especially the new biography of C.S. Lewis, and Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson. Looking back over the previous 12 months, I can see that this was a year of learning, sometimes through books.

The Resurrection of the Son of God – N.T. Wright

res sonN.T. Wright’s new book on Paul came out this year, a 1700 page masterpiece that I was very excited about getting into. It was the fourth volume in his series Christian Origins and the Question of God. Unfortunately, I had stopped reading The Resurrection of the Son of God, the third volume in the series, several years ago, and I wanted to finish that book before moving on to the new one. Resurrection is a 750 page monster that defies being summarized in a single paragraph. By the time I finished it, I was too mentally exhausted to pick up the book on Paul, though I am looking forward to digging into it next year.

Resurrection is a scholarly book intended to converse with, and profoundly shape, the current state of scholarship on the resurrection of Jesus. It has more than succeeded on both fronts. Wright has examined both the liberal and conservative perspectives on the resurrection and found them wanting.

Practice Resurrection – Eugene Peterson

practice-resurrectionEugene Peterson gets me every time. Reading his books are like having an intensive discipleship session with a pastor you’ve never personally met but who gets you completely. Peterson has been as responsible for shaping my pastoral ministry as Wright has been for shaping my theological perspective. I am always in good, pastoral hands with Eugene Peterson.

Practice Resurrection is Peterson’s exegesis of the book of Ephesians. Extremely quotable, of all the books I read this year this is the first one that I would recommend. Peterson is one of the best writers of prose you’ll find in evangelical Christianity. Add to that his conviction and one-crying-in-the-desert prophetic voice, and you have a memorable and formative work on your hands.

Death by Living – N.D. Wilson

_240_360_Book.903.coverI had not heard of N.D. Wilson before I got his book via booksneeze.com, but he is an excellent writer with a very unique style. Known more for his works of fiction, Wilson writes like a film director, using story and image to draw you into this book. You can find my review of Death by Living here.

Apparently there is a film version of C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce in the works, and N.D. Wilson is attached as the writer. After reading Death by Living, I’m excited to see how this will turn out. Wilson has a lot of talent, and The Great Divorce is one of my favorites by Lewis. If you’re a big fan of Lewis, you may want to get acquainted with Wilson’s style to prepare yourself for what Divorce might look like.

Fight – Craig Groeschel

_240_360_Book.901.coverI’ve always enjoyed Groeschel’s casual, funny writing style. His appeal is very broad, and his book, Fight, certainly fits into that mold. It’s a book about the fights that Christian men must engage with in order to be the men that God has called them to be. You can find my review of Fight here.

The biggest takeaway from Fight, for me, was that he named entitlement as one of the things men must fight against. I find that this is especially true in my own life. I live with a deeply-ingrained sense that I deserve good things, and ought only to have good things happen to me. I don’t know where I picked up this sense of entitlement, but I have certainly paid a price for holding onto it.

Fight is a good book, and I would recommend it to guys who aren’t quite ready to jump into deeper books.

Hopeful Imagination – Walter Brueggemann

61u-SpyY-9L._SL1360_A lot of the people I respect the most really love Walter Brueggemann. I’ve tried several times to get into his work, but for one reason or another, was just never able to get too excited about him. Hopeful Imagination, his book on the prophets of exile, finally got me over the hump. This is an insightful book on pastoral ministry in the place of exile. Much like N.T. Wright, Brueggemann works hard to find a middle ground between liberal and conservative Christianity, though conservatives would certainly be put off by his insistence that Isaiah 40-55 was written by someone other than 8th century Isaiah of Jerusalem, and written sometime after the exile in Babylon. Admittedly, this was something that was difficult for me to get over, as I have always held the book of Isaiah to be written by a single author. Brueggemann’s pastoral insights, however, overcame any distancing I felt from his critical perspectives.

C.S. Lewis: A Life – Alister McGrath

CSLewisBookCover_smFew authors have shaped me as thoroughly and deeply as C.S. Lewis. I began reading his books in high school, when I prided myself on being able to finish Mere Christianity. (How much I really grasped of his argument is open to debate.) From there I read The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and The Abolition of Man. Oddly enough, I still have never read the entire Narnia series.

McGrath’s biography of Lewis is both thorough and engaging. I have a great deal of respect for McGrath, and so I knew that I would appreciate his work on Lewis. Since this is the only biography of Lewis I have read, I don’t have anything else with which to compare it. Some, I have heard, have objected to McGrath’s interpretation of Lewis’s relationship with Mrs. Moore. Whatever the true nature of that relationship, this was a very insightful look into one of Christianity’s most important thinkers.

Evil and the Justice of God – N.T. Wright

0830833986This was a book that I had been hoping to pick up for quite a while, and finally got around to it after I had boxed up all my books and couldn’t find anything to read. It is one of Wright’s shorter books, and in that sense is fairly accessible to most readers. For too long, he argues, we have believed in the inevitable progress of mankind toward a utopian society where evil has been expunged from the world. Invariably, we are shocked when evil rears its ugly head, whether in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, or in the tsunami of 2004.

This book is more pastoral than philosophical. Evil, he says, is not a problem that can be solved in this life. Instead of arguing apologetics or waxing philosophical, the task of the Christian is to be and build signposts of God’s wise rule in this present evil age. Overcoming evil is not a matter of argumentation or explanation, but of incarnation. While this book might not help you win any arguments against the new atheists (see Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom, and Evil for that task), it will help you become the kind of person through whom evil is pushed back just a little bit.

The Passionate Intellect – Alister McGrath

9780830838431This was another one of those books that I had been looking to purchase for quite a while, but never really got around to it until all my books were in boxes. The title of McGrath’s book intrigues me, and as a preacher with a theological bent, seemed to be right up my alley. In simple terms, McGrath’s aim with this book was to provide an avenue for the combination of head and heart. Too much of modern Christianity, evangelicalism in particular, has gotten the reputation of being anti-intellectual. Deserved or not, this is a troubling indictment, particularly considering the church’s long history of intellectual rigor and discovery. It is possible, he argues, to be both passionate and intellectual, and the Christian must feel no need to sacrifice one for the other.

In the ongoing debate between Christians and the New Atheists, Alister McGrath remains one of the go-to guys for Christianity. He devotes a significant part of this book to refuting the ideas of Dawkins, Dennet, Hitchens, and the other New Atheists. If you’re interested in apologetics and the life of the mind, this book would be an excellent addition to your library.

Follow Me – David Platt

373287_1_ftcI picked this book up for free at a conference I attended in March. Though I didn’t like Radical, I appreciated a lot about this book, and agree with Platt in his basic assumption that the Church isn’t doing a great job of making disciples out of converts. Much is needed to improve our discipleship efforts, and the longterm health of the Church depends on pastors and leaders transitioning from their vain attempts at empire-building and into humble efforts of kingdom-building.

My fundamental disagreement with Platt is along theological lines. He makes a fairly accessible case for his Reformed position on salvation, and I have addressed that with a response here. A long discussion with a friend ensued in which I elucidated my position further. You can read that exchange in this post and comments section. Because of our theological differences, I’ll never recommend a book by David Platt, John Piper, or Mark Driscoll, but I will admit that I resonated with Platt’s basic premise.

A Long Faithfulness – Scot McKnight

A Long FaithfulnessOn the other end of the theological spectrum, the side that I call home, lies Scot McKnight. One of the world’s foremost New Testament scholars, McKnight put out an ebook on the difficult “perseverance” passages of Hebrews. The underlying question is this: Can a committed Christian lose their salvation? McKnight views this as the fundamental question – the very backbone – of Reformed theology. If, contrary to the Reformed position, a genuine Christian can lose their salvation, then the whole Reformed house of cards falls apart. McKnight asserts that everything in Reformed theology is built upon the perseverance of the saints.

The book of Hebrews, however, indicates that it is possible for a Christian to lose their salvation. While it isn’t easy, and never happens by accident, apostasy is real. God has given us the freedom to choose, and to un-choose, himself. You can read more about this fascinating study in my book review here.

The Good and Beautiful God – James Bryan Smith

Good and Beautiful GodThis book was part of our life group curriculum while we were at LifePoint Church in Columbus. It is the first part of a trilogy of books, though I haven’t gotten to the other ones yet. This worked well in the group, allowing us to converse together about the “false narratives” we have come to believe about God, ourselves, and the world. The thesis of the book is “transformation happens through training my soul,” which corresponds to one of the five lessons I learned this past year.

I intended to blog my thoughts on the book, chapter-by-chapter. As usual, however, life got in the way and I wasn’t able to meet my goal. However, you can find my thoughts on chapter 1, chapter 2, and chapter 6 on the blog.

Against Calvinism – Roger Olson

olRoger Olson is among the foremost Arminian biblical scholars in America. This small book is meant to be a companion to For Calvinism by Michael Horton. My wife pointed out that the tulips on For Calvinism were in bloom, but in Against they are dried and dead. Nice touch, book designer!

This wasn’t necessarily a book I needed to read. To be honest, I probably should have read Horton’s book so that I can have a better understanding of the Calvinist perspective. This was more of a pleasure read, which just underscores how much of a nerd I really am. Overall, I thought Olson did a great job of debunking some of Calvinism’s more extreme views. The next step, I suppose, is to create a For and Against Arminianism collection.

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked this year. My time and energy were spent on other things, especially my family’s needs in the midst of Zeke’s illness. My hope for 2014 is to use more of my free time to read, and I already have a healthy stack of books lined up for the new year. The really ambitious goal is to get through a book a week, though if I read two a month I think I could live with that. I hope that you’re able to take some time next year to devote to reading, learning, and growing.

When the calendar flipped from 2012 to 2013, I thought there was no way I could have a year worse than the one I had just experienced. In 2012 we lost Ember Church, I lost my job, and, worst of all, Zeke started having his seizures. While 2013 has had its share of blessings, I’d have to say that it has been just as hard and painful as the year before.

In 2013, we found out that Zeke’s seizures are more than seizures – that he has a rare, fatal, neurological condition known as Batten Disease. He has regressed significantly, and it seems to me that we will likely lose him in 2014. Shortly after his diagnosis, Breena and I made the difficult decision to leave Westerville, where we had been raising our family for the previous seven years, and move to Toledo, where both of our families live. We needed the support that only family can provide in such dire times. We had built a life in central Ohio – a life full of amazing people with whom we had shared so much of ourselves. Leaving is hard. Leaving because your child is dying and you need to be close to family for his last days…well, that’s something else entirely.

It’s been a rough couple of years. God is faithful.

Putting those two thoughts together gives me hope. He has been active in my life this year, teaching me, molding me, refining my character. Here are five lessons I’ve learned this year (four are serious, one is trivial).

1. God is a refuge in times of trouble, not a safeguard against them.

This is a lesson I’ve been learning over the past couple of years, actually. When “bad” things happen to “good” people, we tend to complain that God is being unjust or, perhaps worse, incompetent. Jeremiah made this kind of complaint to God in Jeremiah 12:1.

You are always righteous, Lord,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?

You see this sort of thing throughout the Psalms, as well. In fact, Scripture is soaked in this kind of complaining to God that the righteous do not get a fair shake from him in this life. But faithfulness to God is no guarantee of a painless life. This can come as a surprise to young pastors. It certainly did to me. (I’ve written about this here.)

Suffering can feel like a sort of exile, like God has abandoned me and now I am alone, exposed, vulnerable to the forces of evil that terrify the world. I’ve wrestled through all of this with God, especially in the wake of losing my church and now, more importantly, as we have walked with Zeke through his disease. What I’ve learned is that the deep, relational knowledge of Jesus Christ is forged in the furnace of suffering, loss, frustration, and disappointment. The secret of the kingdom of God is that redemptive suffering and failure are kingdom victory.


The secret of the kingdom of God is that redemptive suffering is kingdom victory.
God is present in our suffering in very deep and profound ways. Granted, it doesn’t always feel like that. But part of living with God is learning to trust him beyond what you can feel. He won’t necessarily keep the hard things of life away from you, but when they come, he is there. Without him, Breena and I could not make it. Without him, Zeke’s suffering would be meaningless. With him, however, we have found a hope beyond reason and a faith that transcends our emotions and our circumstances.

2. Suffering can be used as an excuse to be lazy, entitled, and self-centered.

The most dangerous element of our suffering is not that we will lose someone we love, but that we will become engulfed by our own self-pity and our identities will become submerged in a self-centered victimhood that robs us of the joy of giving and receiving love. The worst thing that can happen is for your suffering to steal your empathy. Devolving into victimhood is no way to honor the memory of those you have lost.

Breena and I are losing a child in one of the worst ways I can imagine, but that does not entitle us to live self-centered, lazy lives of burdensome self-pity. In the midst of our sorrow there has been tremendous blessing. God has even been at work in our trial to expand his kingdom. Our eyes have been opened to the suffering of those around us. We have, by the grace of God, become more empathetic. Though, at times, I can become self-centered and shut out the world in my victimhood, I have sensed myself becoming more aware, and more compassionate, of those who suffer.

It is a constant temptation to let my son’s terminal illness be an excuse for laziness. “Sorry, I don’t have time for that. MY SON IS DYING!” is a refrain that echoes through my heart and mind all too often. Sure, my capacity is severely limited by the extremity of my circumstances, but it is no excuse to be lazy in my relationships and responsibilities. Suffering exposes your weaknesses, and in that exposure, offers you the grace to grow in character in the power of the Holy Spirit.

3. Vocational humility is pleasing to God.

Losing my church at the end of 2012 was a big blow to me, personally. (You can read more about the story of Ember, and its closure, here.) I have always had high expectations of myself, vocationally. Church planting was the culmination of a long, arduous journey in ministry where I often put my own desires and dreams ahead of everything else.

Losing my church, and then losing my job, put me into a tough situation, vocationally, at the start of the year. The good people at LifePoint Church in Columbus took a risk with me by hiring me as a Video Producer and Graphic Designer. In terms of ministry vocation, this was a significant step away from being the Lead Pastor of a church, which I had been for a year and a half. In order for this to work, I had to swallow my pride and release my sense of entitlement to vocational ministry. I had to accept the fact that I was someone who worked behind the scenes, contributing in ways that were not as “significant” as preaching and teaching. It was humbling.

This was a very significant change in attitude for me. For too many years, I lived with a sense of entitlement, that I deserved to be doing “more” than I was doing. I wanted more responsibility, more opportunity, more chances for my voice to be heard. To let go of that was freeing, and I think it pleased and honored God. It is an attitude of heart that I am intent on maintaining because there is life in humility.

4. Positive character development requires active participation.

The opposite is also true. Negative character development requires passivity. In other words, you don’t need to do anything to either stay where you are, from a character development perspective, or regress. If I want to grow, and I do, then I need to be actively engaged in that process. Some of the things that I try to incorporate into my life are:

  • daily Bible reading 

    We may be saved by grace, but we grow through hard work and perseverance.
  • prayer journaling
  • solitude
  • reflection
  • study

There are other things that I could do, and some of the things I’ve listed might not be what you need right now. There are many spiritual disciplines that you can participate in, and I would encourage you to find the two or three that suit your temperament and situation in life. But I’ve found that the more faithful I am with these few disciplines, the more I become like Christ. I am changed, and I notice it. (So does my wife!)

Spiritual development just doesn’t happen by accident. You have to be committed to it. We may be saved by grace, but we grow through hard work and perseverance. This is a lesson I will be learning for the rest of my life.

5. Winning championships in sports is really hard.

This is the trivial one.

I follow three sports teams: the Detroit Tigers (baseball), and the Ohio State Buckeyes in football and men’s basketball. All three teams were very good this year – fully capable of winning a championship. None of them did.

After the sports heartache I experienced this year, I’m not sure if it’s worse for your favorite team to be bad or almost-good-enough-to-win-the-championship-but-not-quite. Watching and cheering for these teams has underscored just how hard it is to win championships. I’m trying to learn how to disassociate myself from these teams so that I’m not such an emotional wreck when they lose. So far, it hasn’t worked. I guess there’s always next year.