Goals for 2021

What is on the Father’s heart?

As I start 2021, I realize I need to spend more time talking with the Father and hearing from him about what he desires for us. I need to pray more. I always feel the need to pray more but I am so easily distracted by the busyness of life and entertainment. What should I pray about? Well, Jesus told us how we should pray in Matthew 6:9-14.

The Lord’s Prayer

I notice that the first things I should pray about are things God cares about. His name (reputation) being lifted up (may your name be kept holy Matthew 6:9), his kingdom coming soon (revival and the spread of the gospel), and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven (obeying his commands. Matthew 6:10). Then pray about the things which come so naturally to us… what we need. But first pray about what God wants.

What is God’s Will?

Jesus said the most important things was to love God with all your heart, soul and mind (Matthew 22:37) and the second most important thing was to love those around you (your neighbors) as you would want to be loved (Matthew 22:39). I keep seeing the theme of what God is saying here… seek me first and I will take care of everything else (Matthew 6:33).

How do we love God with all our heart?

We are first loved by God (he promises to take care of all our needs and work all things for our good Romans 8:28). We remain in his love  when we believe (trust) he will give us all that we need (our daily bread Matthew 6:11, John 15:9). I experienced this in 2020 when I was out of work, but I chose to trust God and he provided far more than I thought was possible. I had to make a choice at the beginning of last year… I believed God loved me and was going to take care of me even though I had been out of work for 4 months and hadn’t gotten a job offer in spite of many interviews. (God did provide freelance work during that time). But I believed God would be faithful and two weeks into the new year I got a contract making 40% more than the job I lost in September 2019. That contract provided abundantly for my family for the next 8 months until I got a full time job in September 2020 (with a higher salary than the job I lost in 2019).

The Path to Joy in 2021

Jesus explains what is on his heart and the way we can have joy in 2021. “I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love. 10 When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! 12 This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.” John 15:9-12

What does Jesus command?

That we love one another like he loves us. I have been learning that real love is grace. Grace gives other people what they desperately need but do not deserve. Real love does what is best for someone else even when they are not treating you the way you deserve… even when they are not holding up their part of the bargain (do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you. Luke 6:27-28). God desires unity (oneness John 17:21) where our culture values rugged individualism and fighting for our rights. Jesus said that they would know we are Christians by our love (John 13:33-34). His kind of love goes far beyond the casual friendships of convenience with those we share common interests with, it is a love that creates unselfish community where everyone’s needs are met (Acts 4:32-34) and there is great joy (Acts 2:46). Father, help us to love like you do and be filled with your Spirit (and love) in 2021.

Practical Priorities for 2021

Jesus defines remaining in his love as obeying his commands (John 15:10). First, you need to remain in the Fathers love. You do this when you believe Jesus in in you and with you to help you with everything you need (John 14:20, Matthew 28:20). And that you believe that because God loves you, all his commands are meant to guide you to what is best for you. But obedience is meant to be done with God in you helping you to live in a way that doesn’t come naturally. You can’t do this in your own strength (John 15:5). Learn to walk in the power of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) by learning how to daily apply the gospel. If you don’t know how to do that, I have written a book and Bible study called Lose to Win which explains what the Holy Spirit does for us. You can only obey God joyfully when you experience His promises to give you everything you need.

Setting Goals and Following Up

Second, you have to know his commands in order to obey them. That means reading the Bible daily so you know what God says is best. Third, once you know his commands, you will need to set practical goals of how you will do what he commands. Good intentions rarely go anywhere without a plan. Michael Hyatt’s Full Focus Planner is a great tool if you need help with goal setting and planning.  It also helps to have a couple close friends who will follow-up to pray for you and encourage you to follow through on your goals. We are too easily discouraged when things get hard or distracted (Luke 8:13-14) and don’t reap the harvest that comes from hearing God’s word and doing what it says (Joshua 1:8-9). If you don’t have two or three friends who will help you to study the Bible to obey all that Jesus commands, make that a priority this year so that you can experience God’s best this year.

Your Kingdom Come

If you are already studying the Bible with close friends who encourage you to obey Jesus, then you are (or will soon be) experiencing the blessings of God’s best. Sometimes the seed of God’s word takes time to grow into the full fruit of the Spirit’s goodness (it takes time to change old patterns and experience the goodness of God’s ways). You will probably also be experiencing the attacks of the enemy and persecution from sinful people that Jesus warned about (John 15:20). Keep meeting to pray and encourage one another.  God’s kingdom comes as people obey God’s commands to love others. The more people who obey God and love one another, the more the world around them changes as people serve one another instead of fight with one another over their selfish desires.

Make Disciples

The final priority to consider for 2021 is Jesus last command, “Go make disciples… teaching them to obey all the commands I have given you.” Matthew 28:19-20. To obey this command (make disciples… plural meaning more than one), ask God to give you at least two people who you will invite to study the Bible with you in 2021 to help them understand how much God loves them, will forgive them and take care of them, help them understand why God’s commands are good and teach them how to obey in the power of the Spirit so they can experience God’s best in 2021.

I look forward to what the Father will do in our lives this year. I am praying for your joy and blessing in the New Year. Here are some good goals for 2021 to prayerfully consider.

Are these priorities that the Father wants me to focus on this year?

  1. Remain in the Father’s love. “I am with you always” Matthew 28:20, John 15:9
  2. Be a disciple. Read the Bible to obey what Jesus commands with at least two or three close friends. Matthew 28:19, John 15:10
  3. Make Disciples. Invite at least two more people to study the Bible in 2021 to become disciples who experience Gods love and become fruitful by obeying. Matthew 28:19, John 15:27

Asking for Help

Mark 14:32 They went to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, “Sit here while I go and pray.” 33 He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. 34 He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 35 He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. 36 “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 37 Then he returned and found the disciples asleep. He said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?

38 Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”

When Jesus faced his greatest crisis, he prayed (sought his Father). Jesus wanted his closest friends to pray with him. Jesus called the inner circle (Peter, James and John) to join him in prayer in his darkest hour. (v. 32-33)

Jesus was overwhelmed. He knows what it feels like to face agony and crushing circumstances. He asked God, “Please take this away from me.” Even Jesus dealt with unanswered prayer.

  • Father (Abba) – Jesus sought his Dad for help.
  • Ask Anything – Jesus believed God can do all things. Anything is possible when we pray to a loving Father.
  • Cup – (of God’s wrath/judgment). Jesus wanted to escape the suffering/trial before him.
  • Your will be done – Jesus accepted that God may have something better (trusting the love of the Father).  

Watch and pray so that you won’t enter into temptation. Praying is what helps us overcome temptation. Our flesh (our own strength/our own resolve) is weak and prone to fail under pressure. Only when we are praying… seeking God… will the Spirit in us help us overcome temptation.

But it is so easy to fall asleep instead of praying. Thank God for his grace and mercy. Jesus’ blood covers us, he is interceding for us and helps us get back up after failing (like he restored Peter after this failure).

“What profound irony Gethsemane conceals, for when Jesus feels most excluded from God’s presence he is in fact closest to God’s will!” – Edwards, J. R. (2002). The Gospel according to Mark (p. 436).

Three things we learn about praying from Jesus in his darkest hour;

  1. We need friends to pray with.
  2. We need to trust that God loves us and has a good plan. There were times when even Jesus’s prayers were unanswered because God had something better.
  3. We need to pray when struggling with temptation. God knows our flesh is weak and the Spirit living in us will help us overcome temptation as we pray.

Mark’s Faith Journey

I did not really believe God existed until I was 20 years old. I grew up seeing mostly hypocrisy in the church. I remember hearing the gossip about a leading women in the church who everyone knew was committing adultery and the kids in the youth group weren’t very friendly. I’d had enough of religion by the time I was a teenager.

But in college I met some friends who made me rethink my conclusions. They told me about God, but I maintained that only weak people needed a crutch to believe in something outside of themselves. I grew up as an only child and was bullied in grade school. As a result I did not trust many people except myself and kept my peers at a safe distance. But I did not want to be alone, I wanted friends. By college I learned how to blend in and get along with most people. Going to college parties was a very superficial scene that often left me feeling more alone afterwards and hung over. Yet the Christians I had met at college had great friendships and were enjoying life without drinking. So I began to spend my Friday nights hanging out with the Christian Fellowship group.

The more I saw the difference in my friends life, the more I wanted what they had. The love, joy and peace were very real and Christians were experiencing these things much more than anybody else I knew. I took philosophy and ethics classes … everybody had opinions but there never were any conclusions that helped people.

But when I finally decided to read the Bible with my friends, I found that there were answers that worked and God spoke to me for the first time in my life. My friends and I were discussing Faith verses Positive Thinking. I had always considered myself the latter. But I had just been home to visit my Dad and he was going through a really difficult time in his life. I loved him, but I had no answers. During this discussion with my friends, a quiet voice spoke in my thoughts saying that God could help my Dad if my Dad would trust in God. I realized I would have to believe God existed myself first and it scared me to think about changing everything I believed. Then this tremendous and unexplainable inner peace filled me. Later I realized that this was the first time I heard God speak to me and the first time I felt His presence. This began a seven month journey of thinking more seriously about God.

So at the beginning of my senior year of college, I decided to explore this more thoroughly. I visited church with my friends and was struck by the love and acceptance there. I heard that you don’t get to heaven by being a good person but that God had come from heaven to earth as a man, Jesus Christ, in order to bring people who weren’t good to heaven if they would simply enter into a relationship with him. The longer I watched, the more I found that was positive. People who were genuine in their love and were growing in their relationships with each other. I started to believe that God might really exist. So in September of 1988 I decided to ask God to come into my life. Once again, I experienced peace and God immediately began to speak to me in a quiet but clear way in my mind and heart about things that would have to change in my life.

I began going to the East Providence Christian Fellowship and reading the Bible for the first time in my life. I discovered that the Bible teaches people about what God has said and how relate to each other in the best way possible. Jesus said the greatest commandment was “To love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus promised his followers he would send the Holy Spirit to be a Counselor and Comforter. Once I entered into a relationship with God, the Spirit of God came into my life and began to teach me in everyday practical ways on how to improve my relationships and overcome problems in my life. The Spirit of God has been with me every moment of the day, knowing the answers to every problem and giving me strength and encouragement when I got discouraged. Problems happen in life to everyone, the only difference is whether we facing them alone, or have God’s strength, comfort and guidance helping us get through.

For close to three decades I have been getting to know God. He is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, overflowing in love and forgiveness towards those who choose to be His children. He has helped me to heal in areas of fear and mistrust that I struggled with from my childhood. I now have many close friends. He has helped me find freedom from things that used to control me, and brought me into a growing community of people who help each other. He has helped me overcome selfishness in order to have a loving relationship with my wife and children. There have been many times when I have struggled in my relationship with God as I tried to do things my way, but in His mercy He has helped me learn from my mistakes and helped me to turn those failures around. 

I am amazed that things work out in ways I could never have expected in this journey through life with Jesus. In 1995 I asked God for direction in changing careers, and He lead me into web design the following year. I had no idea at the time how good a career that would be for the next 20 years of my life. I asked God to give me a soul mate who I could share the joys and sorrows of life, and in 1997 he brought my wife into my life. In the years we have been married, He has helped us overcome our selfish tendencies and grow in deeper trust when many of our friends who don’t know God have already been divorced at least once. I have seen Gods hand of blessing in my career and personal life as I followed Him. 

Because I have experienced Gods love in such life changing ways I want to share with everyone who Jesus is and help them encounter God in a real and personal way. It is a historical fact that he rose from the dead. He is alive today and leading millions of his followers through the Spirit to building the worldwide Kingdom of God where people love and serve others. I encourage anyone to read one of the gospel accounts (MatthewMarkLuke, or John) in the Bible to find out who Jesus is and what he is like. He is inviting all people to enter into a relationship with him and join his Kingdom.

Try the 21 Day Experiment

God promises that if you seek Him and draw near to Him, He will reveal Himself to you. How do we seek to know God? We can read the book He wrote, the Bible, and pray asking Him to show us if what we are reading is true. When you read God’s book, God the author is present with you to help you understand it and show you the truth. 

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

The Bible is actually a collection of 66 books written by 40 different men over 1300 years. There are four books in the second section of the Bible called the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus’ life (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).

John was one of Jesus’ closest friends who explains who Jesus is and what he came to do. From John’s book comes one of the most famous Bible quotes.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

The 21 Day Experiment

Try doing the following 3 things for 3 weeks as an experiment to see if God will show you that He is real and loves you. 

  1. God promises to reveal Himself to those how seek Him. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. James 4:8 God wrote a book. For the next 3 weeks (21 days) read one chapter of His book. Start by reading a chapter of the book of John each day. You can find the book of John in the table of contents. It will take 5-10 minutes each day to read a chapter. Pray as you read and ask God; “God, if this is true, help me understand it.” 
    1. Start with an understandable modern translation. I recommend the NIV, NLT, ESV, and NKJV. You can find all these versions and others at the following website: https://www.biblestudytools.com/john/1.html 
    2. Read with an open mind. Think about what it is actually saying, not what others have said it means.
    3. You will not understand everything, but don’t worry, you will be surprised by how much you do understand. 
    4. Apply the truth as you discover it. God will be revealing insights that apply to you and inviting you to respond to what you understand so that you can experience His love and goodness. 
  2. God promises to answer prayer. Jesus said, You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” John 14:14. During the next three weeks pray to the God who revealed himself in Jesus and see if God answers. 
  3. God promises to be present when people meet to get to know Him.  Jesus said, “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:19-20 It helps us understand God’s love when we meet with others who have known God longer than we have and experienced His love. God’s ways are different that ours and we may not understand why He says some things at first, so it helps to talk with someone who understands the Bible. Meet with me over coffee, lunch or by WebEx for one hour each week over the next three weeks to discuss what you are reading and ask questions. 

As you read the Bible, write down your questions for when we meet (or email me/text them). I believe the most important thing in life is experiencing how much God loves you and what He promises to do for you. The reason I went to school to get a Master’s of Divinity and a Doctor of Education in Spiritual Formation was so I could help people understand the Bible and God’s love. 

Great News

Easter: Evidence for Life after Death 

Every year at this time we celebrate a historical event that points to there being life after death. I would like to invite you to listen to two videos below that explore the evidence for life after death and what the Bible says about how we can have life after death. I also invite you to read my story about how I had a life changing encounter with God that started me on this journey of faith. 

Click on images or links below to watch videos

Easter: Evidence for Life after Death

Resources mentioned in the Easter video about how God changes peoples lives:

Bible’s Message Explained: How to have Life after Death