January 2015

I DON’T DO NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Life is filled with enough disappointments; I don’t have to pile on. And it surely would be piling on if I made that list. I have proof. I have kept enough of my splendid New Me List’s from across the years to keep me humble. There are pounds I did not lose, habits I did not break, languages I did not learn, places I did not go, and connections I did not renew.

Now I am pretty sure that the practice of New Year’s resolutions is a gift (curse? relic?) from our Judeo-Christian heritage. In the Bible of Jews and Christians God favors reform: repentance and new direction for persons, communities, and nations. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me,” says David (Ps 51:10) at a time when he really needed the New Year to turn out better than the year of the Bathsheba scandal.

Does this same Bible offer anything beyond a great big Thou Shalt Reform? I am convinced that it does. May I share with you some of the help I have found in the Bible for persons who seek to change something for the better in their lives?

The Bible underscores that we are not fated. There is a reading of Scripture that makes it sound like Original Sin, or the Devil, or our own selfish nature must prevail. John Wesley spent a lot of his adult life working against that interpretation. He talked about an image of God that wants to be restored. He said if you scratch hard enough you will uncover the fountain of God’s power to change direction, to own up to your conscience, to start the long journey back to God. The Bible’s message of you may change is based on a comparison of powers: “greater is he that is in you than the one [Satan] who is in the world” (1 John 4:4)

The Bible is realistic where the self-help industry is not. There is a self-help industry and its capacity to re-package and churn out fantasy claims seems endless. The self-help section of bookstores dwarfs sections of history, psychology, and religion. Billboards make glowing claims for surgeries, cosmetics, and hair restoration. The evening news is interrupted for siren songs wafting from the mythical Fountain of Youth. Contrary to all this the Bible is clear about aging and finitude. For some this makes the Bible with its wisdom such as “a time to keep and a time to throw away” (Ecclesiastes 3:6) the uninvited guest at the party. But I think a better approach is to allow the Bible’s realism to temper our desires for reform. There is a “good enough” improvement over the health we have and we should reach for it. There is a “next faithful step” for a congregation, one true to its particular story, and that’s where energy should be focused.

The Bible shows a preference for reform within community. God’s script for the People of God is that “some are called to be prophets,” sent from God to demand reform, called by God to offer visions of new hearts (hearts of flesh not stone) and new behaviors. The community of faith is to be that relatively rare and wonderful place where persons dare speak “the truth in love” to one another so that all “can grow up in every way” (Ephesians 4:15). Given the present climate the discipline of accountability probably has to come from below (“could you help me stay on task?”). But the important thing is that a person’s act of reform need not be an isolated journey.

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. But I do want to be numbered among those in whom God can “do a new thing” in the biblical way.

Pastor Lew

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