How Advent Transforms January

ELIZABETH SANTELMANN | GUEST It’s jarring to come off the worship of Advent season and land in January. A week after Christmas, we turn off the carols and snap on the workout track. We rush as quickly as possible toward productivity. We dream that our lofty goals will produce the perfect version of ourselves. Frantically, we scrawl habits that will make us as successful as possible in the shortest amount of time. If only we could turn over a new leaf, we would become as flawless as is humanly achievable! We attempt to shove down our own human frailties to claw our way to the pedestal of who we can become. Oh, but January is hard. Our resolutions are interrupted by sick babies in the flu season. Snow days force us into the stillness of hibernation. We attempt to refocus our sights on the sweaty-faced trainers screaming “don’t give up on yourself now!” on the screens of our tv. The package of kale goes bad in the refrigerator. As one grey January day dissolves into the next, the willpower we mustered in our hearts begins to melt. Don’t Forget Advent What if we allowed the truths we learned in December to transform our hearts in January?

How Advent Transforms January2022-05-04T23:32:28+00:00

Five Key Questions for Setting Gospel-Shaped Goals

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR She looks almost beatific in her black velvet senior drape, her bright hazel eyes gazing heavenward. Next to her portrait, her senior quote reads, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have yet been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ has taken hold of me” (Philippians 3:12). It was an apt senior quote for the young perfectionist, who spent hours of every day striving to achieve—A’s in her courses, the approval of peers and faculty members, and most of all, a perfect Christian life. It was an apt senior quote for the young perfectionist, who keenly felt her failure to “obtain all this,” who knew how short she fell in every area where she longed to succeed. Sadly, that seventeen-year-old senior, who had only been a Christian for two years when she chose Philippians 3:12 to mark her life, didn’t fully understand the dynamic of grace and goals. Happily, that seventeen-year-old senior, who was me, discovered the joy and rest of knowing that God’s grace undergirds our one central goal in life: “to press on toward the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13). God’s Grace and Our Goals What does it look like to allow the goal of “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” to define all of our other goals? Let’s consider some of the good and helpful goals people set in the New Year: I will get the promotion this year. I will lose the ten, twenty, or thirty pounds. I will help my child get into college. I will run a half-marathon. I will quit drinking, overeating, compulsive shopping, etc. I will develop healthy friendships. I will rest more, work less. The problem with my goals as a high school senior, and the problem with many people’s goals, is that we forget to account for God’s grace and power when we are making them and as we seek to attain them. As an adolescent with a perfectionist bent, I assumed that achieving my goals of good grades, being well-liked, and living a holy life depended on my efforts alone. I had completely missed the point of Philippians 3:9, that my righteousness, my “right-ness with God,” depended on faith in him alone (Philippians 3:9). I had also failed to recognize the connection of Philippians 3:9 to Philippians 2:12-13. It is true that we are called to “[work out] our salvation through fear and trembling.” But by his grace, God is working in us for his good pleasure, sanctifying (“perfecting”) us by our faith in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit (Philippians 2:12-13). That reality affects all of our goals...

Five Key Questions for Setting Gospel-Shaped Goals2022-05-04T23:42:53+00:00

Offering the Lastfruits

LEAH FARISH|GUEST Some New Year’s Eves, I have felt a frisson of nervousness as I readied for a party or fellowship event—did I forget to pay a bill that needed postmarking this year? Take all my tax deductions? Meet an annual work deadline? Prepare the kids and babysitter, whom I wouldn’t see till “next year”? This Eve will be a quieter one. But are there any missed opportunities or duties? Oh, yes, this year there was the vacation cancelled, rescheduled, cancelled again, the celebration delayed or job lost, the relationships starved of physical touch. Many things were not accomplished, but I improvised, regrouped, made do. Is there anything more I can do before 2020 is, thankfully, behind me? I often think of Richard Wilbur’s poem called “Year’s End,” where he broods on unfinished business, examining how an ancient disaster in Pompeii “found the people incomplete, the loose unready eyes/ Of men expecting yet another sun/ To do the shapely thing they had not done./ These sudden ends of time must give us pause./ We fray into the future, rarely wrought/ Save in the tapestries of afterthought./ More time, more time….” The prophet Abraham was given an opportunity late in his time on earth: he was challenged to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham didn’t just love his son, and didn’t just see him as a miraculously-provided boy, but probably also saw him as a last chance—at engendering and raising a son for establishing the covenanted legacy that Jehovah had promised. Last chances are always so poignant. So Abraham’s was a special offering—of lastfruits, as my husband calls it. We are familiar with offering firstfruits, described in verses such as Exodus 23:19, Leviticus 23:9, and Deut. 26:1 (not a bad devotional for January 1st). In Exodus 22:29, God even says “The firstborn of your sons you shall give to Me.” Abraham had had Ishmael, but that son, conceived with a concubine, was not the sacrifice God requested. He wanted the lastfruits—“the shapely thing that Abraham had not done,” as Richard Wilbur might say. What should be the lastfruits of this year?...

Offering the Lastfruits2022-05-04T23:44:30+00:00

Finding Joy in January

I don’t want to be contrary but talk about the new year never sits well with me. Yes, it’s a new year, I get it. One day it’s 2019 and the next day—and perhaps a few noise makers later—it’s 2020. The media likes to turn this into some giant significant occurrence as if flipping the calendar page changes anything. But do you know what the new year actually brings? January. And the reality is that for most of us, January is squarely in the middle of our year. Nothing is new. We are doing the same things we did a week ago and will continue to do for the foreseeable future. If you had a child in fifth grade in December, they are still in fifth grade in January. If you had a long commute to your job in December, you’re still commuting in January. Oh, here’s one I especially love in Boston, if the climate you live in is cold in December, guess what? It’s still cold, probably colder, in January.For many of us, January can be a struggle exactly because we are in the middle, and all the talk of new beginnings makes us feel inadequate and tired. What we need in January is not a contrived fresh start but a real and faithful walk on the road we are already on, following the One who always goes before us, year-round. One of my favorite chapters in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 15. It’s a chapter about the work and power of the resurrection of Christ. Unlike flipping a calendar page, when you believe in Jesus and all that His life and resurrection means, then everything really does change....

Finding Joy in January2022-05-07T22:44:43+00:00

Living the Bigger, Better Story God Plans for Us

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19 In the new year of 2017, I recorded some big plans in my journal: Create a prayer planner to help people grow in healthy prayer habits. Walk alongside our daughter as she planned her wedding; attend our son’s college graduation. Continue teaching Bible study at the jail. My Plans vs. God’s Plans As a gospel coach and a Type A personality, I enjoy making plans. Every new year, I set aside time to revisit the stories of the “awesome deeds” (Psalm 145:6) God has done in the previous year and to pray and think about what stories he might write in the coming year. I don’t make resolutions, which I know I will break; I make plans, which I hold loosely. While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with such a practice, I have begun to wonder if my plans, like the desires C.S. Lewis wrote about long ago, might be too “shallow” and too “weak.” Given that we serve a God who is forever doing “brand new things,” I wonder if I am happy “making mudpies in a slum” when what God has planned for me is a “holiday by the sea.” [1] In 2017, the year I recorded those plans in my journal, it seemed the Lord had different plans. While our son did graduate from college, and our daughter did get married, and I did continue teaching at the jail, the Lord also wrote a bigger, better story in my life. In August of 2017, when our twenty-two-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor and proceeded to have four brain surgeries over the next nine months, I became more intimately acquainted with the God who was determined to do an astonishing “new thing,” to “make a way in the wilderness..."

Living the Bigger, Better Story God Plans for Us2022-05-07T22:45:33+00:00
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