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

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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