The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet and a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things he will certainly do nothing effective. ~ G.K. Chesterton
Today we begin another new year.
I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions. I don’t not make them because I don’t have areas of my life I need to change. I don’t make them but because I can’t afford to.
I’m pulled toward procrastination. I don’t think I procrastinate because I’m lazy. Usually, when I procrastinate, it’s because I don’t want to make a mistake.
If I’m not certain how to approach something, how to do or undo something, I can easily fall into doing nothing. I admire those bold people who don’t mind stepping right in it, knowing they can clean up afterwards. But I’m not one of them. I want to wait until the right moment, when I have just the right words or know the right way to go about something.
That’s why I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I know myself well enough to know that I have to take care of things as soon as I’m aware of them, before I have time to work out just the right approach. It doesn’t matter if I want to be a kinder person or become healthier or just coral my thoughts – there’s no magic on January 1st for me.
I have to begin each day before I start each day with a prayer to learn the lessons of grace: to give without expectation, to love without condition, to be gentle when harmed and hopeful when hurt.
In this new year, I’m not making resolutions, I’m praying for a make-over: a new soul and a new nose; new feet and a new backbone, new ears and new eyes – a new heart, today and every day.
He’s making a list,
Checking it twice;
Gonna find out who’s naughty or nice.
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you’re sleeping
He knows when you’re awake
He knows if you’ve been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake
You better watch out
You better not cry
You better not pout
I’m telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
~ John Coots/Haven Gillespie
We started reading through Matthew, and I thought it was all very interesting, you know. And I found Jesus very disturbing, very straightforward. He wasn’t diplomatic, and yet I felt like if I met Him, He would really like me… I can’t explain how freeing that was, to realize that if I met Jesus, He would like me. I never felt like that about some of the Christians on the radio. I always thought if I met those people they would yell at me but it wasn’t like that with Jesus. ~ Donald Miller
We’ve all heard parodies of Sally Field’s second Oscar acceptance speech: I haven’t had an orthodox career, and I’ve wanted more than anything to have your respect. The first time I didn’t feel it, but this time I feel it, and I can’t deny the fact that you like me, right now, you like me! It was so uncool to let on that being liked mattered.
We’re supposed to pretend that it isn’t important. Just like yourself. That’s all that counts. That’s what we’re told. But it’s not true. Being liked does matter.
The new convert in Miller’s story was drawn to God because she felt that if she met Him, He would really like her. She didn’t say I thought God would love me. She said I felt like if I met Him, He would really like me. Liking matters.
Sometimes I find myself thinking of God like a family member who has to love me because we’re related but may not like me all that much. Maybe that’s because there are days I’m not my greatest fan and I only see through the mirror dimly while God knows every dark part of my heart. If I know He loves me, does it matter if He likes me?
This is what I’ve always thought about liking and loving: There are people who I like but don’t know well enough to love. And there are people who I love that I know too well to like. That’s what I’ve told myself when I base love on relationship and commitment and like on actions and attitudes.
I don’t know if you’re this way, but when I sense someone doesn’t like me, even if they profess to love me, my walls go up. There’s something so compelling about being genuinely liked. Loving is a cake walk compared to liking. Liking requires listening and giving and a huge dedication to understanding. If we have any hope of being a light, we’d better learn to do the heavy lifting of liking because liking does matter.
The problem with legalists is that not enough people have confronted them and told them to get lost. Those are strong words, but I don’t mess with legalism anymore. I used to kowtow to legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers. They’ll drive off every new Christian you bring to church. They are enemies of the faith. ~ Chuck Swindoll
I’ve been on a diet for a while now. I don’t mean a messing around, hit and miss kind of diet. I’m mean an old-fashioned, calorie counting, keeping record of everything I eat kind of diet.
I found a good free on-line program that does all the calculations for me.* I’ve had a good bit of success. I’ve done it by being completely legalistic. Except for vacation, when I had no intention of dieting, I’ve never exceeded the recommended caloric intake (and it’s pretty low). Not once since April 1st. I have 5 pounds left to lose to meet my goal.
For many, many years I was the same way with my faith. I tried to pray enough, share enough, memorize Scripture enough to meet my goal of being A Practically Perfect Christian. I kept track of sin, mine and sometimes others, weighing the significance of each action on my own made up sin scale.
Being legalistic in my eating helped me reach a goal. So did spiritual legalism. The problem was the goal. It wasn’t the Westminster Shorter Catechism goal: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. It was the Army goal: Be All You Can Be. I was out to continually improve myself (and others).
One hard legalistic lesson learned is that success in all of life lies in the heart not in a discipline. I knew how to lose weight. It’s not complicated. Use more calories than you eat. I was legalistic because I was afraid to give myself any leeway. What if 30 extra calories today led to 50 tomorrow? I was afraid to trust myself.
It’s much the same with spiritual legalism. Legalism isn’t just being careful, it’s being lazy. I was afraid to not know the answer about everything for everyone. So instead of depending on the Holy Spirit, I chose the path labeled: Show No Mercy. Swindoll’s words are a timely reminder I used to kowtow to legalists, but they’re dangerous. They are grace-killers.
*If you’re interested in the diet I’ve written about it in The Dreaded D Word on my other blog.
To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.
Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. ~ Thomas Merton
There’s nothing in the definition of holiday that includes holiness or happiness. A holiday, according to Webster, is a day on which one is exempt from work. And even though 17% of US workers will spend Thanksgiving at work, most will find some way on some day to celebrate.
But because holidays receive a so much hype, it’s hard not to wrap them up in a glitzy mess of assumptions and expectations. On one hand, it’s easy to give way to the idea that everyone else is having a Norman Rockwell day. It’s equally easy to expect magic – to build in expectations that this day, this year, this time, will be different, will be perfect.
The reality is that holidays are intrinsically a celebration of life and love and blessings for some and a reminder of loss and loneliness and lack for others. Which they are for whom varies from year to year. But thankfulness, gratitude - takes nothing for granted. It isn’t reserved for the 4th Thursday of November.
It’s not the state of Thanksgiving that concerns me, it’s the condition of my own heart on each and every day. Am I seeking to have a heart that’s rich with thankfulness and an awareness that God has already given me everything? Am I living a life so filled with grace that it spills out all over everywhere? Am I so steeped in gratitude that I take less and less for granted?
May this Thanksgiving and the day after and the day after that be days of grace and gratitude for each of us, simply because we know God is good, not by hearsay, but by experience.
A group of Navy SEALs were performing a covert operation, freeing hostages from a building is some dark part of the world. They stormed into the room where the hostages had been imprisoned for months. The room was filthy and dark. The hostages were curled up in a corner, terrified. When the SEALs entered the room, they heard the gasps of the hostages. They stood at the door and called to the prisoners, telling them they were Americans. The SEALS asked the hostages to follow them, but the hostages wouldn’t. They sat there on the floor and hid their eyes in fear. ~ Donald Miller
Miller goes on to describe the events that followed. The SEALs were at a loss. The ones they came to rescue didn’t trust them until one of the men put down his weapon, took off his helmet, and curled up tightly next to the prisoners. He softened the look on his face and put his arms around them, something no prison guards would do. He was trying to show them he was one of them. He waited until eventually they began to meet his gaze. Then he whispered that they were Americans and had come to rescue them. Will you follow us? he asked. As he stood, one by one, the hostages did the same until all of them were willing to follow him to freedom.
The soldier had shifted from a position of authority to becoming like the hostages in their suffering. Miller says this is the story that helped Christianity make sense to him. He could see the parallel of God becoming a man, joining us in our suffering so that we would know it’s safe to follow Him.
I think it also applies in another way. We’re often at a loss when those we’re trying to rescue won’t follow. Maybe it’s because of our tendency to storm into the room, armed with all of the answers.
As we seek to serve the One who sets the hostage free, it’s time to put aside our weapons that wound (attitudes, words, actions), soften the look on our faces and the condition of our hearts, and get so close that we touch those we hope to reach. It’s a risky operation, all of that touching instead of just telling. There’s a universal code word for it: grace.
God does not comfort us to make us comfortable only, but to make us comforters. ~ John Henry Jowett
The house I grew up in had a big wrap around porch. I loved that porch. I loved the big swing, I loved the secret side escape route. I especially loved the front steps. There were only 3 but they were deep and wide.
The summer just before I turned 4, I was determined to jump up the steps. Jumping down was easy. A baby could do that. I wanted to go the other direction. I tried over and over and over. I didn’t want to jump 1…2…3. I wanted to jump all 3 at once. I always fell.
If the scrapes were especially deep, my Mom would get out the dreaded Iodine. She would apply it to my wounds and blow softly until the sting went away.
But most of the time, my knees and elbows, which were in constant flux between scabbing and bleeding, could be patched up with Bactine and Band-Aids. I can’t remember if I finally conquered the steps that summer or if I lost interest or if I grew taller. What I do remember is the smell of Bactine and my mother’s tender care.
I don’t think she ever said: Debbie Lynn, how many times are you going to do that before you learn your lesson? She just held me and comforted me and doctored my hurting parts. I caused my own pain, yet she was unfailingly compassionate.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt compelled to jump up the steps. When I fall now, it’s my Father that I run to. He tenderly cleans me up and comforts me. Just like my Mom, He’s never withheld His compassion because I’ve caused my own problems or because I keep making the same mistakes.
How often have I heard or even thought:Well, he brought it on himself. Probably true. Does that matter? How often have I refused to forgive myself what God has already forgiven because it was my own fault?
There’s a whole lot of pain in this world. Some of it happens to us, but much we cause ourselves. God comforts me with His mercy and patches me up with His grace, regardless. As I accept that, not only am I comforted, but I become a much more compassionate comforter.
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business and, in fact, it is nobody’s business (but God’s). What we are asked to do is to love. ~ Thomas Merton
Hate the sin, love the sinner. Everyone’s heard it. You may have come across it in the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi or when reading The City of God by Augustine. Today though, most folks know the words as a popular Christian cliché that shows up on bumper stickers and protest signs.
Where you won’t find it is in the Bible unless the verse is referring to God. God hates sin. God loves sinners. He does both perfectly. He loves sinners without self-interest. He hates sin without malice.
The slogan has become something of a rallying cry for Christians. It seems, though, that when you hear the people in the streets with their placards or the admonition from the pulpit or pews, the emphasis is more on the Hate than the Love part.
It’s a difficult thing – hating the sin while loving the sinner – particularly when applied to strangers. Can I presume to be so wise as to distinguish between the essential you, whose heart I can’t see, and the external you, whose behavior I can observe?
It’s also problematic because there are so many sins to choose from. This typically leads to selective sin hatred – hating some sins quite a lot and accepting others as just human nature (a little gossip, a little lust, a little pride).
Added to the that is the burden of judging others all the time and keeping that ever watchful eye on everyone else’s behavior (since there’s no single special sin to hate).
And finally, it requires the assumption that I’m able to discern a definitive sin list for each person and that I’m without error in my interpretation and application of the scriptures.
It’s a very sticky wicket, this loving hating thing. The weight of God’s words seem to fall heavily on the love part. As imperfect as I am at loving, I’m trying to keep my heart and my focus there.
I think a better slogan for me in this journey of grace would be: Hate my sin, love all sinners!
Every time the disciple started establishing rules – no children near Jesus; don’t let the crowd touch Jesus; don’t talk to Samaritan women; don’t let people waste expensive perfumes – Jesus told them to knock it off, and His rebuke was usually followed by a lecture that said, “You still don’t get it! We are not substituting religious rules with our rules. We are substituting religious rules with Me!” Jesus kept saying “Follow Me,” not “Follow My rules.” Most of us have spent our Christian lives learning what we can’t do instead of celebrating what we can do in Jesus. What a tragedy. What a misunderstanding of who Jesus is. ~ Michael Yaconalli
When I was little, I loved to color but I was always careful to never color outside the lines. Following the rules was so important to me that I took my crayon and outlined inside the lines before I would begin to color the picture. I was desperate not do it wrong.
I carried that mindset into my adult life. While others found the lines to be constraining and stifling, I liked knowing exactly what I was supposed to do and how to do it. I saw following the rules as a simple equation: good behavior = a good person.
It’s not surprising that I joined a church rife with rules. I lived life almost entirely by rules – a mix of church rules, family rules, community rules and several random rules that I made up myself, just to be safe.
Because it was safety I was seeking. Safety from ever making a mistake; safety from letting others down; safety from condemnation and criticism; safety from being anything short of pleasing.
Then one day I found myself looking at a picture that was just an outline of a life, re-outlined by me, but always waiting to be colored.
Jesus kept saying “Follow Me,” not “Follow My rules.” Most of us have spent our Christian lives learning what we can’t do instead of celebrating what we can do in Jesus. What a tragedy. What a misunderstanding of who Jesus is.
Time heals all wounds. ~ Geoffrey Chaucer
I was 19 0n a beautiful Sunday afternoon when a drunk driver crossed the center line doing 65 mph, hitting my Dodge Dart head on. She walked away with some minor cuts. It took the EMTs and the Jaws-of Life to get me out of the wreckage of my little sedan.
After setting my leg and putting 4o stitches in my knee, the on-call doctor began a crisscross of stitches in my jaw. An EMT who’d never left my side repeatedly told the him that there was still a lot of glass in the wound (my head went through the driver’s side window) but the doctor made quick work of it.
For 25 years, the scar that runs right along my jaw line, would inexplicably begin to bleed and a sliver of glass would work it’s way out. Time scarred over the wound. It didn’t heal it.
I’m mystified at the magical or seemingly miraculous power we attribute to time. Time is just a method of measuring minutes and hours and days and years. Time doesn’t have a will or a way to heal wounds. Time passes, period.
When we’re wounded, it’s tempting to try to make quick work of the stitching up. We minimize and deny; we eat too much or too little; we sleep too much or too little; we get angry all the time or refuse to get angry at all; we drink, repress, project, blame, agrue – anything to avoid the temporary pain of digging out the shards. But if we don’t, the unresolved emotions start bleeding out in other areas.
Time doesn’t heal our wounds but healing does take time. It’s what we do in that time that brings or blocks the healing. We can fall back on our quick fix coping skills or we can lean forward on God and ask Him to guide us through the hard work of acknowledging and grieving and forgiving and repenting and accepting and making amends – in His time.
~For added perspective, check out Jan’s post Does Time Heal All Things – Love and Forgiveness!