OK!  So you’ve eaten the last of the Christmas dinner leftovers (why did I buy a 25lb. turkey?), returned that sweater from Aunt June that you probably wouldn’t wear to Wal-Mart at 3 a.m. in the middle of a blizzard, waved good-bye to your cousin Eddie and his 3 darling kids who have broken 3 pieces of your Christmas china along with years 1983, 1997, 2002 and 2006 Hallmark Charlie Brown ornaments.  As you collapse on the couch to enjoy a cup of coffee, your eyes fall on the calendar.  New Year’s Day is just a few days away.  2019!  

If you are like most people, you look with hope to a coming new year.  In the new year we see a fresh start; a chance to do better than the last year.  Many of us turn to New Year’s Resolutions as a way to better ourselves.  

“I resolve to:

  • Exercise more.
  • Eat healthier.
  • Stop smoking
  • Stop procrastinating (OK, I’ll start that one next month!)
  • Be calmer.”

I don’t know about you, but whenever I make these “resolutions”, I find that they may last a few weeks, or a month or two at most.  Then, in my inevitable weakness I crumble.  I fail.  I give up.  If I can’t stick to my resolutions, then it seems that they are no good, so why not just surrender?

Many people view sin like our resolutions.  In the beginning, when we are inspired to do better, we think that we have the ability to resist sin (greed, anger, lusts, intolerance, refusal to forgive), but before too long, we find that in our human nature we fail.  As Christians, though, we are called to do something other than to just surrender to our weakness and give in to sin.  As Christians we are given the gift of grace and forgiveness.  

In Romans 7 and 8 Paul discusses our human weakness and God’s infinite grace.

7: 21 – 25  “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law;  but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.  What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

8:1 – 4  “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.  And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

So, as the new year approaches, it is a good thing that we reflect on the past year.  Celebrate the victories.  Examine our failures.  Think about how we can do better in the coming year.  As Christians, though, let us be realistic about our ability to change ourselves.  If we rely on our own strength we will eventually fail.  But, praise God, that is not the end of the story.  As Christians we rely on God’s grace and God’s forgiveness to pick us up when we fall.  

Each winter, just as it seems Spring will never arrive, the Season of Lent (which comes from the Old English word for Spring) arrives to usher in Easter.  Even though this year Winter seems to have been more rain than , Lent is upon us.  

Lent is a time of Preparation and Introspection before Easter, recognizing our sinfulness, our mortality, and our need of God.  Hopefully, by the time Easter arrives we have new perspective and new joy in God’s grace and the promise of resurrection.  

We begin our observation of Lent with an Ash Wednesday Service on March 5st at 6:30.  We begin with admitting our mortality.  Lent continues through Saturday, April 20th excluding Sundays, which are technically not part of Lent because each Sunday is a “little Easter”.  

Traditionally, Lent has been observed with a fast of some kind:  historically meat and yeast bread would not be eaten during Lent; more recently chocolate and sodas have been popular to give up for Lent.  The idea was that to deny yourself would allow you to more closely identify with Christ’s suffering.

Several years ago, I came across an article that suggested that instead of giving up meat or chocolate or soda, that we give up habits that separate us from God. I hope that you will read this list and use it for Lent.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

19 things you might consider giving up this Lent and beyond:

1. Fear: God is on my side. In Him I am more than a conqueror. (See Romans 98)
2. The need to please everyone: I can’t please everyone anyway. There is only one I need to strive to please.
3. Envy: I am blessed. My value is not found in my possessions, but in my relationship with my Heavenly Father.
4. Impatience: God’s timing is the perfect timing.
5. Sense of entitlement: The world does not owe me anything. God does not owe me anything. I live in humility and grace.
6. Bitterness and Resentment: The only person I am hurting by holding onto these is myself.
7. Blame: I am not going to pass the buck. I will take responsibility for my actions.
8. Gossip and Negativity: I will put the best construction on everything when it comes to other people. I will also minimize my contact with people who are negative and toxic and bring other people down.
9. Comparison: I have my own unique contribution to make and there is no one else like me.
10. Fear of failure: You don’t succeed without experiencing failure. Just make sure you fall forward.
11. A spirit of poverty: Believe with God that there is always more than enough and never a lack.
12. Feelings of unworthiness: You are fearfully and wonderfully made by your creator. (see Psalm 139)
13. Doubt: Believe God has a plan for you that is beyond anything you could imagine. The future is brighter than you could ever realize.
14. Self-pity: God comforts us in our sorrow so that we can comfort others with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.
15. Retirement: As long as you are still breathing, you are here for a reason. You have a purpose to influence others for Christ. That does not come to an end until the day we die.
16. Excuses: A wise man once said, if you need an excuse, any excuse will do.
17. Lack of counsel: Wise decisions are rarely made in a vacuum.
18. Pride: Blessed are the humble.
19. Worry: God is in control and worrying will not help.