Tombstones, Life, and Ambitions: A New Year’s Post

It’s not about the numbers chiseled in concrete, it’s how you lived your life in the dash between. — Scotty McCreery, The Dash

Tombstones, life, and ambitions. This time of year, and this day in particular, people seem to think and act on these ideas more than usual.

Tombstones 

Anyone listening to the news or on social media could list numerous people who died this year.  Influential authors, singers, musicians, actors, politicians, theologians, missionaries. When news like this breaks, many are quick to bemoan the year — whether in jest or sincerity of hopelessness. “2016, what gives?” “Come on, 2016!” I haven’t spent the time to investigate the rumors of the GoFundMe set up to help Betty White survive 2016.

As if a calendar year could control who lives or dies.

I’m not trying to be insensitive.  On a personal note, this year death was — as always — very real in my life and the lives of my friends and family.  I went to more funerals than weddings this year. And there were even more that I was not able to attend.

Maybe this year-end reflection needs a new angle. Taking another look at 2016, perhaps a year so full of death is also a merciful reminder that life must end one day, and there is no way to tell how many years that dash on the tombstone will cover. It’s a merciful reminder, because left on my own, I would not remember to look to the end.

Life and Ambitions

While cheerily waving this year away, we greet 2017 with hope.  Hope that life goes on. Hope that life gets better.  Hope that we could change someone else’s life for the better. We set new ambitions.  How will we get better? How will we improve? Where will we make our impact?

What are your goals? I started setting mine this week and preparing to put them in practice (I won’t say what they are, but they might involve organization and simplicity… and the mortgage). For others who can be task oriented (like me… sometimes), the focus can be on do, do, do. The more I think about it, doing must go hand-and-hand with being.  As a result, with the new year approaching, I find a question growing more in my mind:

What kind of people ought you to be? 2 Peter 3:11

Just let that question ring into the silence and feel its impact.

What kind of people ought you to be?

Peter’s context here is the end of all time, not just 2016. Year-endings are a reminder of the greater ending to come, so this verse, to me, is also a poignant question for each New Year.

This rhetorical question is quickly answered within the same verse:

You ought to live holy and godly lives…

This is not a call to live a kind life or a good life, but to live a life sacred to God, in piety, or reverence and duty, towards him.  This is εὐσέβεια (yoo-seb’-i-ah), which has promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8), and which has power inherent in it (2 Timothy 3:5).

So, part of my prayer for the new year is that I have the ambition to lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness. That I trust that God has given me everything pertaining to life and godliness.  That I don’t lose sight of the call to be holy because my LORD God is holy. That I don’t forget that by abiding in Him I can bear the fruit of godliness, and much of it.

In the words of Francis Chan,

The world is not moved by love or actions that are of human creation. And the church is not empowered to live differently from any other gathering of people without the Holy Spirit. But when believers live in the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. The church cannot help but be different, and the world cannot help but notice.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

The Desire for What is New

The desire for newness seems entrenched in the human soul. Not mere newness for the sake of being new, but newness in the sense of a better, pure, hopeful rebirth. Looking forward to the new year, we set goals for how the next year will be better, how we will have new adventures, how we will be healthier and happier and more organized, how we won’t repeat past mistakes. So, we welcome the new year and gladly relinquish the old year that has passed.

As this year comes to a close, I find myself meditating on this idea of newness. I’m convinced this desire for newness is a reflection of the newness spoken into the hearts of believers in Christ:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 2 Corinthians 5:17

The promise is not only that new comes, but also that the old, the broken, the harden, the impure, and the worthless is gone. And we are saved to walk in newness of life. Are not my new year’s hopes a shadow of this grace-filled reality?

But, as happens every year, we realize that while there is new, much old is repeated in this year as in the last. What happens when the sayings of the sage resonate deeply in our hearts? Is there really “nothing new under the sun”?

In the believer’s failings, we read that the new self itself “is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col. 3:10)

That in our old troubles, the Lord’s mercies are new each morning. (Lamentations 3:22-23)

That in the world full of the old hate, injustice, suffering, and death, there is a new world coming.

“For behold, I create new heavens
And a new earth,
And the former things shall not be remembered
Or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
In that which I create;
For behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy,
And her people to be a gladness.
… No more shall be heard the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
And infant who lives but a few days,
Or an old man who does not fill out his days…
They shall not build and another inhabit;
They shall not plant and another eat…
They shall not labor in vain
Or bear children for calamity…
Isaiah 65:17-23

The all-powerful, trustworthy God is the foundation of all hope in a new future without any stain of the old. So, while I clean out my house, plan a budget, and set goals for a new year, I do so with hope, not discouragement that old will settle back in — as we all know it will. I remember that what I do at the end of each year is not my hope for a better future, but merely an imperfect reflection of the perfect reality that is coming with Christ’s return at the end of all years:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, ” Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:1-5)

With that hope, Happy New Year!

The confessions of a New Year’s Scrooge

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I’m about to confess something that may make me wildly unpopular, but here goes: I don’t really like New Year’s Eve/Day as a holiday.

Author’s note: Please filter this post with the understanding that as I write this, I am by turns smiling, laughing, and teary-eyed.  I am by no means sitting on my couch with a soured frown and permanent crease between my eyebrows. Thank you.

I think I gave up on making resolutions in high school.  Why make more goals (read rules) for myself when I struggle and then fail to keep them? Why, yes, I think I’ll start my new year off by setting myself up for disappointment. (Okay, I don’t really feel that strongly about it.  But, in all fairness, I think there are enough self-help articles about actually keeping the New Year’s resolutions one didn’t manage to keep last year to support my point here.)

Getting new planners is nice, but the empty pages will invariably fill with same busyness of last year.

I see friends on social media getting “excited about what 2015 will bring”. Like many people, I’m still blinking in sad disbelief at what 2014 “brought” and can’t even begin to try to guess what could happen in the next 365 days.

To be honest, I think my lack of enthusiasm over a new year is a combination of fear of the unknown, lack of thankfulness, the fact that life is hard (and often sad), and the desire for something new when every year is filled with so much old.

Now that I think about it, I may be more of a New Year’s Charlie Brown than a Scrooge.  In the movie ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas’, Charlie Brown is depressed and unsatisfied with the popular, commercial meaning of Christmas.  My favorite holiday is Christmas.  I celebrate it for months.  But, switch out Christmas with New Year celebrations, and I understand him perfectly.

Really, what I love the most about Christmas is also the one thing I need for the incoming New Year.  To me, Christmas means joy and hope.  It means longings fulfilled.  I look at every nativity scene and see Christ come to earth. I sing along to my favorite Christmas songs:

Father in heaven,
You gave us reason to see past the pain of today
We celebrate…

Unending hope for all time
When the King of the ages arrived — Selah, “Joy”

Christ is come.  Even though this past Christmas morning brought news of a friend’s death (as did the Christmas morning before that), I know that Christ has come.  And I know that those friends are truly and perfectly whole and home because of Christ. In every aspect of Christmas, I see Christ.

Then it hit me: because that’s what New Year’s is all about, Charlie Brown.

It may not seem like a profound revelation, but it was for me.  The reason I don’t like New Year’s is because I don’t look into the new year and see Christ.  I don’t need to be the best me by losing weight, or running, managing my time more, or getting excited about a new year of possibilities.  I need to see Christ.

If I hope in resolutions, I will fall flat.  I can accomplish them and still feel empty.  My only hope is Christ.  The only redemption for the reoccurring old in the new year is that Christ is still at work, even if it seems things don’t change.  I need to not fear the unknown because I see the One I trust the most guiding me there.  I can evaluate the old year with thankfulness because Christ was in it.  I can set goals for the new year because I’m able to ask Him, “Lord, what would you have me do?”

So, I look into the new year and see that I will go back to the same classroom, write the same (but hopefully improved) lesson plans, try to maintain focus through the same evaluation and state testing stress, laugh off the same singleness comments, enjoy one last year in my 20s, read new books, try to prioritize better, hopefully eat healthier, maybe blog more, and meet with many happy and sad unknowns.  But, above all that, by the grace of God, I look into the new year and I see Christ.

“O to enter this new year with the realization that the one who loved me and gave Himself for me, accompanies me into it! Then why should I fear what may lay ahead of me? Whatever may be my circumstances, whatever changes I may pass through, whatever I may be called upon to bear – Christ Himself will be my constant companion! But only faith – not imagination or feelings – will be able to realize and appreciate His presence.”~ Arthur Pink, “His Presence”

Oh that the whole world would know this joy.