Behind and Before

Reflections for a New Year

Pastor Chris Lenhart | January 26, 2023

Each year, I find a few thoughts to keep at the front of my mind to challenge me in the various roles that God has invited me into. Together, these reflections form my version of New Year’s resolutions. The first goal is always to look more like Jesus in 2023 than in 2022. And how might that happen? The following three big ideas will be on my mind this year as the Spirit continues to shape me into the image of our Servant Savior, Jesus.

1. Surrender

It’s likely that this word came out of the time I spent in Philippians 2:5-11 last year, as I wrestled with all that Jesus gave up coming to us as a baby. What did Jesus surrender so that I might find salvation? The macro answers involve both equality with God, and his own life, but the micro answers are unfathomably limitless. As I unpack the word surrender, other words like vulnerability, sacrifice, letting go, and giving away come to mind – patterns that certainly need more sharpening and shaping in my life.

Who or what, besides Jesus, am I clinging to? The need to be right, to win an argument, or justify myself? A platform from which to look critically and condemningly upon others, or hopelessly up at them? Comfort, control, security? What to make of fear, anxiety, worry, stress, doubt, and all their companions? The desire to speak before listening, like really listening? The need to form my next statement before my discussion partner has finished their thought? These are emotions and feelings I need to surrender, together with pride, anger, bitterness, and all the voices, other than Christ’s, that relentlessly chirp in my ears.

Who or what are we clinging to this year, other than Jesus? The pressure, self- or others-imposed, to look, feel, think, act, or live as though I am perfect now. An unwillingness to accept the work in progress that I am. Ambition? Striving? I probably need to let go of a little bit of both. The constant, nagging feeling that I am always letting someone down, and never arriving at Expectation’s intended destination. Surrender.

I ask myself, what is Jesus calling me to surrender in 2023? And, if the answer is all the above, realizing that it still pales in comparison to all that Christ surrendered for me.

2. “Linger Longer”

Patience is a virtue, but it’s never been mine. Truth is, I need to slow down. I have grown accustomed to living at lightning speed. I’m getting older, my children are getting older, and fast living has levied its consequences. I have missed so much; I hope it’s not too late. Growing the habit of “lingering longer” will be an important thought piece for me in 2023 – to wait, to breathe, to take in the moments, one-by-one. To linger.

I put that phrase in quotes because it is not original to me. I heard it in a sermon, but I was moving too fast to remember when or where, and thankfully, it just stuck. Right now, wherever you are reading this, just take a deep breath and look around. This might be, could be, the last time you are here, just like this. By 2024, some of the people we love, who are with us right now, might not be. The dawn that brings us joy in the morning may quickly dissolve into clouds. Our lives, only a mist.

What does it look like to just slow down, take in the moments, the scenes, the scents, the people? To take our time with our morning coffee or tea? To sit in a café with a good book or friend and just be still? Waiting in a room with silence anticipating that one of our children, currently engaged in a screen, book, or other activity, is just waiting for everyone else to slow down, and quiet down enough to actually hear them speak…like really hear them. Lingering longer.

Holding our partner’s hand, or squeezing that goodbye hug, just…a…bit…l o n g e r. To embrace the marathon, running the race that is life at a pace that is worthy of the gospel. A worthy pace for an eternal gospel probably means we all need to slow down; I’ve been moving way too fast. How about you?

3. Be a presence of peace

Why all the fighting? Bickering on the TV, arguing on the radio, conflict in the community, division in the Church – why? Jesus said, “I will build my church.” Do we trust him? To think that I must defend Jesus. I must fight for him. I must act as though he is incapable of doing what he has done throughout history. God works through weak, feeble, humble, broken, sin-filled humanity to accomplish his purposes. Fuming heads won’t prevail, not for long. These are not the ways of the kingdom. Ours is a gospel and a kingdom of peace. And can we trust that? “Peter/Chris, put away your sword.” “For the anger of people does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:20)

Jesus wins the culture war, he wins the social war, he wins the political war, he wins the global wars, he wins the spiritual war, and he does so by laying down his life, peacefully, willingly, obediently, sacrificially. Sweet victory, only to live as one captured by this Messiah, realizing that we no longer have need to rage, fight, or war. The whole world, in his hands. Unboxing Paul’s words, “If possible, as much as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” For me, this requires I see each person as someone created in God’s image, a current or potential sister or brother in the family of God.

A challenge to just live with the quiet composure and confidence that humanity can do the worst of what humanity does, and God won’t stumble, faint, or grow weary. And then, to trust and live as though he will empower and equip me so that I won’t grow weary either. We never know how Jesus is working through us today to draw someone closer to himself. But have I also considered how my sinful attitudes, postures, and habits might be pushing someone further into the hopelessness of life without Jesus? Does my life accurately represent the Jesus of the Bible? Do I live and communicate the love, joy, hope, and peace of the Good News?

Oh, to look and live in greater conformity to Jesus!  A worthy goal for all of us to pursue together in 2023. Shalom.