by Michael Meyer
The ball dropped last month, and 2016 was in the history books. There were ups and downs, surprises and near misses. There was great excitement when we thought some of the crazier predictions of an “old” movie might actually come true (alas, the Cubs didn’t win it all), and there was great disappointment when the highest court in our land trampled on, rather than upheld, marriage and family in our country. Today, however, is not for reminiscing about what would/could/should have been. It is, after all, a new year, full of hopes, dreams and new beginnings.
So, in the spirit of the new year, let’s look at five resolutions every Lutheran should keep in 2017 (and beyond):
- Remember your Baptism.
It makes sense to start at the very foundation of our new life in Christ. Take this new year to remember that you’re a new you on account of your Baptism into Christ. It wasn’t just plain water sprinkled on your forehead. It was done at God’s command and with His Word. You now have forgiveness, life and salvation! Rejoice in this “washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior” (Titus 3:5b–6).
Do you still regret something from the past year or from long ago? Baptism now saves you! Have you already failed in one or more of your resolutions to eat better and exercise? These things are good, but your salvation does not depend on them. It depends on Christ! So drown and bury that guilt along with all your sins and evil desires “in daily contrition and repentance” (Small Catechism) and look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2a).
- Go to church regularly and receive Christ’s body and blood.
This seems obvious so why mention it? Think about this: Eating right is good for us, yet we still make this resolution every year. That’s because in spite of the clear benefits to healthy eating, we still don’t do it. The same is true of attending church, that is, of hearing God’s Word and receiving Christ’s body and blood. We know it’s good for us, and yet we’re quick to make excuses and do other things that either serve to starve our faith or feed it such rubbish that it suffers instead of strengthens.
So, if eating healthy is important (3 times a day too!), then it’s infinitely more important for us to continually have preached into our hearts the Law that kills and the Gospel that makes alive and gives comfort in every need.
It’s tempting to look for this comfort outside of the church, to think that we’re in communion with God while camping or to think that we can substitute volunteer work for Sunday morning worship. Sadly, these are lies of the devil. God is everywhere (omnipresent), yes, but only in His Word and Sacraments is He present for you, forgiving your sins and healing your broken heart. He even gives His very body and blood, given and shed for you as a testament. He’s attached Himself to these things and promised to be there for you. To look for Jesus outside these means of grace is foolish.
But isn’t the church just full of sinners? Of course it is! That’s the point. We shouldn’t be surprised when sinners gather in the place where forgiveness is promised.
- Support your pastor and the work of your congregation.
It’s true: Your pastor’s a sinner too. It’s also true that he’s the sinner whom God has called to publicly proclaim His Word and administer His Sacraments in that place. There’s an obvious financial obligation that Christians have to support the under-shepherd whom God has given for “you shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and “The laborer is due his wages” (1 Tim. 5:18). Practically speaking, if your pastor is overly anxious about how to care for his family, then how’s he going to adequately care for the members of the congregation?
Unquestionably, there are other ways to support your pastor as well. Cards and notes are especially appreciated. You could also pray for him. Chances are he’s already praying for you so why not return the favor? Furthermore, imagine the church where everyone is constantly praying for everyone else! And what if these same people (you included) regularly confessed their sins to each other and forgave one another? The pastor would rejoice, and the devil would flee from such a wonderful thing.
There are other aspects of your congregation that would benefit from support as well: potluck meals can’t happen without Jell-o molds and casseroles, and the preschoolers cherish each and every moment that someone takes the time to read to them. We all have unique God-given skills and talents that can be exercised as we care and love each other.
- Encourage the families of your church.
There is more to this than it seems at first blush. Families here mean everyone from singles to single parents, from the widowed and orphaned to the traditional nuclear family. No one is left out.
There are some in your church family whose children have moved away and cherish time with their brothers and sisters in Christ. There are others who struggle with things you can’t imagine.
So, while “families” in this article is defined rather loosely, encouragement isn’t. It means nothing less than for us to live in a constant state of forgiving one another and directing each other to Word and Sacrament, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (Heb. 10:25).
There’s also a particular encouragement that can be shown to families who struggle to bring their children to church Sunday morning. Let’s face it: 60 to 90 minutes of sitting still and being quiet can sometimes be hard for adults, let alone for young children. What’s worse is that we can make the parent’s job more difficult by paying more attention to a fussy child than to what’s going on in the service.
On the other hand, there are ways to provide real encouragement to these families by thanking the parents and loving every minute that their children are in the service, regardless of noise. Let them know that it’s a blessing (and not a burden) for them to be there that morning receiving God’s good and gracious gifts alongside everyone else. Share resources with them so they can teach their children about the blessing of church. Regularity in the liturgy is also helpful, as parents and children can participate from memory, in spite of the times they’re distracted by each other.
- Make a bold confession.
Of all the resolutions on this list, this one might scare you the most. Yet it’s also a privilege boldly to confess Christ in our various callings in life. To be clear, this doesn’t mean that you should stand on the street corner and thump your Bible. It does mean, however, that there are many opportunities to share the hope that lies within us on a daily basis.
Perhaps your waitress expresses a burden that she’s bearing. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Maybe your neighbor is troubled by a recent crime spree. Jesus says, “My peace I give to you . . . Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:27). Or your spouse feels like they have been cut off from God’s (or your) love. St. Paul says, “For I am sure that neither death not life, nor angels nor rulers . . . nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
What makes confessions like these bold is not the strength of the speaker. Rather, the boldness rests squarely on the strength of whom they speak. Quite simply, the confession, however weak, is bold on account of Christ. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).
Who knows how this year will turn out? We don’t, but the Lord does. And He has uniquely prepared our crosses and our good works. There will be times when we slip and fall short in keeping these resolutions or neglect them, yet do not lose heart. Jesus loves you and forgives you! Where we have failed, He has not. His resolve to suffer on the cross and rise on the third day was for you, and it did not falter.
The Rev. Michael Meyer is manager of LCMS Disaster Response.
*This article was originally used in the print January 2016 Lutheran Witness.*