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Getting A Head Start…

This is an incredible time of year, isn’t it?

The sense of hope and optimism in a sea of bad news and sometimes crappy lives. Even for the uninitiated, the season of Christmas with all the happy faces and good cheer, can be infectious. It can cause you to be kind to others, even if it’s just a “happy holidays!” and a smile to a neighbor.

And it carries over past Christmas Day.

One week later, we literally celebrate a new start.

That’s even more opportunities for hope and optimism.

It’s like magic. We treat the ball dropping at Times Square like an explosion of “NEW”, as an ethereal ring of “all is forgotten” expands outwards across the world.

This is the day of new promises, programs, and restarts. This is the day to dump bad habits, bad attitudes and… maybe even bad people. This is the, “I’m working out, losing weight, getting a better job, being a better everything”, holiday!    

I have my own promises, programs, and restarts.

I want to read more, the Bible and other books. I want to write more. I want to veg out in front of the TV less. I want to move more and lose weight. I want to be more intentional with everything I do. I want my bad habits and sinful tendencies to lessen. I want better relationships with my wife and kids. I think I even want to cook more.

Not one of these things are bad for me.

It’s also likely that I fail at each an every one of them.

I’ll fail because at some point I will inevitably make them my plumbline, my proof of success. I will have wrapped up every possible worth in my being to nothing but full and complete success, as I define it for myself, by checking off, “complete” in every single one of these boxes.

I’ll fail at one, and it will cascade into failing at more, until all the boxes have scribbled out red marks across them. I’ll keep trying, but now it’ll be a half-hearted attempt, that gets me to the hope and optimism of another new year, until I try to ride that early high wave to success once more.

That was somewhat dark, I know. But, I figured, why not get a head start on failure.

I’m not the only one. Millions, maybe billions every year, make resolutions to be better at something, and the majority fail. Many within the first week. We all have that desire for better, and we love the idea of having a starting off point. I wonder if we fail because of the high expectations we put upon ourselves for success.

In Matthew 5, Jesus in his sermon on the mount, gives us what seems to be the greatest list of resolutions the world has ever known!  

The Beatitudes

Blessed are those:

who are poor in spirit

who mourn

who are meek

who hunger and thirst for righteousness

who are merciful

who are the pure in heart

…who are the peacemakers

who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.

We’ve either been the Christian or known the Christian who saw this as some kind of attainable challenge. “If I’m following Jesus, I should BE these things or I should be DOING them!”

That was me.

And it leads to more feelings of failure, and Christian failure can feel so much worse or deeper than other failures. “I’m not these things, and I keep failing at doing them. Can I even call myself a Christian?” It doesn’t help if you go to church with Christians who say, “probably not.” They should be called, “the bad-titudes”, because when I hold them up like a mirror to my life, I can’t measure up, and never could.

Then Matthew 5:20 opened my eyes:

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

What is this?  More unattainable nonsense? Whatever the attitude was, the Pharisees and scribes had “the look.” Publicly, they were the moral compasses. The ones to compare to. They even tithed their spices. What could a righteousness that exceeds that look like? And… How could I ever measure up to that?      

Maybe… Instead…  It’s a call for us to lean into our failures. Admit to our inability to be any of these things in the way that’s expected for the kind righteousness needed for Heaven.

Maybe it’s leaning into our weaknesses and brokenness so that we are not weighed down by our own inability to be the restorers of ourselves.

What kind of righteousness would we need to be greater that the most pious, religious leaders? What kind of righteousness could be found that would make us new despite ourselves and our ability?

“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption…” – 1 Corinthians 1:30

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:21

We have a greater righteousness in us, because of Christ, not by any of own ability.

It’s hard to reconcile this in our minds, our hearts, in the very limbs that can still move and do things with great effort. We want this great righteousness to be earned or deserved. In the same way that we put so much worth in our ability to start the new year off with the best intentions of following all our plans with great exuberance. It’s also why we feel so bad when we fail. We feel bad when we fail God, when we fail Jesus, because somewhere in there, is us thinking we must deserve this righteousness on our own merit, by our great ability.

But we don’t.   

We need to lean into the worst part of us. Admit that it exists. Admit that we need help, that we need a rescue.

As we sink into that failure, that brokenness, we find at the bottom of it, rest in the righteousness of Christ. The righteousness that paid for the failure, even that next one coming up on your left.  We lean into that and realize we resemble the poor, meek, mourners of the beatitudes, we don’t need to strive for it. We can see ourselves hungering and thirsting for Christ’s righteousness, not our own, when we know how poor and meek we are. We are grateful for the mercy shown us, and gives us a desire to be the peacemakers who share the gospel of reconciliation to others.

There’s a weird freedom found in admitting that failure. To move and do things, not out of our own expectations needing to be satisfied, but out of God’s already acceptance of us. Not so we gain something, but because we’ve already been given something.

Back to those upcoming resolutions for the new year.

My hope is that when 2022 rings in, and I try to attain some level of success in all those areas mentioned, I won’t put my entire worth in the wins or losses. I hope I can move forward knowing that my worth is greater than 10 books read, 50 articles written, 60 pounds lost, or making less mistakes with my family. My hope is I remember that my worth is found in a success not my own, a righteousness outside of myself. I hope I never forget it. I hope I remember it every time I wash my face and remember my baptism, and every time I stand at the communion table.

This is just me trying to get a head start on my failures, so I can remember to lean into the Savior for my true worth, and have some successes along the way.

I hope that for you as well…                 

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