When I was a kid, my family would go to a New Year's Eve party every year at the home of my dad's best friend from high school. We kids would play together, ring in the new year, and enjoy all the food and drink--at least, the drink that we were allowed to have. Every year, we were told that we weren't allowed to drink the egg nog. For the longest time, I didn't understand why--only that it was a "grownup drink." So I came to associate egg nog with being a grownup.
In this New Year, I'm asking myself what I would like most in 2019. At 46, I've decided that I want to be more grownup--that I want some EGG NOG! Rather than resolutions that say "I'd like to do this or that this year," I've simply decided I want to drink more from the following six character traits. I want to be more...
Ecumenical. Along with my move to the Pacific Northwest comes a move from the Southern Baptist Convention. I find myself surrounded by churches and denominations I've never heard of. It seems I don't fit very well into the religious landscape--and that's okay. Being ecumenical means that I'm not Baptist or any other sect--I'm simply a follower of Jesus. Being employed outside of full-time ministry means I don't have to tow any denominational lines that I might disagree with. It means I can embrace all that is good from the entire Christian family. Ephesians 4:5-6 (NLT) says, "There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all." By becoming more ecumenical, I recognize that just as God is greater than I can imagine, so is God's family.
Maybe you want to be more ecumenical this year as well. It doesn't mean you have to give up on your church or denomination. It doesn't mean you compromise your beliefs. It means you're willing to invite others to a bigger table.
Generous. James 1:27 (NLT) reminds me that faith is not something to have, it's something to put into practice. "Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." Working with homeless people, I have a daily reminder of how fortunate I am, and how many are in serious need. I have a serious problem with the common phrase, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." I know that people use that expression to mean, "I could be in that position myself, if it weren't for God's grace." But that aphorism suggests that the people whose struggle is so great that it merits your comment are somehow outside the grace of God. Before you post your #blessed, think how smug it makes you sound to the very people you're comparing yourself to. This year, I want to develop the kind of personal generosity that not only gives financially to those in need, but the kind that gives the grace of God to others. God's grace isn't something that separates me from the less fortunate--it is something that connects me to them. It's something that commands me to be as generous with others as God has been generous to me.
If you want to be more generous this year, consider first a change in attitude. A generous attitude isn't one that throws coins at a beggar--it's one that sees the beggar as no different than yourself. It's a willingness to throw your arms around that person and accept them as an equal. Only from such a position can you be truly generous--financially, and otherwise.
Gentle. Philippians 4:5 (NHEB) says, "Let your gentleness be known to all people. The Lord is near." I have to admit that sometimes, when I get irritated, it's hard for me to be gentle. But God's nearness provides everything I need to access the gentle spirit of Jesus and be gentle myself. God is not far away from me, and neither is the gentleness that God asks of me. In fact, God doesn't ask me to be anything that God doesn't provide. So, receiving God's gentleness means I can reflect it to others. Being gentle means being "quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19 (NLT)." Lately, I've been reminding myself to be a better listener, and less of a talker. Simply practicing this results in being angry less often, because I've found my understanding increasing as I actively listen to others instead of focusing on what I'm going to say next. Maybe you'll find the same true for you.
Do you want to be more gentle this year? Gentleness is one of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). If you're a Christian, ask the Holy Spirit to plant seeds of gentleness in your heart. Cultivate these seeds by active listening, and watch them grow.
Novel. Though I written novels, I've never found a publisher who wanted to publish them. But the word "novel" means more than a fiction book. It means "creative." Novelties are original things that stem from the imagination, and inspire more creativity. God's inventive Spirit crafted canyons, designed dragonflies, set the stars in space. The incredible thing is that God created humanity in God's own image, which means you and I are gifted with the same amazing novelty that God has. I want to be more creative in 2019--which means I need to take the time to ponder, reflect, and imagine. Then I need to implement what my heart generates--whether that's writing or other inventive ideas.
Maybe you'd like to be more novel this year. One way to do that is to keep a journal of all the ideas you have. Whether you think they're ingenious or silly--write them down, without judging them. Sometimes the strangest of ideas is also the most brilliant. By keeping an idea journal, you can treasure things that God gives you in your heart, pondering them until you bring them to fruition (Luke 2:19).
Open-minded. I think that the more I judge myself and others, the less ecumenical, generous, gentle, and novel I become. Withholding judgment doesn't mean that everything's okay--it just lets God be the judge instead of trying to put myself on the throne. When I make myself the judge, then I put myself in God's place--and that's a dangerous thing to do. Instead, I remind myself that I'm not called to judge; I'm called to love. And all of a sudden, the world opens to me and becomes a beautiful place. I can have a conversation with the Sikh man I see at the store, or with the trans woman I work with, without fear of their differences. In fact, I welcome the differences, understanding that these people make me richer for knowing them. By letting God be God, I find that I'm free to let them be them, which allows me to be me.
If you want to be more open-minded this year, try this: Every time you're tempted to pull back from someone because they're different from you, just say this to yourself-- "God has not called me to judge; God has called me to love." I began doing this a couple of years ago, and it has made a huge difference in my relationship with God, my relationship with others, and my understanding of myself. Remember, "For God so loved the world..." means that God wants you to love the world, too (John 3:16).
Genuine. In 2019, I want to be more genuine. This might be hard for some to understand, but I'll dare to say that my shift from being a pastor to being a social worker allows me to be more genuine with people. If that sounds wrong to you, it's because you've probably never been a pastor. Unfortunately, pastors are all too often governed by other people's expectations, to the degree that they can sometimes be less than genuine about who they are and what they think. In an attempt to be "all things to all people (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)," they often lose themselves. It's no surprise, then, that the people that Jesus chides the most are the religious leaders who are less than genuine. He takes a whole chapter (Matthew 23) denouncing hypocrisy. So, rather than trying to be something I'm not--or rather than pretending I think something I don't, just so I can tow a denomination line or look good to someone else--I think I'll try to be more genuine in 2019. I've got to ask myself who I care more about pleasing--God or people. Proverbs 29:25 (NLT) says, "Fearing people is a dangerous trap, but trusting the Lord means safety." It's better to trust the Lord for the righteousness that only Jesus gives by grace, than it is to fear the judgment of people, and put on a pseudo-righteousness that doesn't fool anybody.
Do you want to be more genuine this year? It's as simple as this--forget about what people expect of you, and focus on what God expects of you. You'll be amazed that it's easier to please God than it is to please people, anyway.
Maybe I wasn't wrong to associate egg nog with being an adult. But I think the kind of EGG NOG I've talked about above will mature me far more than anything I could drink. God wants us all to "mature to the full measure of the stature of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed about by the waves and carried around by every wind of teaching and by the clever cunning of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ Himself, who is the head (Ephesians 4:13b-15)." I'll pray for your New Year's resolutions, if you'll pray for mine. But I hope that yours are more about becoming the kind of person you need to be this year, than they are about some checklist of things to get done. And I pray that the God who began a good work in you would be faithful to complete it.