We start at grace: God’s good gift of a savior. We celebrate this for weeks, with everything from blinking bulbs and tinsel strings to candlelight services and nativity sets. It is a whole season of mindfulness, remembering and rejoicing in the Gift. Of course we remember. Of course we rejoice. We are sinners in need of a savior. We were lost forever until he found us from his place in that dirty, shabby Bethlehem manger. He wore our rags from his first incarnate breaths. Oh night divine! But by the time our Christmas trees are detrimmed and hauled out to curbs, we might already be forgetting we are people with a great need who live under great grace. Without even thinking to consider what’s happening, we stow the Gift away somewhere with our ornament boxes, because the calendar is turning and now it’s time for resolutions. In January, we turn our focus to strength. We will improve on the past year. We will kick our bad habits and muscle beyond the things that stymied us before. We will lose the weight. We will clean out the garage. We will read our Bible every day. We are capable of this—we know we are. The only hitch up till this point is that we haven’t tried enough, haven’t stuck with the effort. There is nothing theologically wrong with resolving to change—that is, there’s nothing off track about it, necessarily. Christ is our strength, and in him we can become more than we would ever, without him, hope to be. But putting emphasis on our good efforts is a slippery winter slope that can slide us miles and miles away from the center of things. The good news is the center. We call the good news good because it is delivered into a pit of need. Each of us misses the ultimate mark ultimately; our own capabilities are never enough. “For all have sinned and fall short…” (Romans 3:23.) 11
What we need most and what we most long to be, we are on our own unable to reach. Oh, but we are people who prefer to think about effort, success, and accomplishments. We are goal-setters and overachievers. Optimists, when it comes to ourselves. We are good folks who make resolutions and who expect we’ll be capable of keeping them. So, with December gone, we risk losing sight of the basic truth of who we are and of what God has done. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish… ” (John 3:16.) Love has saved us from sin and from our sinful selves! Christ wore our filth so we could wear his righteousness! It is an all-year story. Have you resolved to start up a healthy exercise habit in 2012? Fantastic. Have you set your sights on deeper church involvement? Great. Are you going to work on cutting some carbs, reducing some debt, or making more phone calls home to Mom and Dad? Go for it. May God give you what you need to glorify him in keeping your word. But if you cannot also keep your eyes on God’s grace, nothing of lasting value will be gained by changes made in a year. This Gift, Jesus, is the point—any goodness we ourselves strive for can’t add anything to it. Our focus and our efforts must always be lit by the fact that God’s mercies are new every morning and needed every morning too. Lisa Velthouse is an author and speaker based in San Diego, California. Her latest book, a memoir, is Craving Grace: A Story
of Faith, Failure, and My Search for Sweetness (Tyndale House.)
You can find her blog and all her social media handles at: lisavelthouse.com.
Praise and Coffee | Winter 2012