The Joy Set Before Us

We are at the beginning of a new year and it is a big deal. A new year is a big deal. It is such a big deal that people do crazy things and throw big parties to festoon it with significance. I am no different. For the past 12 years , until this one, my family collects 125-150 dead Christmas Trees and offer them one last moment of glory. We stack these dead and dried out trees in a huge pile in our yard and under the careful (reckless, I should say) supervision of our pyrotechnical expert, Zack Rice, we fill them with all manner of fireworks, bottle rockets, roman candles, and other things that will blow up. Then we douse the whole thing with five to ten gallons of gas and light it all at the stroke of midnight. It is a spectacle to say the least. Zack almost burned himself up last year and was therefore banned this year from tree burning by a wife who doesn’t want a fatherless child. Also, it was nine degrees this year and one of my boys had gone back to Chattanooga—so with heavy and conflicted hearts we canceled the fabled tree burning. It was sad, but these things happen. Whether it returns next year or was just a good run of fun remains to be seen.

The point is simply this, we are creatures who attach significance to “new beginnings.” I suppose it has something, or maybe a lot, to do with our deep brokenness. Nobody wants to admit this, but all the things we value about a new year have to do with correcting last year’s failures! So we make resolutions that concern our health—we will finally start working out. We make resolutions about our weight—we are going to lose twenty pounds. We make resolutions about being better people—we won’t gossip about people this year. We make resolutions about being more devout or spiritual—we will read the bible or start attending worship. New Year, it seems, is about a new me.

So we start the New Year with great anticipation and promise. We just know this will be the year things are different. There is only one problem with this line of thinking and Josh said it well this past Sunday, “I bring last year’s problem with me into this new year. I am the problem.” That line is so true and yet so painful that when our staff was meeting yesterday, Amy, commenting on that line, said, “I wish you hadn’t said that but it is just so true.” So what do we make of all this? How do we change? Is there any hope? The Bible is emphatic that we can change and we should expect to change.

I was mulling this over this morning when I was praying the Daily Office and sort of in despair that I am not further along than I am. No, that is not true, for I seem to be going backwards in this realm of gospel transformation. And yet, Paul reminded me in Ephesians 4 that in Jesus I am a new creature. Imagine that!

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:17-24)

Paul reminded me that I am a new self that is in need of constant renewal. Just what would it look like to not walk as the world walks? What would it look like to experience renewal this year? Well I am glad you asked. Let me tell you where we are headed from this season of Epiphany through Eastertide (now until summer).

Over the next five months we are going to immerse St. Patrick in joy, but not like you think and as Paul says, not like the world might suggest. We are calling the next five months of spiritual formation, “For the Joy Set Before Us.” The reason is because as hard as life can be, the key note is joy. The writer in Hebrews says that it was for joy that Jesus went to the cross. I don’t know about you, but I need to hear that and here is why. The message of the gospel is the message of the cross! The instrument of our salvation and deliverance is a cross. The reason I need to hear that the key note of the Christian life is joy is because the means to getting that joy is death—the cross is the cross. If we really want a joy filled life, lived on the edge of expectation—then we have to reconcile with the cost, which is death to self.

During Epiphany we are going to talk about connecting with God personally. We are going to walk through Psalm 119 and talk about a praying life. Not only are we going to preach on this, but for five weeks we will offer times in the morning for anyone and everyone to come to Morning Prayer at the church and be immersed in a life of prayer with our staff. Nothing is more vital to spiritual formation that developing a life of prayer.

Next, during Lent we will talk about how God uses serving our family (church family) to lead us to joy. Jesus even said, “I did not come to be served, but to serve.” During that time we will not only talk about being a servant but also offer ways you can serve your brothers and sisters in Christ.

After Easter we will talk about serving our city and neighbors as we look at the Sermon on the Mount and ponder what it means to be bless the city and others as we take on the brokenness of the world. We will also have many avenues for you and your Community Group to participate in blessing those who need God’s grace.

So bring your burdens, your suspicions, your doubts, and your lack of change and admit that you are the problem! Only then can you see that there is hope, and that hope is shaped like a cross. And there is a savior who bore the cross for you—for joy!