When Bryony turned thirty, she was sad to still be in a sales job she’d never liked. She decided it was time to stop procrastinating and find a new career. For David, New Year’s Eve had him looking in the mirror vowing this would be the year he lost weight. And for James, it was watching another month pass without his angry outbursts decreasing. Next month, he promised himself, he would try harder.
If you’ve ever vowed to change at the start of a new month, new year, or a major birthday, you’re not alone. Researchers even have a name for it: the fresh start effect. They suggest that at calendar points like these we are more prone to assess our lives and try putting our failures behind us to start over. Wanting to be better people, we long for a fresh start.
Faith in Jesus speaks powerfully to this longing, offering a vision of what our best selves can be (Colossians 3:12–14), and calling us to leave our past selves behind (vv. 5–8). It offers this change not by decisions and vows alone, but by divine power. When we choose to follow Jesus, we become new people; and God’s Spirit works in us to make us whole (vv. 9–10; Titus 3:5).
Receiving salvation in Jesus is the ultimate fresh start. And it doesn’t need to wait for a special calendar date. Your new life can start right now.
Imagine the One who made cedars spring from seeds starting life over as an embryo, the One who made the stars submitting Himself to a womb, the One who fills the heavens becoming what would be in our day a mere dot on an ultrasound. Jesus, in very nature God, making Himself nothing (Philippians 2:6–7). What an astonishing thought!
Imagine the scene as He is born in a plain peasant village, among farmers and angels and bright lights in the sky, with the bleating of animals His first lullabies. Watch as He grows in favor and stature: as a youngster astounding teachers with answers to grand questions; as a young man at the Jordan getting His Father’s approval from heaven; and in the wilderness as He wrestles in hunger and prayer.
Watch next as He launches His world-changing mission—healing the sick, touching lepers, forgiving the impure. Watch as He kneels in a garden in anguish, and as they arrest Him while His closest friends flee. Watch as He is spat on and nailed to two wooden posts, the world’s sins on His shoulders. But watch, yes watch, as the stone rolls away, an empty tomb ringing hollow, because He is alive!
Watch as He is lifted to the highest place (v. 9). Watch as His name fills heaven and earth (vv. 10–11).
This Maker of the stars who became a dot on an ultrasound. This, our Christmas child.
Jia Haixia lost his sight in the year 2000. His friend Jia Wenqi lost his arms as a child. But they’ve found a way around their disabilities. “I am his hands and he is my eyes,” Jia Haixia says. Together, they’re transforming their village in China.
Since 2002 the friends have been on a mission to regenerate a wasteland near their home. Each day Jia Haixia climbs on Jia Wenqi’s back to cross a river to the site. Jia Wenqi then “hands” Jia Haixia a shovel with his foot, before Jia Haixia places a pail on a pole between Jia Wenqi’s cheek and shoulder. And as one digs and the other waters, the two plant trees—over 10,000 so far. “Working together, we don’t feel disabled at all,” Jia Haixia says. “We’re a team.”
The apostle Paul likens the church to a body, each part needing the other to function. If the church was all eyes, there’d be no hearing; if all ears, there’d be no sense of smell (1 Corinthians 12:14–17). “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’” Paul says (v. 21). Each of us plays a role in the church based on our spiritual gifts (vv. 7–11, 18). Like Jia Haixia and Jia Wenqi, when we combine our strengths, we can bring change to the world.
Two men combining their abilities to regenerate a wasteland. What a picture of the church in action!
In 1941, as Hitler’s reign was expanding across Europe, novelist John Steinbeck was asked to help with the war effort. He wasn’t asked to fight or visit troops on the frontline, but to instead write a story. The result was The Moon Is Down, a novel about a peaceful land that gets invaded by an evil regime. Printed on underground presses and secretly distributed throughout occupied countries, the novel sent a message: the Allies were coming, and by imitating the novel’s characters readers could help secure their freedom. Through The Moon Is Down, Steinbeck brought good news to people under Nazi rule—their liberation was near.
Like the characters in Steinbeck’s story, Jews in the first century were an occupied people under brutal Roman rule. But centuries before, God had promised to send an Ally to liberate them and bring peace to the world (Isaiah 11). Joy erupted when that Ally arrived! “We tell you the good news,” Paul said, “What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us . . . by raising up Jesus” (Acts 13:32–33). Through Jesus’s resurrection and offer of forgiveness, the world’s restoration had begun (vv. 38–39; Romans 8:21).
Since then, this story has spread throughout the globe, bringing peace and freedom wherever it’s embraced. Jesus has been raised from dead. Our liberation from sin and evil has begun. In Him we’re free!
“So what you’re saying is, it may not be my fault.” The woman’s words took me by surprise. Having been a guest speaker at her church, we were now discussing what I’d shared that morning. “I have a chronic illness,” she explained, “and I have prayed, fasted, confessed my sins, and done everything else I was told to do to be healed. But I’m still sick, so I thought I was to blame.”
I felt sad at the woman’s confession. Having been given a spiritual “formula” to fix her problem, she had blamed herself when the formula hadn’t worked. Even worse, this formulaic approach to suffering was disproved generations ago.
Simply put, this old formula says that if you’re suffering, you must have sinned. When Job tragically lost his livestock, children, and health, his friends used the formula on him. “Who, being innocent, has ever perished?” Eliphaz said, suspecting Job’s guilt (Job 4:7). Bildad even told Job that his children only died because they had sinned (8:4). Ignorant of the real cause of Job’s calamities (1:6–2:10), they tormented him with simplistic reasons for his pain, later receiving God’s rebuke (42:7).
Suffering is a part of living in a fallen world. Like Job, it can happen for reasons we may never know. But God has a purpose for you that goes beyond the pain you endure. Don’t get discouraged by falling for simplistic formulas.
In February 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis was just beginning, a newspaper columnist’s concerns struck me. Would we willingly self-isolate, she wondered, changing our work, travel, and shopping habits so others wouldn’t get sick? “This isn’t just a test of clinical resources,” she wrote, “but of our willingness to put ourselves out for others.” Suddenly, the need for virtue was frontpage news.
It can be hard to consider others’ needs while we’re anxious about our own. Thankfully, we’re not left with willpower alone to meet the need. We can ask the Holy Spirit to give us love to replace our indifference, joy to counter sadness, peace to replace our anxiety, forbearance (patience) to push out our impulsiveness, kindness to care about others, goodness to see to their needs, faithfulness to keep our promises, gentleness instead of harshness, and self-control to lift us beyond self-centeredness (Galatians 5:22–23). While we won’t be perfect at all this, we’re called to seek the Spirit’s gifts of virtue regularly (Ephesians 5:18).
Author Richard Foster once described holiness as the ability to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done. And such holiness is needed every day, not just in a pandemic. Do we have the capacity to make sacrifices for the sake of others? Holy Spirit, fill us with the power to do what needs to be done.
There I am, sitting in the shopping mall food court, my body tense and my stomach knotted over looming work deadlines. As I unwrap my burger and take a bite, people rush around me, fretting over their own tasks. How limited we all are, I think to myself—limited in time, energy, and capacity.
I consider writing a new to-do list and prioritize the urgent tasks, but as I pull out a pen another thought enters my mind: a thought of One who is infinite and unlimited, who effortlessly accomplishes all that He desires.
This God, Isaiah says, can measure the oceans in the hollow of His hand and collect the dust of the earth in a basket (Isaiah 40:12). He names the stars of the heavens and directs their path (v. 26), knows the rulers of the world and oversees their careers (v. 23), considers islands mere specks of dust and the nations like drops in the sea (v. 15). “To whom will you compare me?” He asks (v. 25). “The
Stress and strain are never good for us, but on this day they deliver a powerful lesson. The unlimited God is not like me. He accomplishes everything He wishes. I finish my burger, and then pause once more. And silently worship.
In a popular film, an actor plays a success-driven sports agent whose marriage begins to crumble. Attempting to win his wife, Dorothy, back, he looks into her eyes and says, “You complete me.” It’s a heart-warming message that echoes a tale in Greek philosophy. According to that myth, each of us is a “half” that must find our “other half” to become whole.
The belief that a romantic partner “completes” us is now part of popular culture. But is it true? I talk to many married couples who still feel incomplete because they haven’t been able to have children, and others who’ve had kids but feel something else is missing. Ultimately, no human can fully complete us.
The apostle Paul gives another solution. “For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ” (Colossians 2:9–10 NLT). Jesus doesn’t just forgive us (vv. 11–12) and liberate us (vv. 14–15), He completes us by bringing the life of God into our lives (v. 13).
Marriage is good, but it can’t make us whole. Only Jesus can do that. Instead of expecting a person, career, or anything else to complete us, let’s accept God’s invitation to let His fullness fill our lives more and more.
The farmer climbed into his truck and began his morning inspection of the crops. On reaching the farthest edge of the property, his blood began to boil. Someone had used the farm’s seclusion to illegally dump their trash—again.
As he filled the truck with the bags of food scraps, the farmer found an envelope. On it was printed the offender’s address. Here was an opportunity too good to ignore. That night he drove to the offender’s house and filled his garden with not just the dumped trash but his own!
Revenge is sweet, some say, but is it right? In 1 Samuel 24, David and his men are hiding in a cave to escape a murderous King Saul. When Saul wanders into the same cave to relieve himself, David’s men see a too-good-to-ignore opportunity for David to get revenge (vv. 3–4). But David goes against this desire to get even. “The
As we or our loved ones face injustice, opportunities to take revenge on offenders may well come. Will we give in to these desires, as the farmer did, or go against them, like David? Will we choose righteousness over revenge?