“Looking Back, Leaning Forward”   Psalm 20:4  Colossians 3:9-11 Colossians 3:17  (NIV)

How to begin a New Year as people of faith?

Let’s use the upcoming Superbowl as an example.

On February 2nd the culmination of years of preparation and conditioning will bring the two best teams together for this final thrilling match of the season.

To stand the best chance of winning they are always scrutinizing the games they and their opponents have played in the past year. By doing that they will be best prepared for that final test that is yet to come.

Its important to look back and learn from the past. But we do it with the eye on being better prepared to lean into that which lies ahead of us—the future.

So, looking back on 2019 and the years before that we can gain a great deal of useful knowledge as people of faith.

Let us guard against spending so much time in the past that we get stuck there. Learn from it and let it go. The coach does not continue to gloat in the victories of past games nor does the coach keep on harping on the mistakes made in previous games.

Another way to get stuck in the past is to believe that what worked well last year will automatically work this year. People of faith cannot be moving forward with innovation and courage if we are forever hanging onto the past and the way we did things. Neither will a team reach the Superbowl if that is their approach.

So, what is it that that we can take from the past year and apply it to this coming year and what part of last year’s baggage should we discard?

For over 40 years I have suffered with the grief and anger that comes from the violence we experienced in Africa. For forty years I have been unwilling to forgive. But I know that for the past 40 years this issue has hindered my ability to be the best person God has called me to be.

Its time to let go of our failures and ancient feuds. Join me in making 2020 a year to address that sets us free from whatever is holding us back.

Two monks were in a thunderstorm when they came to a swollen river. There was a Japanese woman there in her kimono who needed to cross the river but was afraid. One of the monks picked her up and put her on his shoulders and carried her across the river and sat her down on the other side.

The two monks continued their journey to the monastery. One monk said to the other, “As monks we are not to look at or touch a woman, yet you did.”

The other monk replied, ”My brother, I helped that woman across the river and put her down on the other side. But you are still carrying her in your mind!”

Another experience of this past year we need to overcome is our divisions. The greatest source of conflict and tragedy in human history is the practice of dividing ourselves into us-and-them-groups. And if you are not part of my group you must be my enemy. We have experienced the tragedies of what happens when we draw back into our own little groups and shut on the undesirables.

Jesus opened doors to those who were shut out. He opened door to the poor and afflicted but also the elite and most shocking of all, to sinners in their shame. Those who came in and cast off their old selves took on the mantle of God’s love and were transformed.

Looking for strategies to flourish in the New Year?

The Apostle Paul said;

Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.”

If we follow his advice, we are to take off the “old self” and put on the “new self”. What does he mean?

To embrace God and follow the example of Christ we must be on a journey of refining our lives. Let us shed selfishness and put on selflessness. Shed the fears that limit us and put on the assurance that we are God’s beloved and we are equipped for the future. Shed the suspicion about the other groups and put on a spirit of welcome and hospitality. Shed materialism and all the -isms that limit us and put on the spirit of generosity and hospitality.

Superbowl teams do not begin preparing for the Superbowl in January. They are fully trained and conditioned by January.

Our new training season begins today. It is the continuation of what God’s Spirit has begun in us many, many years ago. Are we onboard for 2020?

Our manual on life, the Bible, is our sacred source of encouragement as we lean into the future.

When hard times come upon you remember these words from Jeremiah in a time when Israel thought they were abandoned and hopeless;

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

We look back on 2019 with gratitude. We take into consideration both the hard knocks and the joys we experienced and embrace who they helped us to become.

Psalm 20:4 is my prayer for you—

May God give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Psalm 20:4  (NIV)

And finally, in the words of the Apostle Paul;

17…whatever we do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17  (NIV)

Amen.