January 17, 2014

Chester V. Clark III: New beginnings

— Ever since the Julian calendar was adopted in 45 B.C. the Western world has observed the beginning of January as the start of the new year. The Romans didn’t invent the practice of New Year’s resolutions, however. Centuries earlier the Babylonians had an established practice of making promises of improvement during the year to come.  The Romans continued this tradition, with their promises being made to their god Janus, from whom the first month of the year received its name.

Some two thousand years later, nearly half of us still carry on a tradition of making New Year’s resolutions. Decisions to improve one’s physical condition or health, such as getting regular exercise or making dietary changes, often hold top spots on our list of resolves. The gym always seems busier than usual in January.

While some Christians may look askance on anything found to have origins in pagan traditions, I personally encourage believers to take advantage of any opportunity (no need to wait for a calendar event that comes once a year) to self-reflect and make decisions for the better. Of course, as a follower of Jesus I choose not to follow traditions that violate his principles. Jesus himself said to those who followed tradition in contradiction to his word, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” He then quoted Isaiah, “And in vain they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:3, 9)

But when traditions have no conflict with the Word of God, we need not be conflicted in following them. Evaluating our past year, and making decisions moving forward, is certainly an appropriate thing for believers to do. In fact, God wants us to frequently evaluate our religious experience. “Put yourselves to the test and judge yourselves, to find out whether you are living in faith. Surely you know that Christ Jesus is in you? — unless you have completely failed.” (2 Corinthians 13:5)

And Paul knew what he was talking about, too. He was at one time thoroughly satisfied in his religious experience — even though he was fighting against the faith and followers of Jesus Christ. His spiritual status quo was dramatically interrupted when he met Jesus personally on the road to Damascus (Acts 22). Stunned, confused and physically blinded, he sat for several days reflecting on this revelation of the living Savior. A loving God sent a church member to bring hope and healing to this infamous persecutor of Christians. Paul not only received his sight, but heard that heaven had a plan for his future, and that the mistakes of his past could be forgiven. Ananias urged him not to wait, but to make a clean break from the past and begin a new life in the power of Jesus. “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)

Yes, the apostle Paul would be able to relate to us today as we reflect on our past year and make plans for improving the new. He was constantly learning and growing, never satisfied with where he was but always remembering where he was going: “Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13, 14)

Paul wasn’t satisfied to rest on his past accomplishments. He wasn’t content with where he was, but wanted to be and do even more in that “upward call” of God. And he had confidence, not in his own resolutions or in his own determination, but in the enabling power of God. He boldly declared, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

And you and I, in 2014, can do all things through Christ’s strength, too. Happy New Year!


 Chester Clark III is pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dalton. His column appears on the third Saturday of the month.