With the ending of the year this week a lot of us are thinking about changes we would like to make in the coming year. Some will make resolutions, of course, while others will be less specific in considering how they would like to do better. It is true, in a sense, that when we move from December 31 to January 1 this week it will be just another Saturday to Sunday, but it also will mark the beginning of a New Year. I am among those who like to give consideration to at least a few positive changes I would like to make as we turn the calendar from one year to another.

During October, November, and December Jan and I have already made one gigantic change in selling our house, moving to Texas, and making arrangements to buy a new one. I am also using the occasion, as I generally have in the past, to specify a few challenges for myself. A couple have to do with my health, of which I will not bore you, and one is a general spiritual challenge.

I’ve been thinking a lot the last couple of weeks about the Apostle Paul’s challenge in Ephesians 4:1, “I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” I don’t think he is talking about a specific “calling” to be a pastor or missionary or whatever, but the general calling to be a Christian—a disciple of Jesus. In other words, the urging to live a life worthy of the calling you have received is for all of us who have said yes to the Lord. But what does it mean “to live a life worthy of the calling” we have received? It certainly can’t mean that having been accepted, forgiven, and saved by grace we are now supposed to measure up by becoming worthy in ourselves.

I looked at a variety of other translations and got some help from Eugene Peterson’s The Message. He paraphrases, “I want you to get out there and walk on the road God called you to travel.” The way I am taking Paul’s challenge for myself is to continually give myself to living as a Christian and making progress in it. And the key for me is the phrase “making progress.” None of us would have to look too far in the New Testament, or think very much about living the Christian life,  to come up with a couple of specifics we could focus on with the beginning of another year.

What I’ve become more convicted of the past few weeks is the Bible’s general call for and Jesus’ specific teaching about humility. Two teachings from Jesus that have my attention are Luke 14:11, “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted,” and Luke 18:9, “To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.” Clear instruction from Paul that challenges me is in the middle of Romans 12:3, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought.” I had already been thinking about this matter, and then read in a book last night that living the Christian life is not compatible with self-aggrandizement. I looked the word up and self-aggrandizement is “the practice of enhancing or exaggerating one’s own importance, power, reputation, status, etc.” To me this sounds like what both the Bible in general and Jesus in specific tells us not to do.

I have no idea what specific area or areas you may want to make progress in this coming year, but for me it is chipping away at pride and cultivating humility. I’m using this post as a first step. If you would like to join me I encourage you to read the passages I have cited in their context, especially the two parables of Jesus in Luke 14 and 18. It’s a New Year – so what? It’s an opportunity for us to give ourselves to making some progress in living the Christian life. It’s up to you whether or not you do.

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A lot of us will be exchanging gifts this week, but I don’t think any of us considers his or her gift exchanges tradeoffs. To me, a tradeoff is when you give up something in order to gain something. And if it is a real tradeoff, what you give up is something of value. Christmas is about a huge tradeoff that I will return to in a moment.

I’ve been thinking about this matter of tradeoffs since I left Southern California last week to move to the Texas Panhandle. During that two day drive and the first couple of days after I arrived, I was focused on what I was giving up: familiarity, weather, friends, year round golf on many golf courses, a variety of avenues and opportunities to serve, and all that the greater Los Angeles area has to offer. After 32 years I may have drifted into taking it all for granted and I was miserable.

While my emotions, heart, and mind are not fully resolved yet, I am doing much better today. This is the third major move Jan and I have made in the last 47 years. And in the days, weeks, and months ahead I am confident what I will gain in this tradeoff will more than match what I gained in my previous two similar moves. Our daughter said something over the weekend that got my attention. She reminded me that after Christmas this year, unlike the last few, I won’t have to go through the emotional trauma of saying goodbye to my grandsons.

Now back to the huge tradeoff of Christmas. The Apostle Paul clearly lays it out in II Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” What a great image of God becoming a human in the birth of Jesus!

As we come to Christmas this week let’s consider the tradeoff Jesus made. He was rich and became poor so that you and I could become rich. Not rich in terms of money and things, but rich in terms of forgiveness and salvation. The baby Jesus grew and became the man Jesus. And the man Jesus fulfilled the purpose of His coming—that through His poverty you and I might become rich. “Joy to the world, the Lord has come!” Merry Christmas.

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Have you ever wondered why Jesus was born when He was and not sooner or later? In a non-traditional Christmas passage the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 4:4, “when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Paul is telling his first readers as well as us that it was not just at any time, but at the right time in keeping with God’s plan that Jesus was born.

Jesus was born at the right time, but we don’t know exactly when that time was. As surprising as it is to us, the early church did not celebrate the birth of Jesus—only His resurrection. And when they did begin celebrating His birth there were more than a dozen different dates chosen. It wasn’t until the fourth century that December 25th was settled upon and that date was chosen to counter ancient pagan festivals celebrating the winter solstice. We aren’t even sure of the year in which Jesus was born! But we do know that the timing, set by God, was right.

More important than the timing of Christmas is the what of Christmas: “God sent his Son, born of a woman.” Everyone can agree, regardless of what they believe about Him, that Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus. What makes some uncomfortable is the idea that Jesus is God’s Son and that God sent Him. And perhaps even more challenging in terms of belief, the fact that God sent His Son tells us that Jesus existed prior to His conception in the womb of Mary.

Flowing from the what of Christmas is the why of Christmas. Paul continues in verse 5 concerning the reason for sending Jesus, “to redeem those under the law that we might receive adoption to sonship.” The idea of being redeemed suggests the image of a slave. A slave in the first century in the Roman Empire could be set free only if someone paid the purchase price to set that slave free. As those under the law, before we were redeemed we were slaves. But on the cross Jesus paid the penalty to purchase our freedom. A redeemed slave is no longer a slave. Our redemption in Christ makes us free from the guilt and punishment we deserve.

But the why of Jesus’ coming was more than just our redemption; it was also for our adoption. In the Roman Empire when an upper-class family selected a young person for adoption that person was on probationary status until they proved themselves worthy. If they failed, their adoption would be revoked and they would be kicked out of the family. But if they measured up, eventually they were given full status as sons and would become heirs of the family estate.

In Galatians 4:7 Paul gives us the result of Christmas, “So you are no longer slaves, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.” Because of what God has done for us in Jesus we are not on probation and we do not have to measure up by showing our worthiness. We have been redeemed and fully adopted as heirs. Not only that, Paul tells us in verse 6 that God has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to confirm that we are His children.

Along with everything else you are doing this Christmas season, I encourage you to take a few moments and reflect on the non-traditional Christmas passage of Galatians 4:4-7. Consider the timing, the what, the why, and the result of God sending His Son. Praise and thank Him for the privilege of being redeemed and adopted as well as having the indwelling gift of the His Holy Spirit.

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I am borrowing the title of this post from a chapter in a book I recently finished reading for the second time. As Jan and I carry out our final preparations to move from the Inland Empire of Southern California to the Texas Panhandle my emotions are conflicted and can be described in terms of a bright sadness. I am filled with anticipation and excitement to be near my daughter and two grandsons, but I am also overwhelmed with sadness to leave this place and the people I have come to love the past 32 years.

Jan tells me she is not surprised by my feelings because change has always been hard for me. When we left Cincinnati after one year of marriage and five years of youth ministry at Bridgetown I cried so much leaving the church parking lot I almost wrecked the U-Haul truck. Nine years later when we left the Philadelphia area with 3 year old Audrey and 7 month old Rob to move to California it wasn’t any easier.

Part of me wishes I could say it will be great to get out California, but to do so would be dishonest. I think it is far better to feel some grief when you move than just relief. The 32 years we have lived in Moreno Valley and our current house is the longest either of us has lived in the same place. Going through things, and deciding what to throw away, has been an emotional roller coaster. I have more Ohio State University Buckeyes and Dallas Cowboys shirts than any one person should own!

There is a lot I am going to miss, not the least of which is the weather. Beyond that I am going to miss playing golf all year round and especially the guys I play with. I am going to miss the opportunities I have had to guest preach and those churches. I am going to miss the wonderful privilege of teaching as an adjunct professor at Hope International University: the students, the faculty, the administration, and my boss, Joe Grana, Dean of the College of Biblical Studies. I am going to miss the many friends we have made the last 32 years. Most of all I am going to miss Rob, our 32 year old son.

On the other hand, there is much I am looking forward to–most of all being close to our 6 and 2 year old grandsons. Of course it will be nice to be around their mother, our daughter Audrey, as well; but I am more excited about Bobby and Ryan. Please don’t tell Audrey I said that!

My hope is to find ways to contribute whether as a volunteer or part time employee in ministry and teaching of some kind. I’ll be looking into both hospice and hospital chaplaincy, teaching, and church work. I also plan to continue to write a weekly blog, articles for periodicals, and maybe another Bible study book. (To receive email notification of my blog posts click follow at the top of the page and enter your email address.)

I love the image Bob Russell shared from Dr. Lewis Foster “that he looked at life in terms of chapters. There comes a time to close a chapter and move into a new chapter.” Right now Jan and I are closing one chapter of our lives and getting ready to begin a new chapter. I don’t know what God has in store for us, but I trust Him and am looking forward to it. We’ll have a new home, new neighbors, new friends, new opportunities, and much more. And we’ll make new memories!

As usual for me, at this point I am hurting more thinking about what I am losing than what I am about to gain. I’m dreading the drive to Texas by myself and know I will cry a lot. (Jan is going ahead of me; please pray for both of us as we travel.) Right now my bright sadness is sadder than it is bright. Soon, however, the brightness will outshine the sadness.

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Thanks to our daughter for the permission to use the photo of our youngest grandson.