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Like you, I adore and admire the New Years’ resolutions that fill my social media newsfeed every January. Please, tell me more about the Whole30 diet you are doing. Yes, I want to see your feet photos from the treadmill. Smart friends, what books you will be reading while I watch the latest incarnation of the Housewives franchise?

I kid, of course. Resolutions do have their place. There’s something hopeful about them, even when done with tongue in cheek. Something unavoidable. And Lord knows we can use all the cheerleaders we can get, virtual or no.

Just please, keep our churches out of the “New Year, New You” news cycle. I find this kind of cultural appropriation damning. Unfortunately Christians across the country went to church the Sunday after New Year’s Day and were given Bad News dressed up as good:

You, YES YOU, can fix your relationship with Jesus this year!

This will be the year you commit yourself to Christ!

Make your New Years’ resolution Jesus!

So how does this play itself out exactly? I’m guessing you go to Bible Study for a while, maybe you decide that your family WILL RETURN TO CHURCH this year. And then February rolls around and you want to throw a killer Superbowl party and well…

Even if this revolutionary resolution does return you to church for a time, such a project lives in the land of our own self-righteous salvation. YOU made Christ the goal this year and YOU accomplished him!

(cue wide eyed emoji)

debbie+downer+video+clip+blade7184+happy+birthdayTo be honest, in almost 10 years of ministry alongside my husband, I have never met someone who came back to church because they made a New Year’s resolution. Occasionally people come back for the sake of their children. But those that stick around come back to church because life has beaten them up and as a result, they have a desperate need for grace and consolation. Incidentally, those are the same experiences that keep them there. Not because someone has challenged them to a churchy New Year.

I understand that this can all sound glass half empty. But where others may see negativity I see hope. We cannot keep up with a New Year’s resolution about Jesus and church going any more than we can stay away from the Doritos or our love of expletives. To be a sinner is to be someone who is ultimately powerless over sin. There is a marked difference between feeling God pull you back into the doors of a church and resolving to be in the pew every single time the doors are unlocked. One version is all about grace and a longing for God. The other version is all about us and our pious need to see balloons fall from the ceiling anytime we do anything “right.”

Besides, making a New Years resolution about rededicating your life to Christ sounds like a lovely recipe for feeling like you’ve failed Jesus again. And that is most definitely not going to help you “feel closer.” God doggedly pursues us. We halfheartedly (at best) pursue Him. Until we accept the fact that we cannot stay away from the forbidden tree of Genesis. Or that we cannot follow the law that God wrote on our hearts. Until we look in the scriptures and see our own human failings in those people God so loved, then we will remain lost in our own resolve. It breaks my heart that churches would tell people it is on them to find Jesus in 2016, when Jesus has so obviously found us already.

back-to-church

God isn’t interested in us resolving to (re-)commit ourselves to Him. God is just interested in us. We bring 100% of nothing to the party, no matter what those New Year, New You sermons might tell us.

I remember my own coming-back-to-church story. I had been through a painful breakup with my college boyfriend. Church going had been one of our “issues” and so I had not attended in over a year.

I was nervous to be back in my childhood church again. I felt ashamed that I had been away and expected someone to point that out to me. This was the moment for the real church goers to remind me that I had failed. Where had I been? Hadn’t I dedicated my life to Jesus?

Like the prodigal daughter that I was, the kind people at my home church just shepherded me right back in as though I had never missed a Sunday. They knew that I had been gone a long time. They knew that while I might have wavered in my faithfulness, God’s mercy is changeless and longs to heal the brokenhearted. And as I walked up to the communion rail I heard a still, small voice whisper “Keep coming, Sarah. It’s just one foot in front of the other.”

prodigal son

Hands down, the most powerful piece of scripture about a return to God is the story of the Prodigal Son. And it is worth a closer look in the season of alleged self-dedication. The wayward and wasteful younger son decides to head home to his Father. But he doesn’t return for valiant or admirable reasons. No, the son doesn’t return home out of love or duty. He goes home because he is hungry and knows that his Father will feed him.

And actually, the Prodigal Son does have a “New Year’s resolution” of sorts planned. He tells himself that when he sees his Father he will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”

But the really insane part of the story is that just before the son’s grand moment of rededication, the Father stops him with a running embrace. The son’s reasons for returning, level of commitment, and righteous penitence are all irrelevant to the Father. It is only his return that matters.

Of course the most beautiful interpretation of the parable of the Prodigal Son comes from Sally Lloyd-Jones’ The Jesus Storybook Bible. She calls it “Running Away”:

“As he starts for home though, he begins to worry. Dad won’t love me anymore. I’ve been too bad. He won’t want me for his son anymore. So he practices his I’m-Sorry-Speech.

All this time what he doesn’t know is that, day after day, his dad has been standing on his porch, straining his eyes, looking into the distance, waiting for his son to come home. He just can’t stop loving him. He longs for the sound of his boy’s voice. He can’t be happy until he gets him back.

The son is still a long way off, but his dad sees him coming.

What will the dad do? Fold his arms and frown? Shout, “That’ll teach you!” And, “Just you wait, young man!”

No. That’s not how this story goes.

The dad leaps off the porch, races down the hill, through the gap in the hedge, up the road. Before his son can even begin his I’m-Sorry-Speech, his dad runs to him, throws his arms around him, and can’t stop kissing him.

We don’t come back to church armed with prayer journals and a superhero cape. Not in any kind of a lasting way. Instead, we tend to approach the doors of a church with neediness and trepidation and all sorts of mixed motives. In this New Year, I pray that our churches will remember and remind us that a commitment has already been made. God committed to us long ago in the person of Christ Jesus. No resolutions needed. Only an embrace, a kiss, and a joyful welcome home.