A new year is a time to take stock of our lives, to examine ourselves, and our place in the world.
It's also a good time to re-examine our faith, and our attitude towards God.
Is our faith in God strong? Can it withstand criticism? Can it withstand scrutiny by others, and ourselves? Do we view God as OUR servant, doing OUR bidding, or are we see ourselves as God's servants on this earth?
Is our faith reasonable? Is it wrapped in confusion, mystery, and illogical doctrines? Does it call us to excuse our inaction, claiming that as human beings, we can do nothing to advance God's Kingdom on earth?
Is our faith effective? Does it serve others, or just ourselves? Does it seek our own comfort and eternal security, or does it instead call us to sacrifice ALL for others?
Is our faith built on strong, reasonable and effective doctrines? Or does it leave us confused, mystified by man-made beliefs that make Jesus into something remote, inhuman and one whom we cannot truly follow?
Let's not be deceived by what popular preaching tells us. In truth, Jesus challenges us to a Works-centered, Other-centered faith, one that is joyous and worthwhile.
Jesus wants us to be clear-eyed and understand exactly what he calls us to do, which means knowing that God's Will for our lives is simply this: seek to do Righteousness, love God completely, and serve others fully.
A faith built on working for others cannot be a faith of false pride, or a faith that keeps score. God must be the One who is proud, and God is the One who keeps score and will reward our deeds, according to His mercy.
Jesus says, "FOLLOW ME!" He teaches us to take up a burden of service, love and struggle, just as he did. This, he says, is why he came: to build God's Spiritual Kingdom on this earth.
He wants us to seek the narrow gate, not the easy path. Jesus wants us to avoid the simple, self-centered faith of the religious elites, and follow the righteous and difficult path of costly service.
Jesus teaches us that God has extremely high goals for us, but assures us that God knows we will fall short. God's forgiveness and mercy - absent from man-made doctrines of condemnation and God's alleged wrath - are ever-present and sufficient when we seek them from our Creator.
Jesus refused to make excuses for the difficult path he was called to follow as God's chosen exemplar for all humanity. Nor must we blame distant ancestors, weak spirits, or physical limitations. All of us are born capable of doing something Good, and God's spirit and Jesus' example refresh and inspire us to grow and do even more.
A new year is dawning. Let it be a new era in which Jesus is known once again as one whom we may truly follow.
On every day of this new year, let us go out and work Righteousness in this world, doing all we can to be an example of the light of God that was born within us, kindled by the example of Jesus, our God-appointed teacher.