2. Resolve to Spend 30 Minutes A Day in the Bible and the Confessions-I saw a story in the Wall Street Journal where an English professor spent fifteen minutes every day for a year reading excerpts from the Harvard Classics. It was interesting to note the impact this made upon her. As Lutheran pastors, we have promised to stay faithful to the Scriptures and the Confessions. I am sure there are a million other books you plan on reading all having to do with missional living and incarnational impacting. But, if you read these apart from the Scriptures and Confessions, you will find yourself serving your congregation drinks from a bar with poison on tap. Belly up to the bar with God’s Word and the Reformers and drown your preaching in the sweet nectar of the Gospel. Such a discipline will enhance your preaching and strengthen your congregation.
3. Resolve to Read One Old Book and One Hard Book-In keeping with the reading them, you may want to add another fifteen minutes on to your time in the Scriptures and Confessions. But, don't just read anything! As I alluded to above, it is easy for us to fall into the trap of reading pop-Christian lit or the newest church leadership guru. Though such reading is not entirely without merit, it is important for us as pastors to remember that we are part of a much larger church that stretches beyond our own time and context. It is very easy for us pastors to become very myopic with the culture around us. So, I recommend that you read at least one old book this year. As CS Lewis says, “Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” I also recommend you read a book that is tough for you to work through. This has the twofold value of keeping you humble (something necessary for us pastors!) and of making you think more deeply. It is easy to read over a how-to ministry book and seek application in your context. It is another thing to read something like Oswald Bayer’s “Theology the Lutheran Way” and reexamine your entire mode of being as a congregation (for what it’s worth, that book was way above my pay grade, but was of tremendous value. I can't recommend Bayer enough). Find something that is old and/or difficult for you to read, shut off your computer, and really stretch your brain!
4. Resolve to Pray-Brothers, let me be as kind and loving with this one as I can: get over yourselves. Especially if you take my suggestion at reading some hard books, you may begin to feel pretty good about yourself and the kind of knowledge you can now show off to the church. Repent of that nonsense. Sermons filled with your delightful insights and masterful creativity may display your genius, but, as Walther says, they “represent labor lost because they were merely a product of your genius, not of a clear knowledge drawn from the Word of God.” We aren't here to show off our Bible knowledge, but to kill sinners with God’s Law and raise them with His Gospel. Instead of relying on our incredible brilliance, we should pray for God to decrease us so that He might increase. Again, Walther, “Every one of your sermons must be the product of heartfelt prayer.” And, I might add, if your heart isn’t feeling it, do it anyway. The sins of your people and their trials will not be overcome by your smarts. No, those are the kinds that come out only through prayer. Without prayer, you will find yourself relying on all kinds of strange resources to give a good speech on Sunday morning. When you pray, you are acknowledging your inability to do the task before you and you are trusting God alone to guide your sermon. Pray and lean not on your own understanding.
5. Resolve to Go to Confession and Be Absolved - As with all New Year’s Resolutions, this is a list of all Law. I have done nothing but given you something to do. Forgive me. But, also, go be forgiven. The items on this list are not just things that are good for pastors to consider, they are the very things we vowed to do at our ordination! And, if you are anything like me, dear brother, you have failed. You will fail again this year. As long as you look to a list of resolutions, you will only feel more condemned and beat up as a pastor. The only place you will find strength to carry out your vocation faithfully is from the Gospel itself. Dear brother, that gospel is for you. That absolving Word that leaves your mouth on Sunday is for your sins. Christ’s crucified and risen body which you place in the mouth of your people is there for you as well. You, dear brother, are a forgiven, blood-bought child of God. You need to hear this in your own ears constantly. Find someone you can trust, set up a time, and confess your sins to him. Jesus will be in his words for you, and you will be set free. (If you do not have someone you can trust, shoot me an email. We’ll set up a time and I will absolve you over the phone…though meeting with someone in person is better.)
That is a good not to end on. Give us some more ideas, if you have some. Happy New Year, you blood-bought sinner! Remember in 2015, Jesus is for you!