Dear Friends,

Happy New Year! January 1st is a great time for new beginnings. It’s also a great time to reflect on the past year as we take time to look forward, learning from the past, and understanding the real meaning of grace. We get another chance. We get the chance to try to exercise more and eat less, to spend more time with loved ones, and to even strengthen our walk with Jesus! Now is a time to set some goals and make some plans for how you want 2016 to go, always trusting in the Lord who charts the path!

For me one of the most important parts of the New Year is how I will grow in discipleship this year. I know that there will be times of struggle and maybe failure. I also know a faithful God who promised to never leave me nor forsake me! That was set up long before I ever saw the light of day, but still holds true to this very day!

The other great thing about the New Year is that in just a few days we celebrate Epiphany, remembering the star that led the magi to Bethlehem. Speaking of stars, you can hardly turn on the TV or see a magazine cover without knowing that there’s a new Star Wars picture that has recently come to theaters near you. Are you among the millions of people that waited in line to get tickets to the long awaited Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens”? I would have to admit that I am among those anxious to see the continuing saga. It’s almost nostalgic! “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” Many of us remember those words from the original that came out way back in 1977. It was a revolution in cinematography, at least for a teenager in the 70s.

The special effects were outstanding for that day. I’m not even sure how many times I saw the original in the theater, but there was a time when I could recite the lines… So many great memories about the people I was with and the fun we had mimicking the movie. The fact that many of the original characters are reprising their roles almost 40 years later is really quite impressive. I suspect that it will quickly become a box office smash. The Force Awakens is set approximately 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi, where the Rebel Alliance and the Empire have become the Resistance and the First Order, respectively, and it will have lots of twists and turns. In the end, of course, we would expect the Light side of the Force to win. It will be fun entertainment.

Get ready to hear those familiar words over used again, “May the Force be with you…” Someone has joked that you can always find the Lutherans in the theaters for any six of the Star Wars films because they respond to the screen when the words “May the Force be with you” are spoken by saying, “And also with you…” While I haven’t seen the movie yet, I am intrigued by the title. The mythical Force that is either evil or good is an age-old movie image.

Theologically, we don’t agree with the viewpoint that sees a balance in the Force, partly good, partly evil, partly light and partly dark. Perhaps it’s a way for the non-Christian world to grapple with the good and evil all around us with the hope that the good will win out! Even in the Christian Church some might equate the light “Force” with the Holy Spirit and the dark “Force” with the devil. However, we know that there really is no comparison. There is no equality between the light and dark. The truth is, good will win because God is good! In fact the Bible says in John 1, “In Him (Jesus) was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Light of Jesus destroys the darkness in the world!

Let me take a little liberty with this image and try to make a point. We have a Force within us through Holy Baptism—it’s the Holy Spirit! Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” We were purchased with the blood of Jesus, and now sanctified by the Spirit who is at work within us—a tremendous Force indeed!

As we stand at the beginning of the New Year of 2016, wouldn’t it be great if we recognized the real Force—the One and only Force who lives within us? Jesus said in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” We serve a Mighty God and we know that our Mighty God is at work among us through His Spirit, even when we fail to recognize it, to guide us into all the truth. What might our personal lives and God’s Church look like if that “Force” was somehow reawakened in our conscious so that we were constantly more fully aware of His presence with us and in us each and every day and every moment of the day? The truth is, while we know that God’s Spirit is present with us, we often fail to live in that promise. Even among those who worship regularly, read God’s Word, maybe even serve in some ministry, there is a struggle at times to live out our baptismal calling and the promise of the Spirit living in us and through us as a representatives of Jesus. Often there seems to be another “force” at work in us—and it isn’t Jesus. The unholy trinity of the world, the devil and our own sinful flesh seems, at times, to dominate us and display itself in the worst way, leaving us feeling shame and guilt. This is exactly where the devil wants us to be because it tarnishes our witness in the world for Jesus and we are less useful to God.

The beginning of a New Year is a great time to make some resolutions and recommit ourselves to living for our Mighty God. As we seek to engage in the Master’s business, I pray that the Spirit becomes an active “force” in your life. I pray for your awakening in the new reality of your faith in this year ahead as you walk in His light. You—yes you—can make a difference for the sake of the Gospel as you live your life in such a way that people see Jesus living in you. This connects people to Jesus. The Church has often thought that we could reach people more effectively through new programs. The truth is, people aren’t connected to Jesus by new programs or initiatives. People are connected to Jesus through caring people that share the love of Jesus. It’s all about relationships. My suspicion is that the unbelieving world around us is weary and leery of the programs in the church. Many think that the only reason we want them in our church is so the church can benefit financially, and if that is the case, they sense it the minute the come through the door. We don’t need to worry about survival of the church if we’re living out our faith. God has promised that even the gates of hell couldn’t prevail against His Church. Our goal is about reaching people before it’s too late. It’s really all about sharing the message and hope of eternal life that comes to us as a free gift in our Lord Jesus.

Over the past weeks as we’ve celebrated our faith we’ve remembered and rehearsed those events leading up to the birth of our Savior Jesus. What a joyful time to proclaim, the real reason for the season. The truth of this season doesn’t end once the decorations are down and things get back to “normal,” however you define normal. For the Christian, celebrating Jesus every day is our new normal because of the waters of baptism and the renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5). Living in His Spirit is the “Force” that desires to be awakened in us new each day, as we remember our baptism, and how Jesus has cleansed us and claimed us to be His servants. Working together, carrying out the Master’s business, His Epiphany light shines in us and through us!

There are no (Hans) Solo acts when it comes to our faith life. We need the partnership, the fellowship, and the support of each other. We are called into community so that we can be more effective in standing together in our proclamation, carrying out the Master’s business. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 4, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecc. 4:9–12). God didn’t create us to be alone. While our individual faith is important and needs to be nurtured every day, there is joy as we live our faith out together for the sake of Jesus in His church, and then in the community all around us. We are living testimonies of Jesus as the Spirit who lives within us and awakens us to the opportunities to share the joy of Jesus with the world!

So take time in the first days of this New Year to renew commitments, set new goals, and map out a plan for the days ahead, especially in regard to your faith walk. As you go through whatever process you may use to do that may the Spirit guide you and help you recognize His plan for your life. May the Spirit of Jesus, our “Force,” be awakened in you so that your chief goal is to live for Him in ways that others see Him in you and are drawn to Him. May you grow in your commitment to the community of believers into which God has placed you. May you find ways to engage in the Master’s business as you are equipped, empowered and engaged, to connect people to Jesus. And finally, “May the true Force be with you…”

Awakened in Jesus,