By Pastor Lui Tran

New Year’s Day and Lent are different seasons in the church calendar and, yet, are some- how similar. We make New Year’s resolutions, vowing to do something we haven’t done before, whereas during Lent we abstain from doing something we used to do before. Practically, each requires that we adopt the opposite attitude. As I think about the apparent differences, I discover, however, that both seasons pose similar challenges to our comfortable lifestyle and test our determination to become better Christians. Granted, most of us want to improve ourselves and our relationships with God, our families and friends. But that’s not the issue here.

We usually begin a new year with good intentions (in my case: eat less junk food and exercise more). But as we go into the second and third week the definition of our resolution gets blurred and we start wondering about what constitutes “acceptable.” Is ice cream considered junk food? Does praying in the car while driving in slow traffic (with the radio or CD player on) count as meditation? Does reading online devotions meet the definition of personal Bible study? The further we go into the season, the longer the list of questions. There is no right or wrong answer to these questions because the purpose is not to create a list of dos and don’ts or to earn heavenly ‘brownie points.’

Recently, I came across an interesting Bible verse, which reads: “To learn you must love discipline; it is stupid to hate correction” (Prov. 12:1, NLT). Discipline comes from the Latin word disciplina—ordered way of life or that which is taught. Hence, a disciple is someone who pursues an ordered way of life, applying what he or she has been taught. In order to answer the question of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, we have to go back to the Bible and study His teachings.

You will be surprised to know that Jesus defended His disciples who were being criticized by the Pharisees for picking heads of grain and eating them on the Sabbath (Mt. 12:1-8), or that Jesus Himself was accused of being a glutton and a drunkard (Lk. 7:34). For Jesus, pious deeds alone are worthless and empty, if the motives aren’t right. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” In other words, a change of lifestyle must accompany a change of heart in order to qualify as true discipleship.

We may be successful in cutting down, say, our junk food consumption after New Year’s Day or during Lent. But this alone will not bring us any closer to God, unless we get rid of the junk in our hearts. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2).

I wish you a happy and blessed New Year. May God continue to guide and bless you and your loved ones in 2015.

Blessings, Pastor Lui