Well, it’s the first week of school across Louisiana, as my Facebook feed has told me over the past few days, and as an expectant father I’ve been looking at these pictures with more interest than in years past (no offense to my friends, I hope) as my mind has gone to the idea that in a very short while I, too, will be posting first-day-of-school pics of Baby Girl Oliver. One thing that has struck me, though, as I look at these pics of my friends’ beautiful children (and, trust me, they are all beautiful – just ask their parents!) is that it’s not only about a new backpack, new clothes, new bows, new schools, new teachers, etc…

No, what’s hit me this year is that while each of these children is turning a new page in their lives, it’s not only a day of new beginnings, but it’s a day of redemption. Lord only knows what some of these kids have been through over the past year, and what baggage they bring to the new year, but the fact remains that they bring their past with them. And this got me thinking about our walk in faith as followers of Christ.

As much as we want to say we are new creations through the waters of baptism and the cleansing power of Christ’s broken body and spilled blood, the fact remains that so many times we DON’T allow ourselves to move forward, to be made whole, to start anew. We wallow in self-pity, crippled by our pasts, or so stuck in the perceived glory of our pasts that we don’t allow ourselves to face our present reality, much less move forward.

The kids of our state are getting the chance this week to tangibly mark the beginning of a new year. They will be living into their future drawing upon the lessons and experience of their past, while making a new chapter of their life. While no one knows what is coming next, and while we hope and pray it is the best year yet for them we know that for some there will be a lot of heartache, frustration, and pain. But none of that dims the excitement and enthusiasm that so many experience. We also know that while so many of them will be excited, others will be petrified for one reason or another, just as fearful about the new year and the unknown as you and I are about some of the unknown of our future.

What does this have to do with our walk in faith as followers of Christ? Whether we bring into a new day, week, month, season, or year great experiences of the past or whether we simply cannot wait for a new beginning, reality is that our past indeed shapes our future. In the fourth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus engages in ‘scandalous’ behavior as he visited with a Samaritan woman around the noon hour. This woman brought a great deal of baggage to the encounter, but Jesus didn’t focus on her past, although he was well aware of her circumstance.

Rather than dwell on her past, Jesus focused on the glorious future that could be ahead of her if she so chose. He didn’t say her past no longer mattered – his point was that her past no longer had to define her because she was given a new start by God’s grace.

What are you and I doing as a new year is upon us? Are we being defined by or stuck in our past, or are we allowing the grace of God, personified in Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit, to lead us to a future of redemption?

Grace and Peace, Lamar