Bible Reading Galatians 4:4-10a
At one time people were bound by law, which operated much like guardians and trustees who control and restrict minors until they came of age to take a healthy responsibility of the inheritance that awaits them - a time that is set by the Father. Christ introduces this new age of faith, by which all genders and races and status become justified with all the rights and privileges of full children. In today’s reading, Paul writes to the Galatians describing the transition from imprisoning law to gracious faith through Christ:
- 4 But when that era came to an end and the time of fulfillment had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the written law. 5 Yet all of this was so that he would redeem and set free all those held hostage to the written law so that we would receive our freedom and a full legal adoption as his children. 6 Because you are his [true children], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” 7 Now we’re no longer living like slaves under the law, but we enjoy being God’s very own sons and daughters! And because we’re his, we can access everything our Father has—for we are heirs of God through Jesus, the Messiah! 8 Before we knew God as our Father and we became his children, we were unwitting servants to the powers that be, which are nothing compared to God. 9 But now that we truly know him and understand how deeply we’re loved by him, why would we, even for a moment, consider turning back to those weak and feeble principles of religion, as though we were still subject to them? 10 Why would we want to go backwards into the bondage of religion— (Galatians 4:4-10a) (TPT and NIV)
Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-10, 15-17
As the year is about to turn and we must continue to wait for the Magi to arrive (next week), we have an opportunity to contemplate time. L.R. Knost wrote:
Life is Amazing
And then it’s awful.
And then it’s amazing again.
And in between the amazing and awful,
it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.
Breathe in the amazing,
hold on through the awful,
and relax and exhale during the ordinary
That’s just the living heartbreaking,
soul-healing, amazing, awful,
And it’s breathtakingly beautiful
The classic Bible passage on life’s time is in Ecclesiastes:
- There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: 2 a time to be born … a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,… a time to love and a time to hate… and a time for peace… 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.
While it is included, this text is more than a mere description of individual human activity, or human interactions. It is a description of how God deals with his world in his way and time over the widest spectrum of life -- from birth to peace. God controls the timetables of how he accomplishes his purposes. Just one example – Jesus would say we humans are never in an appropriate season to hate. But in ancient history, God created circumstances that caused Egypt to love and embrace Joseph and his people, saving them all from drought. Later, the Egyptians came to hate those same people, creating a timely opportunity for them to leave and form their own nation in the promised land. We can trust that even though at times we struggle, God can and will make everything refreshingly beautiful in its time. People react to God’s rule in several negative ways.
We attempt to discover his timing.
One is to try and discover the timing of God’s seasons. We may have a glimmer of eternity in our hearts, but attempts to outguess God’s plans and timing of things usually does more harm than help.
We attempt to force the seasons.
A second reaction is to try and force the seasons. We take what we think are God’s plans into our hands and force our own timing on them. In the Old Testament, some failed to trust God for promised heirs and so took it into their own hands, creating difficult family relations and then national situations. The author of Ecclesiastes tells is that we are to recognize God’s rule through the ages and to humble ourselves under his agenda.
We resign ourselves to nothing.
On the opposite extreme is to resign ourselves to doing nothing. If God controls everything, then why bother doing anything? None of us are powerful enough (without him) to help or hinder his purposes. He will do it with us or without us. If a Bible hero had said no, he would have raised another to accomplish his purposes. While it is true that God can find others, he has graciously invited us to the great privilege of participating in his great cause. And since we can’t find another true God, it is critical for us to cooperate with and participate in God’s plan and call on our life, if we don’t, we are the ones who miss out. Even the author of Ecclesiastes says we should do all we can to do good and enjoy ourselves in the work of life – for this is God’s gift.
We heard in the Galatians reading that the time had to be fully ripe / prepared and ready -- for God to gift us with a new era of his work among the people of the world -- adopting them as his children, and freeing us from things that imprisoned us.
I remember as a youth being at a track and field event in which I ran a 60-yard dash. I lined up with some of my best friends. The rules were that you were supposed to stay in your own lane for the entirety of the race. A runner to my left, straining to run faster, lost sight of the lanes and drifted to his right across several lanes. Unfortunately, we were about even when he ventured into my lane, I can still remember seeing the top of his head (he was shorter than I). His lateral drift caused me to let up and short step to avoid getting tangled up with him. After the race ended, I found out I had lost to my best friend at the time by .2 of a second, all because of this incident. I knew this lane drifter at the time, but I can’t remember his name now. Not important now, but Paul makes it clear that we need to recognize and name what it is – within or without that keeps us from progressing – who cut you off? What slowed you down? Who turned you away from the truth and stole your step toward joy? Why are you going back to the old patterns when God has gifted us with a season where he has granted us everything we need to freely and joyfully run a good race of progress and growth?
What hinders our resolve?
Past patterns don’t easily let go. We are creatures of habit, how we exercise – or don’t. How we eat and drink or practice other comfort, escape or other activities. They easily become patterns and may even become addictive. Many of us also have mental tape recorders that echo memories of words or attitudes of parents or other significant others or even our own self-perceptions. Randomly, or triggered by certain circumstances, these recorders turn on speak to us again and again. All these habits and tapes may be true or false, good or bad. If they are negative, they can entangle us from moving forward to full maturity.
There is a story about a child who is always trying to win the approval of a parent who saw a cloud in every silver lining. – Imagine the tapes her attitudes and words put in his head. One day they were walking by the edge of the sea and a large wave caught them off guard and yanked the boy out to sea. The mother screamed, dropped to her knees and prayed. Another wave washed the boy back ashore practically into her arms. She looked him, and then at the sky and screamed again – “Hey, he had a hat!”
People patterns also pressure us to remain as we are. I left my home church to go to college. I changed, grew, and developed in many ways. When I returned to that church 5 years later, most still saw me as the youth I was rather than I person I had become. I don’t fault them. From the other side of it – I still find it hard to believe that I have to look up to look into my oldest son Mitchell’s eyes. We tend to freeze people into where we last knew them well – and we can inadvertently (or purposefully) attempt to drag them back to those less mature years and habits.
Or we freeze them with their worst event and never let them escape it. A now very safe driver may never live down an accident – even if was 30 years prior – and an accident! I’ve heard it put into the mouths of characters on several TV shows now. When a person’s past is thrown in their face – they protest, “I am more than my worst moment.”
And if they do overcome our expectations and form a new, better life, we don’t recognize it because we still have them locked into the way they were instead of what they are becoming. Even Jesus could do little good in his hometown because they remembered – and locked him into his childhood before he was recognized as the Messiah.
Encourage true growth
Often, we encourage growth with our words, but what we really expect is more of the same old established behaviors. Unfortunately, people tend to live up to expectations more than to empty words. Our goal should be not to simply to say words of progress while expecting none, but to help people move forward and put their past behind them.
A simplistic example: When my children were young, each Vacation Bible School was a big challenge for one of them. The strange new music was always too loud for his sensitive ears and so during the music time he would sit behind the others and cover his ears trying to filter out the noise. By mid-week he was starting to get used to it and by the end of the week he was on the platform singing loudly with the rest of them. And as we enter a new year, this is often a season of looking back over the year and looking ahead to the new one, and some of us make resolutions to help us be intentional about our growth to becoming a better person. Statistically, I have heard that resolutions don’t last very long with a vast majority of people, me included. Here are some tips that may help us do a bit better this year. Often we think about stopping or giving something up, but it could just as easily be adding something into your life.
1) Don’t set too many or unrealistic resolutions. If we bite off more than we can chew, we choke. Prayerfully choose just one thing (maybe two) to focus on.
2) Don’t settle for boring, unmotivated goals. Sometimes we choose goals because we think others think we ought to do it – and maybe we agree, but it is really coming from outside of us and not our own passion. Also, be creative to try to make your resolution fun and interesting and important to you. If your goal is cleaning the house more often – and you can’t figure out a creative way to make it fun or interesting – then listen to something fun while you are doing it.
3) Be aware of what masters you – (this comes straight from our Galatians Bible text) and if there is a trigger that tempts you to those things. Let’s use a silly, non-threatening example – Let’s say potato chips are bad thing – and you get cravings for them. Often, partaking in such activities that master you are so automatic we aren’t even aware of them. We’re halfway through the bag of chips before we realize we’ve even gotten up to get them. (Of course if you can keep them away from easy access, that is always a help too). Be aware (1) that you crave them and (2) that they are bad for you (3) and you really want to give them up.
Can you identify what triggers the craving? Maybe you have habitually eaten them while watching something or doing something – can those things be avoided? If not, can you substitute something healthy and retrain the trigger? So instead of grabbing chips, you grab grapes?
4) Practice progress, not perfection. Some resolutions fail because we lose our resolve after one setback. We have one bag of chips (remember, chips are just a metaphor representing that resolution). We chastise ourselves for our failure to refrain, or if the resolution was adding – then to not take action as planned). But even worse, we give up. We allow that bad thing to master our life again. Don’t quit. Keep progressing. If we happen to fall, pick up where we left off and start again.
5) If possible, give an external structure to your goal. That could mean a friend who will help keep you accountable about your “chip eating”. If it is something like – I want to learn the ukulele – join the group and it give you an organizational structure to keep on with it…
There were times I wanted to commit to weekly recreational bowling with the family. We’d go once a week -- for a week – sometimes even two -- before schedules or other activities got in the way. But when the commitment was placed in the structure of an actual league – we almost never miss.
6) Finally, connect to the why of your resolution. Want to be more consistent with your devotional life? Don’t just set up a task and prayer calendar that you can check off as you go – rather – envision the closer relationship with God that it can nourish, the wisdom to practical living it can bring. etc… Keep the higher purposes of your resolution in front of you rather than merely checking the resolution off as an accomplished task for the day…
As way of encouragement to try – let me lift up two people who did well with last year’s resolutions. Ben Williams gave up pop this year – and failed only twice. Once because the punch was spiked and he didn’t realize it – and he was pretty upset for quite a while. The other time was due to limited alternate options. And 13-year-old Leila Larsen did a read through the Bible-in-a-year program and finished a little early! That is a pretty special and inspiring accomplishment, and I’m told she did it entirely of her own volition with no prompting or reminding.
If you have trouble thinking of a resolution of your own – consider using this suggestion I received last night: Pick a person (or family) and pray for them every day throughout the year. Pray for their faith, their health, their family, their finances, for whatever need you hear they might have. Don’t tell them you are praying for them. Just do it and see what God does in their life…
We resolve to be better people - free from what masters us - because Christ came when we did not know God, and were slaves to what by nature are not gods. (Galatians text) He gifted us out of that darkness and (as the Ephesians text says) into his light of goodness, righteousness and truth -- enabling us to know the Lord’s will and to please him -- living carefully – wisely, making the most of our time, making the most of every opportunity. (See Ephesians 5:8-10,15-17)
Closing Prayer Let’s pray. Holy God, author of the Word made flesh. As we continue to reflect on why you came to earth, as we continue to sing with the angels, open our hearts and guide us to what we must resolve to do or stop doing to serve you better. May the Light of your Word comfort, convince, and change us to continue making the most of every opportunity to experience the joy of doing your good will. Amen.
Closing Music # 240 Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Closing Blessing Now as you go, resolve to stand firm in the faith. Continue to listen for God’s direction and give yourself fully to the worthwhile work of the Lord. Amen.
Not too many – or unrealistic goals
Make it your own, fun, interesting
Know what masters you
Practice progress, not perfection
Use external structures
Connect to the “why”