Freedom Reigns Jan 2018

Jim’s Blog (From the Director)

It is believed that the Babylonians were the first to make New Year’s resolutions around 4,000 years ago, and people all over the world have been breaking them ever since!

The ancient Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year, which began in mid-March, that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.  March was a logical time period for the New Year because spring begins and crops are planted.  But the Babylonians had a greater motivation to stick to their promises than what we have today, because for the ancient people of Mesopotamia, keeping their promise would mean that their gods would bestow their grace on them throughout the course of the following twelve months, and breaking them would put them out of favour.

The practice carried over into Roman times with worshippers offering resolutions of good conduct to the two-faced deity named Janus, the god of beginnings and endings, who looks backward into the old year and forward into the new. 

In the Medieval era, knights took the “peacock vow” (les voeux du paon) at the end of the year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry, while early Christians believed the first day of the new year should be spent reflecting on past mistakes and resolving to improve oneself in the new year.   At watchnight services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions.

There are other religious parallels to this tradition. During Judaism’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah, through the High Holidays and culminating in Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), one is to reflect upon one’s wrongdoings over the year and both seek and offer forgiveness.  The concept, regardless of creed, is to reflect upon self-improvement annually.

Today, the only thing that has changed (for some) is that, rather than making promises to gods, we make promises to ourselves.  And since we cannot possibly rain thunders and lightning on ourselves as punishment for not keeping our promises, it need not surprise us that sooner or later we fail in staying true to our words. 

A 2007 study by Richard Wiseman from the University of Bristol involving 3,000 people showed that 88% of those who set New Year resolutions failed, despite the fact that 52% of the study’s participants were confident of success at the beginning

Some of us may have made New Year’s Resolutions this year. They generally focus on some change related to health, activity, or breaking a habit seen as bad.

In some ways these are minor Vows that depend on I to accomplish them. When we do it that way we are not including our Lord in the process.

Are the things that we focus on changing really based of God’s leading or our own idea of self-improvement? Just as we sometimes blame God for not doing something like preventing some tragedy, I wonder if our self-improvement ideas are based on false beliefs as well?

Many of us have a distorted view of grace that is something like this. There are things I should control and fix that I am ashamed of or feel guilty about. After I take care of those things I can hope for God to be gracious about the things I don’t seem to have control over.

Unfortunately, the core of sinful nature is independence from God. Most of our lives we struggle for independence.  First from the direction or demands and rules of our parents, and then for finding our own way in the career and financial world.  We spend huge effort of our own idea of being secure and comfortable. The American dream is the RIGHT to peruse freedom and happiness.  Down deep I think we still believe If I’m good, good things will happen for me. Therefore, if I see not good things in my life, I need to fix them, so I get the good things.

That may be the unconscious basis for New Year’s resolutions.

There are many verses that seem to be saying something like this.

Gal 5:19– 23

¶Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.

So shouldn’t we try to stop the first list and work on adding the second?

2Ti 3:17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

In that same passage it says that we who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.

For a long time I saw this as some work I was to do. But, it is not possible to crucify ones self. Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.   It is coming to believe that my sinful will is dead, it died WHEN Jesus died with MY sin in His own body. So I am free to live by faith in the Love that Jesus won for me.

So how can I even identify what needs to be changed in my life? TWO of the profound truths in the 12 step journey is FIRST admitting that I am POWERLESS to change, and SECOND That ONLY God can restore me to sanity.

What I see is even Jesus did not live His own design, plan, or will, but what His father told Him to say and do.

So, the first thing for God’s New Year’s resolution for me is to listen and listen and listen some more until I know what He is leading me to do and then allow His power to accomplish it. My self-inspection is clouded by my broken nature and the impact of a broken world around me. I would probably focus on changing the thing I feel most ashamed and guilty and unhappy with. But the Father may want me to start in a completely different direction.  2Ti 1:9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,  Phl 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things. God is more likely to call me to focus on His presence, on His desire for me, on His nature, on being conformed to the image of His Son.

Back to the example of identifying counterfeit money, they are trained by looking at real (good) money and the fake then becomes obvious. When my focus is on God the things that do not fit with Him become obvious and Then HE moves us toward Himself and away from them. I don’t fix my problem or stop this or that, I am drawn to something good from my Father.

Recently as I was looking at areas of struggle in my life I realized that I had no idea of what healthy would be in that area. My earliest experiences had left me with a broken twisted view of intimacy and relationship. So how do I build healthy relationships? The Lord told me “I will restore you” He knows what healthy is and how to get me there. I really don’t have a clue. So if I try to fix the resulting behaviors rooted in my brokenness I’ll get nowhere. If I focus on leaning into Him when I feel small, lost, unacceptable, powerless, incompetent, His presence is none of those things.

So look at your resolutions and see what beliefs about yourself lie under the behavior or emotions that you were trying to change. Then consider what Jesus would tell you is TRUE from His perspective. Better yet ask Him when you are quiet and open enough to really wait to hear from Him.

God has a plan for your restoration. Restoration to the Design and image of you he has always had. In fact What he intended for you to be before creation. The great news is that you WILL be conformed to that design and live out of it for eternity. The what and how that process goes is so much better directed by a loving heavenly Father than out of my own awareness of brokenness, shame and guilt.

Phl 1:6

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.