January 2024 Message From Pastor Stephanie “Thinking Ahead”

It’s January, which means we are thinking all the things about a new year, starting fresh, and New Year’s Resolutions. Promises we make to ourselves to do better and be better in the new year. I am not here to judge anyone for making resolutions, nor will I judge anyone if you don’t follow through with them. But I do wonder if there isn’t a better way to think about a new year and a new self that we all desire and ponder this time of year.

The process of growth as a Christian has a fancy name – sanctification. To be set apart for a unique purpose is some-thing each of us has been given – the immense privilege of not just doing, but being. We can do all the good and right things that make us look set apart, but when we are also not trans-formed in our very heart and soul, then our actions are not much more than a loud gong or a clanging symbol (1 Corinthians 13:1). So our sanctification and growth is both internal and external. And sometimes we focus a bit too much on the external with little to no regard for the internal. Perhaps that is even why the concept of New Year’s Resolutions exists in the first place.

A few years ago I realized that I had been living under the weight of an old sin that I was never able to make right with someone I had hurt. I reached out to ask for forgiveness and they rejected all of my attempts at contact. The hurt of that lost friendship subsided, but ultimately, I lived as though the hurt would only fully subside once they were willing to forgive me. And since I wasn’t given the opportunity to tell them how sorry I was, I assumed never-ending hurt was part of the conse-quence for what I had done. I thought I had to live under the weight that past sin until I was released by them in their forgiveness.

Galatians 5:1, often misinterpreted, says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” Though we have been forgiven and freed by the work of Jesus on the cross, we still struggle with sin. BUT – our relationship to that sin changes once we become believers. We are no longer living in bondage and slavery to that sin. We are set free.
I was not living in freedom but continuing to punish myself for my sin, for the hurt I had caused. But I was doing so because they chose not to forgive me. That was their sin, not mine. Once I realized this weight I’d been living under, which I had fully repented of and had reconciled with God over – I knew that I needed to let go.

In the same way, we also allow our own sin to keep us bound, as it fights with the spirit to overtake our desire to do good. We live in this constant push-pull scenario, which can keep us in its own kind of bondage and punishment.

So here we are, living in bondage to our inability to do what is right. . . and also living in bondage when we can’t make things right. What a mess.

So what if we look back on 2023 and into 2024 asking, instead of what I need to change about myself, the question, “What do I need to let go of?” Certainly, these two questions will have some overlap and even similar outcomes. In my own experience, one of these questions freed me to move forward, and the other bound me into a place where shame flourished, rather than be released.

I think Eugene Peterson’s translation of Romans 7 – 8 hits the nail on the head of our sin, when we keep ourselves bound by it.

I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not. Isn’t this also your experience? Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison. What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?
The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ’s being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death.

Freed from brutal tyranny indeed.

In Christ, Pastor Stephanie

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