Yesterday’s message …
- Came from Galatians 4:1-7, not a section of Scripture normally associated with Christmas;
- Celebrated how Paul reveals that family as much as forgiveness is at the heart of faith;
- Led to this bottom line: You can stop fighting for approval and start living from it.
- That bottom line led to a closing worship moment where people received an “Approved” stamp on the back of their hands. It went exactly how we envisioned it would. People used the stamps as conversation starters and church connectors throughout our area on Sunday afternoon.
Some of you may know this and others don’t, but there is one stat that I find especially interesting. It’s this: in raising kids, it takes nine positive affirmations to offset one negative in the mind of your child. I’m not saying it’s FAIR, moms and dads, I’m just saying it IS. Now when some of you parents hear that stat, it’s like a punch in the gut and you want to race out because you KNOW you’ve got a lot of affirming to do; you’ve got quite a bit of ground to make up. Others here who are a bit older, you know realize why your child-rearing years were such a strain and there are still so many scars: you were trying to be helpful, you wanted your criticism to be constructive, but now you know that what was RECEIVED was more than what was intended. It’s all so tricky … like the mom who finished a frankly nerve-wracking drive w/ her daughter behind the wheel w/ learner’s permit. Mom got out of the care and said, “thank you!” Daughter answered: “anytime.” Mom replied: “I wasn’t talking to you.”
And then for a whole lot of you in the room our childhood just sort of snapped into focus. What we wanted and needed more than anything else acceptance, affirmation, some parental STAMP OF APPROVAL. You’re my kid, you belong, I approve. I couldn’t love you more. And I know from talking with you and even from some personal reflection that when what you long for gets withheld, you go on a lifelong quest to get somewhere else. All ppl, I think, are motivated by getting what they didn’t get from mom and from dad, and approval tops that list. GH Seal of Approval.
And I tell you all that because I can’t help but think that, at the intersection of psychology and spirituality, so many people transfer the Approval Quest from mom and dad to God himself. That, to the degree ppl think of it, many of them are trying to win his approval. And if ppl KNOW they’ve done a lot of bad stuff, then they know the chances of ever getting that seal of approval are remote indeed. Like the guy who tried to explain his connection with God by quoting AC/DC: “maybe hell’s not such a bad place to be.”
But the Approval Quest is behind so much religious activity throughout the world: it’s why Hindus sometimes paint themselves and other times beat themselves (AV), it’s why Muslims have such devotion and discipline (AV), it’s why orthodox Jews pay such attn. to kosher laws and more, and it’s why part of Christianity have come up with “Holy Days of ________________.” Right! Obligation! Not Relaxation! In all those cases, people with the best of intentions trying to fight for and to gain God’s approval. Just like mom and dad.
And Paul writes to a collection of churches in a region of what is today Turkey and back then was called Galatia who had been dramatically influenced by a group of teachers who said you had to fight for God’s approval. In particular, these teachers were saying – and people were believing – that people who were NOT JEWISH, those we’d call GENTILES, had to learn to follow kosher laws and to get circumcised before they had Jesus’ seal of approval. Essentially, they were teaching and persuading the church in Galatia that you had to become Jewish before you could become Xn.
So Paul addresses this in his letter to the churches there – in fact, it’s WHY he writes them at all! – and he does so talking about BOTH Xmas and waiting. Let me show you what I mean. Look at 4:1-2:
What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. 2 The heir is subject to guardians and trustees until the time set by his father.
OK, he uses ancient sorts of examples. A little child owns the whole estate, not in fact but as a promise. But he has to wait. Paul sorts of says that’s the whole world before Jesus. And then check 4:3:
3 So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces[a] of the world.
You know what I think? People who don’t believe their mom & dad approve of them or, worse, that God doesn’t approve of them, get trapped in all kinds of cycles. Self-destructive, mostly. You’ve been through that. One of my good friends here told me of that time his mom showed up – finally! – at his Little League game. And promptly started yelling at the coach. Why? She was drunk. And enslaved in that kind of childhood, my friend caught trapped in drinking, too. Until Jesus happened. It’s what happens when you think you’ve been denied the very thing you most need.
And then Galatians turn at 4:4:
4 But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,
When the set time had fully come. Meaning: there was a LOT of waiting for it. God’s timing for Jesus’ arrival is neither random nor accidental. We didn’t set the time; we didn’t ask for the Savior. Born of a woman, born under the law. Why the repetition of “born”? Merry Xmas! To let the Galatians know that Jesus was conceived supernaturally and born naturally. Born into a world seeking the approval of a distant, approval-withholding God. A God for whom no one was ever good enough! Why? 4:5 tells us:
5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.
To redeem, to ADOPT. Listen: I know a number of you are adopted. I know others of you are adopters. And then others of you are moms and dads biologically. But whether you adopted that child or gave biological birth to it, what did that kid have to do to win your approval?
When we brought this one home (Taylor AV 9.2.89) what did she have to do in those moments to win our approval? Nothing. Of course. And when you apply that thinking to you and to me with God, it turns out the antidote to sin is less repentance than it is intimacy. That, sure God wants us humble before him with our sin, but he also wants us to allow him to hold us in his love. 4:6&7 reiterate the family theme:
6 Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba,[c] Father.” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Family. Adoption. Childhood. Remember: he was writing to people who thought they had to fight for God’s approval; his answer is that Jesus’ arrival puts an end to all that. You put all the pieces together and it’s clear to me and I hope thrilling to you why this birth is worth the wait. The news I have for you here – skeptic, cynic, believer, backslider, guilt-ridden, or complacent – is worth the wait. Here it is: You can stop fighting for approval and start living from it. Why fight for what is already yours?
God’s seal of approval is not a prize won by high achievers. It is a gift given to the lowly born. It’s like what happened to Mary Ann Bird, born several generations ago and born with a cleft palate. And it that day, it was a birth defect that came with shame and derision and pity. At school, she spent the majority of her time alone. But one time Mary Ann was learning sign language. And her sign language teacher, as part of expanding her vocabulary, signed her a lengthy sentence that Mary Ann had to double check for accuracy. When she did, she was stunned. The teacher had said/signed: “I wish you were my little girl.” And in that moment, Mary Ann Bird knew what it meant to You can stop fighting for approval and start living from it.
Or it’s even like with me and my dad. Now my father had been raised in this toxic brew of poverty and violence, and as a result had trouble being what we would call today “touchy feely.” But since he was 50 when I was born, by the time I was 10 or so he had mellowed quite a bit. And I remember that he’d be sitting in his chair (always HIS chair) and I’d be on the couch next to him and we developed this thing where I’d hit my fist on the arm of his chair, and he’d gently do the same on top of mine. We were together, simpatico. Maybe watching the Dallas Cowboys or All In The Family, whatever. And in those moments, with that pile on of fists, I knew what it was like to You can stop fighting for approval and start living from it..
Or, maybe more than anything, it’s the guy who told me that after a lifetime of desertion and neglect from the people who SHOULD HAVE LOVED HIM THE MOST, church was the first place he ever felt wanted. The first community to which he belonged. And not because he was GOOD. Simply because he WAS. You can stop fighting for approval and start living from it.
When you wrap your mind around this truth, then obedience to God is no longer a chore. It’s no longer a way of saying “I hope this makes you happy, Lord, because I sure am doing it against my will!” It is instead, “My obedience is my joyful thanks to you. I don’t have to prove myself to you; I’m just responding to what you’ve already declared me to be.” You realize that every NO is laced with love. You realize that every THOU SHALT DO is ultimately for your good. You forgive and learn with a smile that bitterness is no longer making you sick. You tithe and realize with a grin that greed is no longer making you anxious. You inhale in your LifeGroup and exhale on your ServeTeam and realize that that balance of growing and serving is how you have been wired all along. There’s a line in one of those liturgical prayers – you know, the kind we rarely do! – that says free us for joyful obedience and at long last you know exactly what that means. You can stop fighting for approval and start living from it.
Because I just loved this “Adopted” language in Galatians 4. He doesn’t dwell on the fact that you’re FORGIVEN; the deal is that you’re now FAMILY. Both are great … one is just sort of legal while the other is downright beautiful. It’s why I loved this brief testimony from a woman at our church who was adopted … here’s what she said: READ
With that FAMILY, that APPROVAL comes the priceless gift of assurance. Now listen: the assurance of eternity is the opposite of a vague, “everything will work in the end” kind of thinking. I was speaking with person not connected to church or faith recently and they said, “I’m not scared of dying.” And I thought, but didn’t say, “Just because you’re not scared doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be.” I DID say, however: “Yes but your hope is so vague. It’s based on you or on some nice, unnamed force out there.
“Mine is based on what is specific. Jesus Christ, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. His arrival brought my approval and I know where I’m going not because I’m good but because he’s great.”
So I have to ask you: does your hope for what awaits on the other side have more to do with YOU or with HIM? Is it vague or specific? Located in platitudes or centered on a PERSON? Oh, the answers to those questions matter and they matter eternally. I don’t want you to have a misplaced confidence on the one hand OR an undeserved apprehension on the other hand.
I want you to know that his arrival brings your approval and that you never have to fight again for what is already yours. Welcome to the family. It’s worth the wait.