Charles Conn was in his hotel room in Atlanta looking through the Yellow Pages for a restaurant. He found one named: Church of God Grill. He was too curious not to call, so he dialed the number and got the owner. “Hello, Church of God Grill.” Conn asked how the diner had been given such an unusual name.
“Well, we started a little church down here, and then started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. People liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that’s Church of God Grill.”
It's called getting sidetracked. You start out in one direction, full of enthusiasm and passion, then something of greater interest pulls you off the road. We see this in everyday life. Give me a list of what you want me to get from the grocery store and I guarantee there will be more in the basket than on the list when I check out. The things written on the list don’t hold my attention.
We see it in work. I have a mission to accomplish. I’m excited to get to it, but when a lull hits, or I have to wait for something to get done before I can finish, I lose interest. I see something else that I’d rather be doing. And the mission is left undone.
A hunting dog running after a rabbit, can get distracted by a bird or a squirrel and will give up on the primary target to go after less desirable game.
We also see it in our spiritual lives. When Paul went through Galatia on his third missionary journey, he established the churches there according to his standard practice. They knew the truth of salvation. They had Elders to Titus 1:9 hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that they will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. The safeguards were built in, yet due to the distractions of outside influences, uninformed or deceptive teachers, they were no longer pursuing the original doctrines.
Gal 3:1-3 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
They were slipping off the foundation Paul had laid. The argument had been over how complete was the work of Jesus to set them free from the Law. Were there things left over that they had to do to make sure they were saved or remained saved? If Jesus fulfilled the Law, why would they go back to it in order to satisfy their need for daily rituals and obligations?
But there is a broader application here beyond the doctrines, it is whenever we abandon the path God laid out for us in order to, instead, pursue our own course.
It’s that battle of moving forward or going back to what we had before. What is typical is, when we embrace the excitement of Christianity, our lives are changed. We’re headed in a new direction. We’ve thrown ourselves totally into this new life. Then, for one reason or another, we take a few steps back. We settle for less than what is possible. Instead of living within the simplicity of salvation we complicate it with our own method of making our life full and meaningful. The result: we take away the joy of that salvation.
In describing what happened during the Great Awakening in Jonathan Edward’s Northampton, Mass., church in 1734, the local newspaper said, “It pleased God...to display his free and sovereign mercy in the conversion of a great multitude of souls in a short space of time, turning them from a formal, cold and careless profession of Christianity, to the lively exercise of every Christian grace, and the powerful practice of our holy religion.”
New people were coming to the Lord and others who were already Christians were ignited in a new fire of passion. Why did they need that? The original fire had grown cold and was no longer affecting their daily lives.
Back when the computer was new and taking over how we did life I had a secretary who was very old school. She took shorthand, she used a typewriter, she made carbon copies. When I suggested we get a computer, she quit. She said she was too old to learn. The real problem was she was too settled in how she did her job and didn’t want to move forward. Can you imagine life without computers today? In fact, that’s behind Apple’s mission statement:
Our whole role in life is to give you something you didn’t know you wanted and then, once you get it, you can’t imagine your life without it.
That’s what’s behind every new product or method or idea. Try this and you’ll like it. Like it and you’ll buy it. Buy it and it will change your life.
But, have you ever bought in, listened to the sales pitch, watched the advertisement and gotten the product, only to be disappointed? It either wasn’t what you wanted or failed to meet your expectations. Then you’d set it aside and go back to what you were using before.
So, why would the Galatians, having discovered the freedom of life in Christ, passion for God, the unique privilege of being spirit-led, the joy of direct access to the Father, the provisions God promised in His Word decide to take a path away from the promised freedom of His acceptance and go back into self-effort to satisfy their lives? It was where they were most comfortable.
Gal 4:8-9 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?
What’s he talking about? How we live out our Christian life. Not everyone can handle the freedom of casting our cares on the Lord, of praying and expecting God to respond, of trusting the Lord with all our heart, leaning not on our own understanding and relying on Him to direct our path.
We want a system we can be comfortable with, one we can control. So, we organize our lives around our ability to achieve a full and meaningful life. We want to be self-made Christians. That’s just the opposite of how we come to the Lord. We give up control. Words like yield, submit, commit, surrender, constrained explain our commitment obligation to the Lord.
Can you imagine being in a room and setting up a ladder against the wall and spend all your time climbing that ladder with the intention of getting into the room you are already in? Paul introduced them to the room where God was. They were privileged to live in His presence. Then someone came along and told them if they really wanted to get close to God, they had to climb this ladder that’s already in the room. It gave them some sort of busy work that would distract them from enjoying the presence of God.
So, having given up self control when they came under God’s control, it would seem foolish (as it was to Paul) that they would choose to go back to their old, empty way of doing life. Or, specifically, as it applied to the Galatians, to go back under the Law to live by rules and regulations instead of grace.
Realize, we have the same goal in mind God does: a full and meaningful life. We want the abundant life Jesus promised, but if the path we’ve chosen to follow to get there isn’t the path God set out for us, we won’t end up where we hope, in fact we can’t. We can’t get to where God wants us when we’re fighting against Him in how to get there. The old way is dead, yet we’re still trying to give it life. It’s like we’re trying to ride a dead horse.
The Dakota tribe wise man says whenever you are riding a dead horse, the best thing to do is get off and find another horse. Or, you could:
- Tell everyone this is just the way I’ve always ridden this horse.
- Hang around with others who are also riding dead horses.
- Search online for techniques to riding dead horses.
- Compare your dead horse to other dead horses. Surely there is a dead horse somewhere deader than yours.
- Lower the requirements for all horses until your dead horse qualifies.
- Spend a great deal of your time wishing your horse wasn’t dead.
For the Galatians, they had gone back to riding the dead horse of bondage to how things were before God set them free.
Gal 5:7-9 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.
Paul’s question is who hindered you? Who got in your way? What distracted you by presenting some method of life more attractive than the freedom you found in Christ? Allowing that little bit of yeast into the dough caused the whole lump to be affected.
What is my leaven? A pinch of self-confidence that over-rules my God-confidence. A little flash that says I know better than God as to what makes my life good.
Phil 3:12-16 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained.
By looking forward instead of backwards, ahead instead of side to side, we’ll keep heading toward the goal. It’s when we lose sight of the prize, we begin to stumble.
- By looking back, we’ll get disappointed.
- By looking back and applying it to our present, we’ll get discouraged.
- By looking back and applying it to our future, we’ll get depressed.
What we look at influences where we’re going and whether we’ll get there.
Jesus said: Luke 9:62 No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
Meaning what? You cannot plow a straight line if you are more interested in where you’ve been than where you’re going. I don’t plow. Then, you can’t mow a straight path by looking backward. I don’t mow. Then, you can’t drive forward by looking in the rear-view mirror. Our life will go toward whatever we’re looking at. So, if we keep looking forward, carrying our pursuit toward the Lord, our lives will follow in the right direction.
The Galatians started strong, but they allowed outside influences to distract them from continuing to follow the Lord as God wanted to be followed. The result? A rebuke from Paul, disappointment in how things were going, discouraged that their relationship with God wasn’t working and depressed that where they were wasn’t where they wanted to be.
Gal 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.
Slavery messes with our hearts. Rom 6:16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?
This kind of slavery is a choice. It is choosing who or what is most important in our lives. It divides our heart by cluttering it with divided loyalty. The key? We give all of our heart to the Lord, not part of it to the enslavement of some other master.
- God will accept a dirty heart if He is allowed to clean it.
- God will accept a sick heart if He is allowed to heal it.
- God will accept a damaged heart if He is allowed to fix it.
- God will accept a contaminated heart if He is allowed to purity it.
- God will accept a cluttered heart if He is allowed to prioritize it.
- God will accept a hard heart if He is allowed to soften it.
- God will accept a broken heart if He is given all the pieces.
When we were saved, we gave our lives to the Lord – our entire lives. Whenever we take part of that life back to try and live it contrary to how God wants it lived, we have returned to riding our old dead horse.
Today’s a great day to get off that horse. Return to the joy of a life given totally over to the Lord. Reclaim the freedom of living with God instead of against Him. It’s time to enjoy the Lord again. How do we start? Try this: God, reignite my passion for You.
- It is disappointing when we buy a product that doesn’t meet our expectations.
- It is possible, though, that the problem doesn’t lie with the product but with our understanding of how it works.
- Reading the instructions can give us great information to be able to enjoy it.
- If we find ourselves less than enthused with our relationship with God, we might want to pull out the instructions and remind ourselves what He intended in the first place.