Does life sometimes feel… boring? Mundane? Like you’re just plodding you’re way through it day in and day out? We go through these seasons sometimes, don’t we? Life is just so routine, so monotonous, and just uneventful. Shouldn’t life be “brand new” every day? Shouldn’t we wake up excited about all our life has in store? Isn’t it time we break out of this wearisome cycle of dull and drab and a set out on a fresh, lively adventure?
It seems like we’re always on the lookout for “the next big thing.” This expectation is actually built into our society in a very real way: a “new” car model is released every year, “new” clothes arrive for every “new” season of the year, and there’s a “new, must-have” iPhone every few months. You can probably think of even more examples. Bottom line: our constant desire for “the new” makes it difficult for us to appreciate anything resembling “the old” – especially when the “old” thing has been around for a while.
In our minds, there’s not much difference between “the old” and “the same.” Neither one gets much love because neither one are “new.” After all, isn’t there a saying about “the same old things”?
This is not just an individual feeling either. Any group of people is bound to feel the same way – families, clubs, businesses, and… churches. All of us seem to be pulled towards doing something “new” simply because it’s not the same thing we’ve been doing.
What causes this? Maybe it’s our lack of thankfulness and contentment for the present, or our jealousy of what others have or maybe it’s something else… Certainly these two things are significant reasons for our obsession with “the new,” but I think there’s an even more powerful force at work here.
Freedom. Or, more specifically, liberty. As Americans, we love talking about our liberty don’t we? Liberty and freedom are often used interchangeably, but there’s a subtle difference. Liberty is a particular kind of freedom; its freedom from something or someone, as in “Liberty from tyranny.” Liberty is about being free from constraints or limits.
Think about it: sometimes we just want to do something new or buy something new just because we can! We have the liberty, so why not!?!? It’s awfully hard to turn down something new when we feel like there’s really nothing stopping us from doing/buying it… even when we don’t have any good motivation to do/buy in the first place.
Isn’t liberty good though? Isn’t the opposite of liberty something like slavery? Why not do something new if nothing is holding you back?
I was reading a blog this morning over at the Harvard Business Review (ok, no I wasn’t… but Jason was) that was talking about success in the business world. The question the author posed was this:
Why don’t successful people and organizations automatically become very successful?
His answer to this question is pretty interesting. Successful businesses often fail because of what he calls “the clarity paradox.” It goes like this:
Phase 1: When we really have clarity of purpose, it leads to success.
Phase 2: When we have success, it leads to more options and opportunities.
Phase 3: When we have increased options and opportunities, it leads to diffused efforts.
Phase 4: Diffused efforts undermine the very clarity that led to our success in the first place.
His conclusion: “success is a catalyst for failure because it leads to the ‘undisciplined pursuit of more’.”
It’s pretty interesting. And, it makes complete sense in light of what we’ve been talking about so far. Our success gives us an increased level of liberty. We have more choices. We can do more. We can get rid of the old and FINALLY move on to something new!
There’s one word we really, really need to focus on: undisciplined. I think many of us would admit a lack of discipline in our lives. It’s tough being disciplined because any exercise of discipline is a limit on our liberty. Being undisciplined means we get to “keep all our options open.” We don’t have to limit ourselves. We’re free… or “at liberty” to do/have what we want.
When we’re undisciplined, we give up “the old” or “the same” for something, anything, “new” simply because we can, because we have the liberty. This kind of behavior is deadly for businesses. When the sense of clarity in purpose that gave rise to a business’ success is muddled by all “the new” choices, businesses can sometimes end up doing things they never really wanted to do, and things they don’t do very well. Their liberty – the result of success – kills their clarity, which led to the success in the first place.
Churches can do the same thing, especially churches like 6:8 in transition between “church plant” and established church. We’ve had some pretty awesome success over the past year: our worship gatherings have grown like crazy, we’ve added new community groups, and we’re out serving in our community in more ways than we ever have before. Our own lives are being changed and our community is being changed too! We’re so thankful for the success of God’s work in our midst. Of course, our “success” as a church is not like the success of a business at all. Our mission is not our own. No matter what happens with 6:8, we know the end already: the King is on his way and every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord when he arrives.
As we await the consummation of the Kingdom, we can still enjoy some measure of “success” and that is exciting for us, but it also makes us vulnerable. With all this success, we’re tempted to lose sight of our focus and try something “new.” Now, you may be thinking: “Hasn’t there been a ton of changes at 6:8 this year?” Yes! We have new staff, our worship space has evolved, and, of course, there are lots of new people in the room. Like I said, this is an exciting time precisely because there’s growth and change and newness.
But we can’t forget what, or rather, who, has been responsible for this success. As we grow, it becomes absolutely vital to stay committed to our purpose, vision, and mission together as the body of Christ:
To live in obedience to Jesus’ teaching and commands
To live as Jesus did, in word and deed. Awakening others to their own spiritual journey with him
To be the hands, feet, & voice of Jesus’ in the Ardmore/Havertown area and beyond.
What will this mean? It means we keep on keeping on. We don’t need to be worried about doing something “new” now that we’ve had some measure of success. Now is the time for discipline; for being committed to who we are as disciples of Jesus Christ seeking the Kingdom of God in ourselves, our families, our community groups, in the Ardmore/Havertown area, and all over the world.
Let’s take our newfound liberty, our freedom from, and willfully – joyfully even – choose to submit it to God. Like we said earlier, liberty and freedom are not equal; liberty is only half the story. Freedom is not just being freed from something; it’s also about being freed for something.
The apostle Paul says it well: “For freedom Christ has set us free… Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:1, 13-14).
Loving your neighbor as yourself is really not very glamorous. It can get old pretty quick. Relationships take time and, while people might buy new things or do new things, they don’t really change very quickly. God’s love for us is steadfast, loyal, and abundantly patient. Seeking the Kingdom of God requires us to show this slow, abiding love to our neighbors. Sure, it gets old sometimes. It’s not always exciting. But, it’s really the only thing we have to do. We’ve been set free from sin for a new life of love in community with God and our neighbors. This is our discipline.
As we look back over the past year, we’re so thankful for how God has blessed us as a church. As we look ahead to the new year, we’re ready for more of the same. We believe that the only real way to be “made new,” to be a “new creation,” hasn’t changed much at all: it’s the same ole, same ole, day in, day out, humdrum work of the Kingdom “in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit.”
Are you ready for “new” life 2013? It’s just more of the same.