Of the many decisions I’ll make today, about 40% of those decisions will be driven by habits I’ve formed my entire life. Everything from the mundane (brushing my teeth) to how I react to the people around me. Habits are thought processes and behaviors that form over time, starting from an initial decision/action, so that when repeated often enough, it literally creates a channel in my brain pathways. Think the Colorado River creating the Grand Canyon, over time. We form habits because they are an efficient labor-saving strategy that saves our brain power, and therefore calories, for other activities. And they work until they don’t.
In the next forty-eight hours I’m conducting two funerals. For one, there will be a celebration of the many small habits she purposefully developed over her lifetime through the everyday choices she made. The other has a more tragic end. Choices were made that over time created habits that didn’t end well. Thanks be to the God who loves us unconditionally, so that we’re embraced by grace and forgiveness. Nevertheless, life is a precious gift that is best lived making life-giving choices that result in habits that support life and love.
We all know the proverb, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” (thought to be from St. Bernard of Clairveux) We struggle with knowing what is right and good, yet habitually choosing that which sabotages us, or never being able to consistently forge a new set of habits and actions which result in the actions both we and God desire. Our dilemma is summed up in Paul’s lament in Romans 7:18-25:
I know that good does not live in me—that is, in my human nature. For even though the desire to do good is in me, I am not able to do it. I don’t do the good I want to do; instead, I do the evil that I do not want to do. If I do what I don’t want to do, this means that I am no longer the one who does it; instead, it is the sin that lives in me. So I find that this law is at work: when I want to do what is good, what is evil is the only choice I have. My inner being delights in the law of God. But I see a different law at work in my body—a law that fights against the law which my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? Thanks be to God, who does this through our Lord Jesus Christ! This, then, is my condition: on my own I can serve God’s law only with my mind, while my human nature serves the law of sin.
The way forward is a paradox, and Paul exemplifies that paradox. He surrenders to God’s grace in Christ Jesus and in Romans 8 soars in the joy of the Spirit of God. But having surrendered his broken life and misguided choices, he quickly set about to create new habits and responses to life that reflected his new life of grace and love. Nature abhors a vacuum. Anybody who has tried to diet in any way, not just food, knows that taking something out of our lives that’s linked to old habits is nearly impossible unless new habits are established. Research shows it takes from 15 to 254 days to establish a new habit, and then it needs to be maintained and guarded daily. The old habits which have forged wide neuro-pathways in our brains don’t go away and can be reactivated by events and circumstances. This is why if our issue is with food, alcohol, porn, sarcastic tongue, or retail therapy, whatever it is, the old habit never really goes away. It goes dormant and care needs to be taken not to reactivate it.
Paul’s counsel to the Philippians is worth applying: In conclusion, my friends, fill your minds with those things that are good and that deserve praise: things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and honorable. Put into practice what you learned and received from me, both from my words and from my actions. And the God who gives us peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9) The key words are “put into practice…”
We’ll brainstorm Sunday about how we can successfully put into gracious practice new habits which in the end will reward us with lives that bless not ourselves, but the people around us. Here are two more scripture passages to meditate upon. I’ve underlined what struck me as applicable to my choices and habits. Hope to see you Sunday…
So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”
1 John 3:16-18:
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
Here’s what I have on my desk…
SUNDAY, JANUARY 29TH: NEW MEMBERS INFORMATIONAL CLASS —11:30 AM in the Conference Room. Join Pastor Rich for lunch and a discussion on what it means to be a member of St. Andrew.
RSVP for your lunch and to request child care on your Communication Card THIS SUNDAY.
BERGEN/MARTIN AND HAZEL BURNETT SCHOLARSHIP NEWS
Applications for the Spring 2017 Semester are now being accepted for the Hazel Burnett and Bergen/Martin scholarships. The deadline for applications is January 29, 2017. For information and to get applications, contact the church office at 707-996-6024 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
ARE YOU LOOKING FOR FINANCIAL FREEDOM AND PEACE? MARK YOU CALENDARS!
The 2017 Financial Peace University classes will begin on Sunday, February 5th at 11:30AM in the St Andrew Conference Room. This is a nine-week course. Cost is $99 to cover materials (a $113.95 value) per person/household.
Students must be present during the first class—and cannot start in the middle of the course—the weeks are built on one another. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO SIGN UP OR RECEIVE MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE MARK YOUR COMMUNICATION CARD THIS SUNDAY.