The Fullness of Time

As the apostle Paul was addressing the believers in Galatia, he was aware of the diverse makeup of the group – Jews, Gentiles, and with many diversities within both of those labels.  Paul’s maintained a mindfulness of the depth of their diverse cultural strongholds while voicing the radical message of grace and freedom.  One of the difficulties, however, in speaking to a diverse community of people who are bound together by faith only, is that those diverse cultural, religious, and even gender strongholds can wreck havoc if the members of the group are not strong enough in their beliefs to be able to separate truth and deceit.

This was the trigger that led Paul to write to the Galatians, his desire that they not return to the burdens of those practices, especially the religious burdens. This was the catalyst for everything he said to the group.  Paul understood timing and he was very aware of the necessity of understanding the readiness and hesitations of his audience, and the obstacle keeping them from grabbing truth fully.  Sometimes he had to tread softly, and sometimes he was able to write without hesitation.  For the Galatians he did this by focusing on their belief systems while bouncing them off their cultural strongholds.

Paul’s primary purpose of his message to the Galatians was to give them an understanding of the law as opposed to this new found faith and understanding of God.  There were those in the midst of the Galatian church that were preaching that they had to become ‘Jewish’ in their practices for their faith to be made whole.  This meant they were instilling an adherence to the practice of Circumcision, and other requirements, even if they were not Jewish.  They also were being told that they had to live under the oppression of the Mosaic Laws. So, to the Galatian believers, Paul sought to teach the faith in light of the law, while exampling for them what Grace and Freedom truly mean in the midst of their cultural demands. For instance, in chapter 3, Paul says,

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Galatians 3:23-29

See what Paul does, as he speaks of faith, he also reflects what that means in regard to the relationship of each believer with God and with each other.  He takes the three areas in which they are most accustom, Religion in reference to Judaism, Free persons in regard to Enslaved persons, and Gender. These were the 3 prominent ways that their cultures labeled, judged, condemned, or exalted persons. Each of these categories determined their life, their future, and their eternity. Paul takes these, wads them up, and tosses them in the trash can as he states that, as believers, all believers, those elements no longer have any weight or power, as a believer they are now identified with, and by, Jesus their deliverer.

So, then, when Paul uses the illustration in chapter 4 of adoption and sonship, the usual divider of gender in inheritance, gender now has no relevance, for all are equal.  So, as Paul stresses, that it is in living in faith, rather than under the law, sets them free, not only in an eternal sense but also in a ‘now’ sense. Religious practices of the Law now gave way to a freedom in Christ, burdens now become reflections.  We live out the guidance of how to live because of the guidance of the Spirit rather than a fear of the human monitored law. Now, the law that could never save us is acquiesced to Christ based faith that has saves us.

Paul was a radical, he was calling believers to not return to the law but to be engulfed in the Spirit as they face the curves and turns of their path. Keeping our focus on God’s destination, while navigating an unfamiliar journey based not on a human aspect of time but on God’s perfect recognition of the fullness of that time.

So we return to the newborn Jesus and his parents Mary and Joseph. While , at the fullness of time, grace was given at the birth, however, it was not yet grasped, because time was not yet full. Time would be filled as Jesus lived out the law, a path no human could truly complete, regardless of time, it, even in this, time was still not the issue.  For all humans, humans from the past and all to come would never have enough time, because time had nothing to do with grace.  Grace was given at the right time, the time with the law would be fulfilled – fulfilled by the only human who could do it, this tiny newborn.  So, these 2 parents of Jesus strived to live out the law, all the time knowing that for them, time would not make it possible.  Nevertheless, they journeyed on, adhering to the law, living it out to the best of their humanness, revealing it to their son, to Jesus.  They observed the law, so he could observe what it meant to not have enough time, so that he could fully witness the frailty of humanity. Mary and Joseph followed the law in order that their son, Jesus, could understand the ultimate destination of his path.

So, 8 days after the child was born, probably Joseph while possibly still in the stable, performed the act of circumcision on the son. Then, 40 days after the birth, Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, made the 6 mile journey to Jerusalem, when the fullness of time permitted them to enter the temple in order to observe the religious ritual of purification and the dedication of the first born son – an observance of commitment of this child to a life of Holiness.  It was there that Mary would add to her treasure chest of pondering moments, it was there that the Messiah would be first recognized and proclaimed.

One of those moments came as the prophet Anna appeared.  Anna was very elderly and, following the death of her husband years before, she entered the temple and never left. Her time there was spent doing what ever needed to be done while prophesying about the coming redeemer.  This had been her path for many years, this was her unexpected calling.  It is not clear if she had fully recognized her destination or just knew the mission of this section of the path – she was looking forward to the coming Messiah, but may not have fully grasped that she would actually live to see Jesus. But she did, and as a result, her prophesying stepped up to levels no one had ever heard.  No one that was in the temple that day failed to hear the voice and message from Anna.

Another moment came from another elderly prophet named Simeon.  Simeon is described as a ‘righteous’ person who was very devout in his faith and was vigilantly looking for the redemption of Israel.  He had clearly seen the destination of his path. The Holy Spirit had clearly told Simeon that he would not experience an earthly death until he had actually seen the Messiah.  Now, we as humans usually interpret the things of God as being a blessing to us, we interpret end times as being a positive for us, we envision the word ‘blessing’ as being some type of wonderful windfall to us – this is a reality of our humanness, we automatically go to a self centered place, we ask ‘how will I, in a earthly sense, profit from this?’   Our fallenness makes a selfish theology inevitable.  We usually interpret the story of Simeon this way – that, for Simeon, not dying was a good thing, not a burden.

I have sat by the bedside of several people who would have argued that ‘not dying’ is always a good thing, that it is always a positive experience.  I have sat with individuals who could no longer communicate, but their eyes revealed that it was time and that they were tired and their body was exhausted – they were ready.  One lady cried out ‘Why is this taking so long?!’ As she sat at a table doubled over from pain.  Another, after choosing to not prolong her life by extensive drugs and treatments, questioned why she was still alive, also wondering, ‘Why is this taking so long?!’  The Spirit continually brought these experiences to my mind while I studied the story of Simeon this week.

On that day when Mary, Jesus, and Joesph entered the temple, the Spirit also guided Simeon to go to the temple.  Once there he understood the why, he saw the three knowing this was what he had been waiting for, this is the moment that he would would see the Messiah and this was the day he would be released from this life.  He immediately approached Jesus and his parents and took the child into his arms, he blessed the child and parents and then addressed Mary, telling her that she needed to keep her treasure chest of ‘affirmation moments’ close to her chest, she was going to need them.’

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Luke 2:34

Before any of these things were said by Simeon, however, immediately after he had taken Jesus into his arms, he spoke to God, 

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

Luke 2:29-32

In many mainline Christian traditions, Simeon’s statement to God, is referred to in the latin and observed as the prayer or praise of Nunc Dimittis (Noonk Dimitus).

It is another radical pronouncement, stating that,

  1. Simeon had now reached his destination, he had stayed on the path, and remained alive, which had often times been an immense burden, but now he had seen the Messiah and he had seen God’s salvation, he boldly reminds God that this was the promise given by the Spirit , a promise of release at this, right time, the fullness of time – it was the time of the God who did not inhabit reside in time, Simeon’s body was worn out and ready to quit, it was time for his release.  
  2. Simeon also understood the why of his wait, the reason he was to see the infant, unexpectantly, was that he was now at peace, he could die at peace.  He had not realized the need for this peace, it was, however, the privilege of seeing what he had been so passionately waiting for, God’s offering of salvation, reconciliation, redemption, consolation, life eternal. It was not important that he see the full life and destination of the Son, only that he saw and recognized Jesus – in recognizing Jesus, he saw his actual destination, not seeing the child, but seeing the child who would become that man, who would be the sacrifice of God, who would be the deliverer of this people.
  3. Then the radical recognition, Simeon proclaims that this Messiah, this redeemer, this deliverer, was not just for the Jews, but for all peoples, all of God’s created, even the gentiles. This was unheard of, but it was truth.

Nunc Dimittis – we have waited until the fullness of time, we have recognized that which God has permitted us to see, we have recognized the depth and width of God’s love as well as the immensity of his all encompassing love.

What an addition to Mary’s treasure chest this was at this moment, what an affirmation this would be for the rest of her life, what a path for this family that God set before them, what a gift to all of mankind in this point in history, what a needed peace they had all experienced.

As we face this final week of the year 2020, let’s not just scream ‘Good Riddance’ as we view it in our rear view mirror speeding off into 2021.  Let us take this final opportunity to recognize this baby that we have held this year. This infant that we held 12 months ago, not sure of what would happened as the infant aged over the course of the next 365 days, having no point of reference to all that would actually take place, because, for all of us we had never seen a year, or a child, bring us to so many untraveled paths on such an assortment of painful journeys.  Instead of, in 7 days, looking back at what we have lost, our health and even the lives of some we love, our financial security, our way of work, play, and even how we do church, work, play, and especially how we do family, instead, – let’s now, this week, hold that baby again that we awaited a year ago the baby we then optimistically held.  May we let God surprise us with what we have experienced, what we have seen, what we have held in this strange year.  Let us remember how we learned how to be secure even in a very insecure time, we recognized the pain of many that we have so easily dismissed, we have begun to grasp the generation after generation discrimination towards many of our fellow human beings, we learned that we can still be together and do church even when we have to remain at a distance, we have understood why we need each other, we were gifted with the insight of the elements of loving others as ourself, we learned the sacrifice of self as we seek to live like God revealed in the flesh.  Like Simeon, we too, can release those things that we held instead of the baby a year ago, those things that have consumed us much of our life, those things that kept us focused on self, our rights, our stuff, our politics, our traditions, our needs wants and desires,  – we too can say ‘I dismiss that and look ahead at the path set before us’.

Before we move into the approaching new year, may we allow the Spirit a moment to remind us, to reveal to us, the nurturing, transforming, affirming, and hopeful moments we have missed in 2020. 

Let’s Pray

The Perplexity of Me


I vividly remember a friend in high school telling me that her mom was wanting to switch churches.  Since I also attended the same church I was very curious as to the reason.  The story was that her mom was mad at the pastor because he didn’t speak about sin enough.  She especially wanted him to preach about the sin of smoking. I found this amusing as my first memory of church was going to a small town First Baptist Church every Sunday morning and the doorway which we entered in was also the smoking spot for all the deacons.  Mom and Dad would tell us to take a breath and in we went.

Bobby Schuller, pastor of Shepherd’s Grove Church in Irvine, California, tells the story of being a new pastor, and coming up with what he thought was a genius marketing strategy to reach their surrounding area.  Most of the commercial business establishments in the immediate vicinity of their church building were bars, so Bobby thought it made sense to have match books made up with their church name and basic details. The plan was to give them free to the bars and then ask them to, in turn, give them to their customers.  Customers would stick them in their pockets and later, pull  them out and read the cover.  After he handed out several bulk boxes of matches to the bartenders and bar owners, several of his members were  aghast to find the name of their church on the match boxes they were given at the bar. Ironically, it was the effectiveness of his marketing scheme that landed him in hot water with several of church members and leaders.  They accused him of inciting people to sin by giving them matches.

As I have planned out this message, I have attempted to formulate a soften, and possibly humorous, way to announce the theme – However, I have to just be honest. Today we talk about Sin.

There is a high likely hood that even as I say this word, you are thinking of the sins that you most enjoy judging and condemning in other people, or, you are thinking of the sins that you are most ashamed and humiliated by in your own life. 

The apostle Paul makes a very personal revelation as he writes to the churches in Rome:

‘I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’

Apostle Paul (Romans 7:15b)

Philosopher and theologian, Philip L. Quinn, described the manner in which the three major world religions approach the subject of sin:

‘Sin is the concept of a human fault that offends a good God and brings with it human guilt. Sins’ natural home is in the major theistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. These religious traditions share the idea that actual or personal sins are individual actions contrary to the will of God. In the Hebrew Bible, sin is understood within the context of the covenantal relation between Yahweh and his chosen people. To be in covenant with Yahweh is to exist in holiness, and so sin is a deviation from the norms of holiness. In the Christian New Testament, Jesus teaches that human wrongdoing offends the one whom he calls Father. The Qur’an portrays sin as opposition to Allah rooted in human pride.’


Regardless of our definition, sin is, by all counts, a bad thing, and to be considered a sinner or sinful, is an even worse thing

This was the mission of John the Baptizer, to prepare the people for the arrival of the Messiah –  by preaching a message of repentance from sin.:

Let’s define Sin. 

The prophet Isaiah defined sin this way: 

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, 

Isaiah 53:6a

God sums this up with the word Iniquity.

So, ‘going astray’ and ‘turning to our own way’ is our  iniquity.

‘Straying from God’, ‘turning away from God’, changes what guides our actions, reactions, responses, thoughts, plans, and agendas.  So, ‘Our way’ as opposed to ‘God’s Way’ is what points us in the direction of actions that are right or are that are sin.

Next let’s look at the first Sin to better understand,

Eve, perfect until the serpent tricks her into taking the forbidden fruit, OR, Eve, created with the ability to make her own choices, having already placed herself on the trajectory of taking the fruit as she would sit everyday, eating the the identical fruit as she could get from the forbidden tree, however, the more she stares at that same fruit on the forbidden tree, the more she wants the forbidden fruit.

She has had the choice of which way to look, God’s Way or Eve’s Way.  One way reminds us of truth, the other takes us to a fantasy deceitful world where anything forbidden will taste better.  By looking away from God, Eve has allowed her personal ‘wants’ to take over.

Enter the serpent, his job is pretty easy, he just has to point Eve in the direction of the forbidden fruit, she has already set her mind on it, she has already quit listening for the voice of God in the garden, or even looking his way,  so she can have a better and unhindered focus on this fruit that she does not have, she just needs a little nudge, a little encouragement, a little affirmation, that this bad choice is actually the best choice.

The same way that Eve ended up with a forbidden fruit, is the same was that we end up with forbidden fruit. It begins with our turning away from God, going astray, is a sometimes subtle, sometimes blatantly intentional, choice on our part.  At some point, it is a choice, that often comes in times of stress, boredom, grief, exhilaration, desperation, insecurity, arrogance, self-entitlement, and any other time we are longing for an escape, or we end up focusing solely on me or my cause.

It is then that the action, or inaction, manifests as sin.

And, as Paul states, once actions of sin, manifest in our life, it festers and soon becomes an automatic response.  We become enslaved by it.

Paul explains our sin problem by starting with the law.  

As Adam and Eve, due to their turning away from God, were expelled from the garden, they were separated from God.  This meant that God was no longer there, walking with them, telling them what would harm them and what was good.  This harm would be in regard to their relationship with him, their relationship with each other, as well as their relationship with all of God’s creation.  So, now, on their own, by their own choice, they were without God’s instruction; no rules, no laws – the wild west.

This is how life was for humanity for the next 3,000 to 4,000 years.  They did not know what was harmful, they did not know their actions that were literally killing them, each other, God’s creation, and especially their relationship with God.

They were the walking dead. Digging themselves into a deeper grave with every action and inaction.

Life was chaos, murder, unfaithfulness, deceit, jealousy, revenge, hopelessness, suspicion, hatred, betrayal, theft, destruction, abuse, threats – all without having been told that these things are harmful and wrong.

In our weekly Bible Project we ask questions, a lot of questions, and then we ask more questions.  Then, after we have exhausted asking the questions we begin searching for answers.  The process is often chaotic, especially on zoom, and sometimes overwhelming. It is not a process for every personality.  Since we began with the book of Genesis in January, we have had one consistent question, that has increasingly become a complaint, and most recently an acknowledgement that the lineage of Jesus includes a very shady group of individuals.  That constant, is the horrible actions and relationship of all most everyone we have encountered in Genesis.  They are a mess, they are miserable, they are mean and often vengeful, they are manipulative and calculating, they are dismissive and neglectful, they are bad parents, they are bad spouses,  they are often, very bad people. 

Last Tuesday Mitch Musgrove, in speaking about this issue and the sad state of affairs in the OT,  said,

‘[Throughout the Old Testament] God is painting us a picture of life without God.’    

Mitch Musgrove

So, after three to four thousand years of this misery of existence, Moses led the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, God gave them the ten commandments, the Law.  How to live. Much more extensive than just ten bullet points it covered everything.

One rabbinical tradition is that the Law, the details of what is harmful or what was healthy, was offered to all nations – however, with the exception of the Israelites, all other nations said that they didn’t want to know what was wrong and harmful because they wanted to keep doing the things they figured would be wrong. They could already assume the the law was going to forbid adultery, murder, and theft, so they passed. They instinctually kind of already knew the error of their ways, but, without the law, they could claim ignorance.

So, now the Israelites knew what was already killing them.

They were no longer ignorant. 

However, now that they knew, this new knowledge, combined with their freedom of choice, put them on a perplexing journey. Their rebellious nature wanted to partake of the forbidden fruit – just life Adam and Eve,  and their new affirmation of right and wrong countered their temptation, this put them in a perplexing dilemma. 

Theologian C.S. Lewis said, 

‘No man knows how bad he is until he has tried to be good.’

C.S. Lewis

So, Paul says the same thing that all of humanity has said for thousands of  years and still says today:

‘I do not understand my own actions. I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.’  (Romans 7:15b)

 The great British preacher, Charles Spurgeon, explained our perplexity this way:

“It was the custom of ancient tyrants, when they wished to put men to the most fearful punishments, to tie a dead body to them, placing the two back to back; and there was the living man, with a dead body closely strapped to him, rotting, putrid, corrupting, and this he must drag with him wherever he went. Now, this is just what the Christian has to do. He has within him the new life; he has a living and undying principle, which the Holy Spirit has put within him, but he feels that everyday he has to drag about with him this dead body, this body of death, a thing as loathsome, as hideous, as abominable to his new life, as a dead stinking carcass would be to a living man.” (Spurgeon) 

A. What is Paul’s manner of dealing with this?

First, he stands on the assurance, that, although we may be weak, God is not:

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ 

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:13)

Second, he adopted a life philosophy: 

‘beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. …for I have learned to be content with whatever I have.’

Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8-9, 11b)

B. The mistake of religious institutions in regard to sin.

First, we have had the audacity to think that we can stop, control, and eliminate sin. Much of this comes from a misunderstanding of sin and the Law, but it has led to training believers (of all faiths) to be the exact thing we are told not to be – Judgmental and Condemning.  Both of which we do not know how to do without also being hateful, arrogant, and condescending.  Our approach has turned us into the opposite of Christlike.

Second, we have failed to truly understand that sin is just the tip of the iceberg, that it is actually something much different, often times something that could be better addressed with compassion, mercy, justice, grace, and love – however, our approach has been to rank sins without regard to the fact that all sin is a result of a deeper turning away from God and going astray.  We have made those sins that rank highest in our ‘most heinous’ list the ones we focus on – we love the word ‘abomination’.  Giving us even more reasons to judge, condemn, hate, chastise, reject, and basically be very unChristlike.

Third, since our sins are less heinous or are more invisible, we have made ‘Being a Christian’ to be an impossible journey, pushing the labeled sinners into the closet.  Once again, making us very unChristlike.

Fourth, we have missed the opportunity to go out on the journey that Jesus sent his disciples on. A journey to free the oppressed, to heal the sick, to cure diseases, and, as we are there, to tell that ‘The Kingdom of Heaven is Near.’ 

C. The Reason for God’s Desire that we Live Right 

Jesus said the reason is:

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly

Jesus (John 10:10b) 

Sin is the killer of right. 

Sin is the killer of mercy.

Sin is the killer of justice.

Sin is the killer of abundance.

God is the perfect father, who desires the best for us.  He does not bait us into sin, nor does he reject us because of sin. He does not desire us to carry around death but, instead, to live in freedom. He want us to live in Joy, that is why he has told us the things that will take away that joy.

Paul, as he explained the law, stressed that our obligation to the law in only until death, in the same way that a woman is obligated to her marriage vow until death of the spouse. So, as Christ died for us, we are not guided by the law, we live in the freedom of the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

As Christ died, he died our death, therefore we are free.  It is our privilege then to live in the freedom that he secured for us all.

The redemptive nature of grace is not just an eternal thing, it is a now thing.  God’s desire that that we not live in the flux of a perplexing life met with death at every turn.

Jesus is our resurrection from death. Jesus is our life outside of the tomb.

Jesus said to the woman who had been caught in the act of sin,

‘Go and sin no more.’

Jesus (John 8:11b)

He didn’t say this so that she could be forgiven, or acceptable – he said it because he wanted her to have life and to not have to carry that dead body around anymore.

Jesus says the same to us, in order that we too, can live in, and with, that joy.