By Rev. Dr Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist
January 1, 2023 – Galatians 6:7-9
New Years is not only a time when we flip the page on a calendar, we flip the whole calendar and get a new one. If feels like a new start. Some people make New Year’s resolutions, although few keep them. But it feels like a great time to evaluate our lives. So, I want to help you do that this morning.
Andy Stanley in his book “The Principle of the Path,” opens with a story of when he was 19 years old. He and a friend had driven to a city a couple of hours away and had lost track of time. They had promised that they would be home by midnight, but they were running an hour late, so they decide to take a shortcut. Their shortcut consisted of a freeway that had been under construction for a couple of years, but still wasn’t open to the public.
The road was paved, and it seemed finished, except the lines weren’t on the road, and the guardrails still hadn’t been put up. They clipped down that road for quite a while. They were gaining time. There was no traffic; It was clear sailing – pretty sweet. Not to mention that there is kind of an adrenaline rush when you are doing what no one else is doing when you are doing what you are not really supposed to be doing. They cranked up the tunes and began to sing at the top of their lungs.
They were sailing along when suddenly a car appeared behind them. All they could see were the lights. — They started to sweat. They thought it was the police. But all the car did was follow. Again, they were making pretty good time. They figured that person must be taking the shortcut just like they were. The car just followed them.
But finally, after a while, the car pulled out and passed them and waved them down. Now they were really scared. They recognized that they were in the middle of nowhere and a stranger was waving them down. They thought about outrunning the car, but they were driving an old beater, and it wasn’t up to the challenge.
Then they saw that there were not one but two people in the car. That is a good sign. In fact, the passenger was no more than 16-17 years old. They pulled over and rolled down their windows. The people that tracked them down were on a date. He asked, “What are you doing out here?” Before they had a chance to say anything, the driver informed them that just about a mile ahead was a bridge that was only partially constructed. They wouldn’t know that it wasn’t finished until they were airborne. There was nothing underneath but a swamp. If they kept going, they were going to drive into a swamp.
Andy and his friend ended up having to turn around, backtrack, and then finally get on the right road that took them safely back home.
If you are driving on a road, you are going to get to where that road takes you. If you the road you are driving on ends in a swamp if you keep on driving you will end up in the swamp. The same road leads to the same place every time. You know that. It isn’t dependent on IQ or education. It is the same regardless of race, creed colour or sex. The same road leads to where it is going every time.
You know that. But what you might not have thought about is that what is obvious in the area of geography is true in other areas as well. What is true geographically is equally true relationally, financially, physically and academically. There is a parallel principle that affects parenting, dating, marriage, our emotions, our health and a whole host of other areas as well.
The principle of the path is one of those principles that you can discover, but you can’t break. It explains why people achieve their dreams or don’t. Many people have admirable goals, but they end up far away from where they intended to be relationally, financially, educationally, emotionally and spiritually. Some achieve those goals. Others don’t.
Whether we achieve those goals or not depends on this principle of the path. Living out of this principle helps you avoid regret. Living against this principle puts you in the swamp.
Over my lifetime, I have talked to a lot of people whose lives have gone off the rails — financially, relationally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. What they have in common is that they want a solution to their problems. They want a way to fix what has gone wrong. I wish I had a magic wand to fix people. But the reality is that most people are where they are because of the path they have chosen to travel. If they want to be somewhere different, they don’t need a solution; they need a different path.
For instance, if a husband and wife come to me with marriage difficulties, I am usually pretty sure that they have not arrived at this place overnight. They have been travelling down this path for a long time, and now they have found that the bridge is out, and they are in the swamp.
Yes, they may need some triage to get them out of the swamp, but what they really need is to choose a different path. They need to choose a path where their conversations aren’t all about blame. They need to choose a path where they foster security and attachment in the relationship. They are going to have to choose a pathway where passive aggressiveness and withdrawal are replaced with engagement and acceptance of the other person. Those things are a pathway to be travelled on, one interaction at a time. Those things are not a solution you implement and are done with.
Some will come to me and tell me about their financial hardship. It has likely been exasperated by some unexpected crisis. But hard economic times often expose the path that we are on. We live without margin. We go into debt for things that we don’t need. We have bad habits that cost us a lot over time. The path we are on has lead to a swamp.
Yes, we may need to triage the immediate problem, but what is really needed is to choose a different path. A path where you don’t buy nonessentials on credit. A path where you spend less than you make. A path where you make hard choices now, so you can get on the road to where you want to be in the future. (Johnson, 2015, p. 25)
That is the principle of the path.
For those of us, who have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal saviour, we understand that our salvation is based on grace. Grace is God’s unmerited favour. We didn’t earn it, and we didn’t deserve it, but we have been given it. God has not treated us as we deserved. He has been merciful. The very definition of mercy is that we didn’t get what we deserve.
We also are immersed in a love-based faith. One of the first things that we learn about God is that God is love. In fact, if you had to boil God’s character down to two words, it would be holy love. God is love. Some of us have a hard time accepting his love, but we all know, at least in our heads, that God is a God of love.
That is our faith culture. I’m glad of that. I want to be grace-based and love-based. That is right, and that is good.
But many people seem to make the jump from there to the idea that it doesn’t matter what I do – God is loving, and God is gracious; God will forgive me. And therefore, what I do doesn’t have any real effect.
After all, if God loves me no matter what I do, if I can’t do anything to make him love me anymore than he already does, and I can’t do anything to make him love me any less, then it doesn’t really matter what I do. Right? Not.
It is true that God’s love for you does not depend on your actions towards God. What you do doesn’t affect God’s attitude toward you, but it does affect you. Grace precludes earning, it does not preclude effort.
You are as close to God as you want to be. Many of the promises of God are conditional on your response to his initiatives in your life.
After years of living the Christian life, here is what I can tell you – you will encounter God along the way. You will have mountain-top experiences. You may experience God in a particular church service, or a spiritual retreat, or a conference. It is always amazing and wonderful when that happens. But the quality of your spiritual life will not be defined by those experiences. The quality of your spiritual life will be defined by your daily decisions to connect to God, and your daily decisions to worship God through what you do, and your daily decisions to love others.
That is why we put such an emphasis on discipleship around here. It is not the big events that change your spiritual life so much as it is the path you choose to walk. It is the daily choice to spend time connecting with God by his Spirit and through his word that counts.
Most of you understand that what I am saying is true. You are going to get to where the path that you are on takes you. That is not only true geographically, but it is true in most other areas of life as well. I want you to know that this is what God’s word says too.
Galatians 6:7–9 (NIV)
7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. 9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
You know that if you sow corn, you are not going to reap turnips. If you sow tulips, you are not going to reap sunflowers.
You know that if you don’t sow an education or an apprenticeship, you are not going to reap a degree or a license. You know if you don’t sow into building relationships, you will reap loneliness. You know if you don’t sow into your spiritual life, you won’t reap from your spiritual life. You know if you sow sparingly, you will reap sparingly.
It is the principle of the path all over again. You are going to get to where the path is taking you. You are going to reap what you sow.
This principle is all over scripture.
Job 4:8 (NIV)
8 As I have observed, those who plow evil
and those who sow trouble reap it.
Matthew 7:1–2 (NIV)
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
You sow trouble, you reap it. You sow Judgement, you reap it.
Luke 6:37–38 (NIV)
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
You sow condemnation, you reap condemnation. You sow forgiveness, you reap forgiveness. You sow generosity, you reap generosity.
The principle of the path. You are going to get to where the road you are on is going.
I have a fairly good sense of direction. My daughter, however, could get lost in a cul-de-sac. She was born at the right time because she has a cell phone and a data plan, but there have been times when her phone has run out of batteries and then she is lost. Here is the thing. When she gets lost, she is not trying to get lost. When she gets lost, she doesn’t realize the exact point at which she became lost. It is more like a realization that she has become lost.
It is the same with the paths we take in life. We don’t take them meaning to end up in the swamp. We don’t take them meaning to get lost. We take them because we are not paying attention. Or, we take them because it is more fun to cruise the unmarked highway.
Today is New Year’s day. It is a great time to ask the question, am the road I am on going to get me to the place I want to be? Is how you treat your spouse going to get you the marriage you want? Is how you treat your body going to get the body you want? Is how you use your finances going to get you to the stability you want? Is where you set your mind going to get you to the mindset you want? If you keep on doing what you are doing, are you going to have the relationship with God you want? Are the habits that you have developed now going to get you to the place that you want to be a year from now?
My guess is that a lot of you can answer yes to most of those questions, but most of us have an area or three in which we would say, no, I am not going to get to where I want to be if I keep on doing the things that I am doing.
There is a great gospel word that has negative connotations – which is unfortunate – because it describes what has to happen when you are moving down the wrong path. The word is repentance. Repentance, in Christian terms, means changing directions so that you are headed toward God. But I think it is an appropriate term when we are on a path that is taking us in the direction we don’t want to go.
So, what do you do if you find yourself on that path that is taking you to where you do not want to be? The answer is not to make another New Year’s resolution. I am going to learn another language. I am going to lose 50 pounds. I am going to save more money. I am going to … (Fill in the blank)
Here is what you need to know. The goal is not the path. The goal sets the direction of the path. You want a good marriage. The path is made up of the little positive interactions you have every day. If it is not your default to have a positive interaction, then it will take effort to step off the old path and onto the new path.
If you want peace and a positive mindset, then you have to set your mind on positive things. This is especially true if you struggle with depression or anxiety.
Philippians 4:8 (NIV)
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
I know people who get to the first one and stop. They know they are not to gossip or slander. But you talk with them, and they will tell you all the dirt about people going back years. If you ask them about it, they will say, “well, it’s true.” That may be so, but it sure isn’t lovely or admirable or praiseworthy.
If you want to have peace you and a positive mindset, then set your mind on positive things. If your default is to always be thinking about negative things – then you are going to have to make some decisions. There will be decisions about what you take into your mind. There will be decisions about what you dwell on in your mind. The way to a positive mindset is to take the path of one positive thought at a time.
To say it another way, focus on the process, not on the goal. Focus on the particular step you are taking and not so much on the destination. Focus on the particular seed you are planting, with your words, with your time, with your actions, with your thoughts. Life is made up of the little decisions. Life is made up of the small habits. Life is more about the journey than the destination.
So, it is New Year’s day. Check out the path you are on. Is it taking you to where you want to be, or is it taking you a place where the bridge is out, and the swamp is real?
Here is God’s promise to you, who choose your path well. Here is God’s promise to you if you choose to sow good seed.
Galatians 6:9 (NIV)
9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
If you need to change paths, change paths. It is often not easy. But don’t give up; You will reap a harvest.
 Stanley, Andy Principle of the Path pg 1