Saturday, January 30, 2016

Garden of Life

I was over at a friend's house yesterday, after not having been to her home before, and noticed that she has beautiful box gardens out in the front of her home.  I had to fight "the envy response", and told her so.  Here we are in the middle of winter, and there was still lovely produce in her beds.  In our neck of the woods, you can grow various foods outside, 10 months out of the year, if you work at it.  This is what hit my mind as I read today's text, because Paul uses the gardening metaphor in
Galatians 6:6-10.  Let's sow precious seed into our souls this morning as we examine this text.

Be very sure now, you who have been trained to a self-sufficient maturity, that you enter into a generous common life with those who have trained you, sharing all the good things that you have and experience.
7-8 Don’t be misled: No one makes a fool of God. What a person plants, he will harvest. The person who plants selfishness, ignoring the needs of others—ignoring God!—harvests a crop of weeds. All he’ll have to show for his life is weeds! But the one who plants in response to God, letting God’s Spirit do the growth work in him, harvests a crop of real life, eternal life.
9-10 So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.
The Message version
The overarching themes of this passage are generosity and focus, because they are intertwined.
The first key question is:  how are you spending your time?  I want you to really think about that this morning.

I had occasion to really think about this deeply over the past couple of days, while you didn't get a post here at the RD blog.  I was under a heavy workload, from my two contracted jobs.  Plus, another opportunity crossed my path, which I'm praying about.  These circumstances have "moved my cheese", as the book1 says, causing me to ask: "How am I spending my life? Am I planting selfishness, which will produce a crop of weeds?"  It's an important question, no matter one's age - - - young, middle-aged, or well-seasoned.

One translation of 6:7 says, "Don't be deceived.  God is not mocked. For whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap."  It's a principle of God's order.  If you plant pumpkin seeds, you'll harvest pumpkins, not half-runner pole beans.  If you plant strawberries, you'll not harvest corn.  The same is true with our lives.  God gives each one of us the tools we need for this life, and only asks that we use them to follow Him.  Yet, He leaves the choice of whether we use our tools, how we use them, when we use them and for whose glory we use them - -  up to us.

I'll tell you this, fellow believers.  I pray I've chosen well, and that I continue to choose well for the remainder of my earthly days, no matter how many of them are left.

Young people have a lot of angst about "what to do with my life".  I remember that stage, and it IS difficult.  Here's my advice.  Look at the gifts God has given you.  If you stink at writing and hate it, don't choose a career that requires skill at writing, for example.  Is there something you love to do? Find a creative way to make a career of it, as long as it brings glory to God.  And, then, throughout your life, look for open doors.  God will lead you, if you seek, trust and obey Him.  Don't be afraid to walk through them.  One of my university professors used to say (borrowing from A.W. Tozer), "There's no difference between the secular and the sacred"1, which means that for the Christian following Jesus Christ and seeking to honor Him, all is "sacred".  All God-inspired work is holy work.  When we are submissive to Him, His Holy Spirit "does a growth work" in us, producing in and through us a harvest of "real life", "eternal life"!

Now, for the other side of this equation: generosity.  I've had the t.v. on "mute" as I've been blogging this morning, but I just dialed up the sound.  There's a news story on, about a "chain" of people who got out of their cars on a snowy interstate highway to heroically rescue a man, trapped in the cab of an 18-wheeler, hanging over a precipice.   It was generosity that prompted them to do that.  What if they had just left him hanging there?  What if they had made excuses - - - "It's too dangerous!  I might be hurt or killed myself!"

And similarly, Christian, when all around us lost people are headed to Hell at warp speed....what is our response?  How much more should we generously extend a hand, using the gifts we've been given, to rescue them?

Unfortunately, the culture of American society is often this:  to get as many goodies for myself as I possibly can, whether I earned them or not, and then to spend my time indulging my every desire. The biblical word/phrase for this is "worldliness" or "the lust of the eyes".

15Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of lifec—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  

1 John 2:15-16 (ESV)

God, by contrast, commands us to be generous people, starting with lavishly supporting those who have "raised us up" in the Christian faith.  Preachers hesitate to preach on this verse, because it sounds self-serving.  But, the truth is - - - we should generously compensate our church leaders for the very valuable work they do.  Sure!  There are excesses!  Some very "successful", well-known religious leaders have used their money to purchase solid gold bath fixtures in their homes or multi-million dollar jets (or tried to).  In general, though, pastors and missionaries and Bible professors and so on are not rich in material goods.  They should be some of the most financially well-off among us! I don't think that it is an accident Paul emphasizes that we should share our financial blessings with those who are making it their life's work to spread the gospel or equip believers.

Even beyond that, we should live lives of generosity, sharing the riches (both material and spiritual) God has given us with those around us. This is love.  Love is not stingy.  You can't love another person (especially God), while at the same time being stingy with your treasures.  That is why God gave us The Shema2.

There are so many fabulous Bible verses I could share here, but won't, for the sake of time.  (Mother tells me my posts just run on and on...).  But, under Sources: I will post a link, where you can click and read many such verses3.

Lord God, Giver of all precious blessings, You open Your hand so generously to us!  Cover our tightly-closed fists, our locked-up hearts and open them.  Break them open so that we can lavish love on those around us. For Jesus' glory and in His name, amen.


1.  Johnson, Spencer. Who Moved My Cheese?: An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life. New York: Putnam, 1998. Print.
3.  Deuteronomy 6:4; Luke 10:27

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Entanglement of Comparisons

Today's schedule was not full of flexibility.  I had to leave the house at 7:00 and, so, did not have my morning devotions.  That means....VESPERS!  ...which, I think, means evening devotions or evening prayers in the Latin.  At any rate, after driving nearly 200 miles today, and observing three different teachers in three different schools (which I'd never visited before), I'm happy to be sitting here with my bowl of soup, my Bible and laptop in a warm house.  God is good.

I guess we'd better wind up Galatians, don't you think?  Last time we were there, it was before my "locusts" post.  Now, we are in chapter 6, verses 4 & 5.  I already included these verses in a previous post, but did not focus on them.

4-5 Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life.
The Message

In real time, when this post is being written, we are in the throes of an American presidential race. The lifeblood of politics is that the candidates compare and contrast themselves with their opponents or competitors, in order to stand out from the crowd and earn the most approval, the most votes.  Of necessity, that is the nature of politics.

Unfortunately, we tend to take that same way of doing and apply it to our Christian lives.  We think other Christians should think or believe like us on matters of personal conviction (in the New Testament an example was whether to eat meat offered to idols, or not).  If they don't, we get all tangled up in ourselves.  We compare ourselves and our Christian experiences with others.  If our path does not track alongside someone's whom we admire, we think we are a hopeless failure.  We waste a lot of time evaluating and criticizing each other, out loud and face-to-face...or not.  It consumes so much of our energy!

Last night I was at a Bible study with other adults from our church and also the young adult college students we mentor in the faith.  It was a tremendous blessing!  My friend who was teaching totally led us into a time of worship, personal reflection and excitement about our God.  My fleshly nature's first response was this:  (ok, I'm being totally transparent here) - - - "Well, we should just ask her to teach all the time!  She teaches circles around me." Yep, that old flesh just leapt right up there and brought out the nasty.  Right?  Oh, ok, I know - - - it has never happened to you.  LOL!

At that very same event, within the hour, another adult leader was excitedly exclaiming over what God has put on her heart to share at our upcoming girls conference: . I didn't say anything, but here came that old fleshly nature again - - - "I'm so frustrated because God has not led me to do a breakout at the conference!"

It should be obvious to you that neither of these responses was the mark of a godly woman, albeit an honest one...

Today's scripture tells us that such reactions may (allright, WILL) happen.  They did to the Galatians too!  But, when we feel that carnal response beginning, we are to remind ourselves of God's commands in his Word and do the following:

1.  Seek God about your own spiritual gifts and find (or reaffirm) His calling to you concerning the spiritual work you've been given.
Now, let me stop right here for a minute.  Suppose you read that and you thought, "What gifts?  What calling?"  I've addressed this in other blog posts, and I'll reference them under the Sources: section at the bottom of the post.  In short, however, all Christians have a "gift set" from the Holy Spirit, and we all have work given to us by Him, for the express purpose of furthering His kingdom.  I'm not talking about your "day-job", unless you work in full-time ministry.  (I told you about mine in today's first paragraph.)  No, if you aren't doing some kind of part-time ministry to advance the kingdom of Jesus Christ, you are not walking resplendent.  Instead you are walking in disobedience, which brings on you a whole host of other complications and, usually, flat-out problems.  I don't care how young or how old you are, either.  Mamas, we need to be training our children from a very young age to give-back in service to the Lord Jesus, even when toddlers are too young to actually make a decision to accept Him as Savior and Lord.  Older folks, don't give me that guff about you being too old to do anything.  That's an excuse.  I am quickly joining your ranks, but everyone can do something.  Find it, and "sink yourself into it".  Let me move on now before I get all bothered.

2.  Don't be overly impressed with yourself.
This is another unfortunate by-product of comparing yourself with a Christian brother or sister. (Remember, Paul is talking to the Galatians about their dealings with other Christians.)  If we don't think our gifts or callings are superior to those of others, then we take the complete opposite tack, believing ourselves to be not worth a dime for God's kingdom.  Both are sinful attitudes/judgments. The first is produced by sinful pride, and the second by a failure to recognize who each believer is in Jesus Christ.  (See item #1 above.)  Paul exhorts us to simply not compare ourselves with each other. Period.  In verse 5 he explains that, if we just tend to our own business, doing the creative best we can with our own lives, we'll have our hands full.  There'll be no room for "busybodying" ourselves, poking our noses into other believers' gifts and callings.

3.  Tote your own pack.
That's an almost literal translation from the J.B. Phillips New Testament. "Tote", "shoulder", whatever.
When my son #2 went to a 12-day wilderness excursion nearly 2 years ago, he had to pass a physical. One of the items asked the physician to evaluate whether or not my son was physically able to hike for miles with a heavy load of camping equipment on his back.  Each young man on the trip had to shoulder his own load.  No one could shoulder all of his and all of his neighbors' as well.  It was a rigorous endeavor for those young men.
And so it is with God's callings to us.  In fact, I truly believe that if God's calling to you is not a little bit challenging or scary or difficult for you, it's probably not from God.  After all, if you could do it with almost no effort, why do you need to depend on God in the first place?
Paul is saying here in verse 5 that we need to focus on our own stuff, yet helping our neighbors as they have need. If we as a Body are not willing to walk the path we have been given by the Lord, it is unreasonable to expect a brother or sister to walk it for us.

I feel like closing with two quotes.

"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self."
Ernest Hemingway

"Every time you compare yourself to others, you kill a piece of who you are."
Humble the Poet

Blessed Lord!  Please deliver us from the entanglement of comparisons.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Gifts, Small and Great;postID=8895965426068390858;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=9;src=postname

To Each His Own;postID=7375941140857941248;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=10;src=postname

Decently and in Order;postID=1445288615710014047;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=78;src=postname

Monday, January 25, 2016

Trampling Locusts

There are times when the lifelong, amazing faithfulness of my God simply stupefies this old girl.

Recently, while sitting in church, listening to a wonderful sermon, designed to urge our church family to greater prayer, fasting, evangelism and discipleship, God brought today's verse to my mind.  Later, during the invitation period, a lady joined the church.  She is a Christian, but had not formally joined our local fellowship of believers.  Those are two separate events in a person's life, although many times joining a church closely follows the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

In my friend's case, however, the latter was not the case.  She had some time ago made that eternal decision, for Jesus.  But, a family situation was holding her back from joining our church. Her husband is of another faith. After our service was over, we were invited to the front to come and welcome the new member into our fellowship.  This is typical of our church.  As I was standing in line, thinking about her situation, God reminded me of His faithfulness, even when we see little hope of things changing for the better.

When my husband and I married, there was no doubt in my mind he was a true believer in Jesus Christ.  He wanted to go to church with me, within our church denomination.  We settled in to a church routine. It was the first time he had regularly attended church in his adult life. We both attended, and I exercised my spiritual gifts.  This situation could have been worse, I understood. Still, I was longing for my husband to realize his own spiritual gifts and use them for God's kingdom.  He was very hesitant.  Years went on (about 17), and it appeared that, well, that's just the way it was going to be.

All during those years, though, God was working!  He was still faithful!  I could not see it, but He knew exactly what he was doing.

Fast forward: today my husband is a deacon, who ministers to widows, goes out weekly on visitation, teaches Sunday School, serves on key committees ... It's just a miracle, truly.  It was, and is, a beautiful work of God to behold, to see His faithfulness on display.  I thought about that, as this dear sister in faith, stepped out in obedience.  When I got my turn to shake her hand, I shared words of encouragement with her.  God is faithful!  

Your faithfulness continues from generation to generation. You established the earth, and it stands firm.
Psalm 119:90

When we exercise our faith, despite our circumstances, we are closely imitating Jesus.  I've been in some excruciating circumstances over the years, but honestly, I've never sweat drops of blood.  Have you?  Yet, that is what Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before He was taken into custody to begin the long, torturous road to the cross and grave.  We are spared from knowing our own futures.  But, Christ knew God's plan.  He knew what He would be facing.  In those Gethsemane prayers, His humanity wrestled with His deity.  In the end, He submitted His will to walk in faith the path His father, our Father, set before Him.

It is when we exercise our faith, hold on to His love for us despite the circumstances that we trample on locusts.  It is only through our faith that God restores what the locusts have eaten.

I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—

Joel 2:25 is such an interesting verse!  Even though the NIV translates the word "locusts" on the second and third lines above, the four Hebrew words used there have an unknown origin.  What seems to be the intent is that, regardless of the varied damage caused by our ravaging enemy, Satan, God can restore.  He can redeem.  He can bring beauty from ashes.  He only asks us to trust Him, exercise our faith in His ability to do it.  He gives us several examples in the Bible of where He has done this.  Here are a few: Abraham, Ruth, Naomi, Esther, Job, Daniel, David, Paul, Peter, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus...the more I've thought about it, there are "restoration stories" in nearly every biblical character. 

So, no roadkill-gazing!  We do ourselves nor anyone else any good to stand and watch the flies buzz over the roadkill of our choices, dreams, relationships, devastating losses. There is a time for regret or mourning.  But, we must move on to grab hold of His forgiveness and peace.   We must repent, if necessary, or if not, at least humble ourselves under the hand of our all-knowing, all-mighty God, put our hand in His, and move forward in faith.

Is this prosperity teaching?  Does this mean that things will always turn out as we wish them to?  No. Often His way of restoring does not look like we think it should.  He is the source of all peace, which surpasses all of our limited understanding.  Regardless of the way He chooses to restore, we can have His peace - - - that He has a plan, and that it is being unrolled for our spiritual good.  Always. Always!

Dear God, thank you for never "letting go" of us, Your children, for holding tight to our hands as You lead us through the valleys and mountain peaks of this life.  Thank you for the encouragement of Your Holy Bible, godly counselors and most of all the the Holy Spirit of Your blessed Son, Jesus, all of whom teach us how to walk in faith, how to trample locusts.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Friday, January 22, 2016

When Siblings Sin

The other day I went hiking, by myself, in a state park.  The trail led alongside a steep cliff, down to a waterfall.  There were signs every few feet, warning hikers to "stay on the path!"  Those signs are there because the tendency for hikers is to get as close to the edge as possible, supposedly in the name of experiencing the hike to the fullest, or somesuch.  This is a great analogy of the Christian walk.  While Christians do not dwell in, wallow in sin (or else they are not truly Christians --- Galatians 5:21, for one...) there are times that we wander off the resplendent path.  What to do?

I'm continuing on in Galatians, almost ready to finish this Pauline letter.  Galatians 6:1-5, our text for this morning, is one of those neglected texts.  I have heard very few, if any sermons about it.  But, it is an important bit of teaching.  So, we are not going to gloss over it today.

Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too. Carry one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself.Let each one examine his own work. Then he can take pride in himself and not compare himself with someone else. For each one will carry his own load.

First, notice that this passage (like the entire letter of Galatians) is addressed to believers, Christians. So, this is not to be applied to non-believers.  Regardless of an unbeliever's sin, their highest, greatest need is to enter in to a salvation relationship with Jesus Christ.  Trying to apply Galatians 6:1-5 to an unbeliever is like trying to "put lipstick on a pig" (to quote Sarah Palin, who I am deeply disappointed in, but that's another story...).  "Brothers and sisters" always refers to those who are Jesus Christ's children and followers, those forever saved by grace.

What Paul is doing here is instructing this young group of believers in how to deal with sin in the church, because Christians will lapse into sin.  "You who are spiritual" does not mean "the most perfect person in the church" - - - what a ridiculous concept!  It refers to a mature Christian who has examined his or her own work, as directed in verses 1 and 4.  We read in verse 2 that the Christian who has gotten bogged down in some sin - - that the situation is a burden to him.  Absolutely right! One of the marks of the Christian is that the HolySpirit will not leave him/her alone about a sin, but will pester and nudge and sometimes wallop until the believer confesses it and makes it right with those who have been wronged.

Mature believers who see another believer in a sin must, after self-examination, restore that brother or sister with gentleness.  Obviously, this is tricky business.

Sometimes, a brother or sister will confess his or her sin to a fellow believer, because this is scriptural:

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
James 5:16 NIV

In that case, the restoring brother/sister will listen with gentleness, comfort with gentleness, and advise with gentleness and pray for the other person.  It is a great blessing to be chosen by another believer in this way.  It is a sign of tremendous trust.  God promises His healing when we restore each other in this way.

At other times, believers do NOT realize their sin and go confess it to God and then to a fellow believer.  At still other times, believers DO realize their sin and don't want to confess it ... or give it up for that matter.  It is at those times that a loving brother or sister in the faith should prepare his or her heart and speak to the other person privately and gently about the matter.

What about that fellow believer who stubbornly refuses to confess and repent?  That's the subject of another blog post.  But, here are a couple of relevant scriptures for you to study:
2 Thessalonians 3:6-15
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
And, if you want to read an excellent, thorough treatment of this subject, I highly recommend John MacArthur's commentary on it, which you can find here:

Here is where we fall down as the Body of Christ.  We simply do not do Galatians 6:1-5.  Let's just 'fess up, here.  We make all kinds of excuses to avoid doing it.  Here are a few:
"It's none of my business."
"If I'm honest with myself, I'm doing the same thing...or something worse."  (There's a real stinger!)
"It will ruin our relationship if I mention it."
"It's 'judging' ".  (total hogwash, and worthy of an entire blog post in the future! See the MacArthur link above, as a starting point.)

Let's consider for the moment the repercussions of not doing Galatians 6:1-5, of not examining ourselves, routinely confessing our own sins, and holding our fellow Christians accountable.
The number one, major result of this is a sin-filled church that not only doesn't win others to Christ, it propels them AWAY from our Savior!  A sin-filled, self-centered, hypocritical church is offensive to "the unsaved world", and it should be equally offensive to us, His Own.  Then, obviously, the sin is hurting the Christian who is sinning.  If we love our brothers and sisters in the Lord, we should long to see them restored.

In closing, let me emphasize that these matters MUST be bathed in fervent prayer.  Don't fire off the gun of your mouth with the hammer "half-cocked", as the expression goes.  When God lays on your heart to speak to a brother or sister in the spirit of this Galatians passage, hit your knees first...and stay there a while, listening to the Spirit give you wisdom and direction.  Then, proceed with gentleness, as the Scriptures command.

Father, first of all, make me even more diligent about allowing Your Spirit to root out my own sin, before I even notice the sins of my brothers and sisters.  On those occasions when you want me to speak to someone else, to share Your words with a burdened believer, fill my mouth, Lord.  Don't let me say one ungentle word, one unloving word or one word that is contrary to Your desires.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Galatian Oreo

Do you like Oreos?  I'm going to show you one in Scripture today.

I guess you could say I'm not a Calvinist.  My belief in God's all-knowingness (omniscience) is secure.  He knows all, from before time began until after it is abolished.  "From everlasting to everlasting, thou art God!" (Psalm 90:2) Inherent in that omniscience is the understanding that He knows every single choice we will make, before we even think of making it.  Calvinists fully believe in God's omniscience, but they also adhere to an additional belief --- that He makes those choices for us, deciding who will come to know Him through Jesus Christ, as well as (for some) totally negating the concept of free will.

In a way, the Calvinist position is comforting.  Why witness to the lost if it doesn't matter?  God will see that "the chosen" come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ...somehow.  Why live a life of holiness, struggle with sins "that so easily trip us up" (Hebrews 12:1)?  God knows what we are going to do anyway. We really don't have any choice in the matter. It has been fore-ordained.

You see...if you take away from mankind the ability to choose Jesus Christ, or not....
if you take away man's "free will" about salvation, you must also take away basically all choice from him.  It's not "pick and choose".  And, if we really have no choices, why then did Paul write Galatians 5:16-26?

The passage is an "oreo" passage, or in music we would say it is in ABA form.  The first black cookie (or "A") consists of verses 16-18 (NET)

16 But I say, live by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh has desires that are opposed to the Spirit, and the Spirit has desires that are opposed to the flesh, for these are in opposition to each other, so that you cannot do what you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 

Paul goes on to describe what a life lived serving one's own selfish desires looks like.  He calls this "living according to the flesh" (vs. 19-21a), the works of the flesh.  Next, he describes what a life lived led by the Holy Spirit looks like.  He calls this the fruits of the Spirit.  All this is the "B" section, the creamy filling of the Oreo.

The second black cookie ("A" again) is contained in verses 24-26 (NET)

24 Now those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also behave in accordance with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, being jealous of one another.

First, let's examine the "A" sections.  Read them over again, one after another.  Do you see that living the Christian life is all about choices?  There is this spiritual battle raging in each of us who know Jesus as Savior.  Some believe, mistakenly, that the battle is less intense after a person accepts Christ as Savior and Lord.  No.  The battle intensifies.  The new believer is ratcheted up in Satan's attention. Satanic attempts to neuter, neutralize, disarm and hamstring the believer begin, from the moment of salvation.

Yes, our salvation is settled and secure from the moment we are saved, from that instant we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior.  As we live this life, though, as a Christian, we are faced with a seemingly unending array of choices - - - for the kingdom of God or against it.  God has always dealt with mankind this way.  Don't you remember when Joshua told the children of Israel:
"Choose you this day whom you will serve"?  (Joshua 24:15)

Now, let's look at those two words I underlined in the passages above.  Note that the choices motivated by our own selfishness (the flesh) are called "works".  In other words, these are things we do in our own power, in our own human strength.  By contrast, when we choose to be led by the Holy Spirit, it is HE who produces the characteristics in verses 24-26.  Those are fruits which the Holy Spirit produces in our lives.

If you read verses 24-26 and say, "I'm going to try my best to be more gentle," then you've got it backwards.  As a Christian, you make choices to allow the Spirit of Jesus Christ to possess you ... or not.  That is what Paul means by verse 24, that "crucifying of the flesh".  It is He, then, who produces in the believer those "fruits of the Spirit".

If you are like me, you read that list of "fruits" and think with panic, "I'm not able to do that!"  And, then I realize,  "That's exactly right!"  In my flesh, my own power, I can't.  But, He can.  In so doing, He gets all the honor and glory due Him, for the marvelous works that He does in me.

Dear Holy Spirit, consume in me all the impurity that brings my Savior dishonor.  I want to be led by You, to follow You, so that You may be glorified through me.  In Jesus' name, amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016


My post is delayed today because of early morning work obligations.  And, after those were done I attended a wonderful lunch with several ladies from our Sunday School class.  Periodically, we get together for fellowship outside the class.  Our husbands actually do better than we ladies do - - they get together almost every Monday morning for breakfast!  At any rate, the food and fellowship were wonderful.  Good bites!

Galatians 5:15 talks about a very different kind of biting, not a good kind.  Unlike the wonderful fellowship I described above, there are times when Christians bite each other and even chew each other up.  This was happening in the Galatian church.

For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then?
Galatians 5:14-15

Apparently, so much contention had erupted in that body of believers they were turning on one another in attempts to solve their problems.  Freedom in Christ is not the freedom to mistreat others. Paul was warning them of the very real danger of chewing each other to pieces.  In other words, if they did not stop, and begin to deal with one another lovingly, they would have no local church left. And, then where would they be?

Have you ever had someone, perhaps someone new to your church fellowship, ask you about the church's history?  As I think back over the histories of most churches I've attended over a lifetime, I could tell you some stories.  I'm thinking of one church that has now almost disappeared.  Forty years ago, it was vibrant!  Only a handful of people are in the pews/chairs now.

You see, this biting and devouring wasn't just a characteristic of the Galatian church.  Pride can creep in to any body of believers and cause dissension.  Honest disagreements are not bad, in and of themselves.  But, when some believers are more influenced by their own self-righteous pride than by the Holy Spirit and Bible, trouble ensues.  This is not disagreement that can be worked through by prayer, by listening honestly to others' opinions and doing so with an attitude of humility.  This painful biting, scratching, kicking and screaming lead to church splits.

Even worse than carnal Christians, our pews are sometimes occupied by people who claim to be Christians but are not.  Just saying you are a Christian doesn't make you one.  Just possessing an intellectual belief in Jesus doesn't make you one either.  These are people who are deliberately, unreservedly practicing sin in their lives, whether it is hidden sin or obvious sin.  Paul warns that those who insist on living in sin are not Christ's own, regardless of their "testimony" (5:21).

Paul then goes on to describe the ways, attitudes and practices of those in whom the Holy Spirit dwells (5:22-26).

We are wise to guard our thoughts, our lips and our associations with others who claim the name of Christ.  Our goal should be for all of our words, thoughts and actions to lovingly proclaim the truth, in order to minister to others and bring honor to Christ.

Father, guide us by Your Spirit and by your Word.  Let love govern all our ways.  Reveal to us when we are biting, scratching and clawing.  Don't let us get away with condescending verbal jabs at our brothers and sisters.  If truly we are Yours and Your Spirit lives in us, may we walk in Him, live like Him, love like Him. In Jesus' name, amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Love Bus

My morning routine usually consists of reading about (favorite blogs) and watching (favorite news outlet) national and world events, succored by the large cup of coffee in my hand.  Then, as I'm doing now, I have my morning devotions and share with you via this blog.

A story that caught my eye this morning was a striking example of today's text, in action.

13 For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity to indulge your flesh, but through love serve one another. 14 For the whole law can be summed up in a single commandment, namely, “You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
Galatians 5:13-14

Paul is here in verse 14 quoting Jesus, who made the Galatians 5:14 statement in Matthew 22:39. Here's the verse, with context:

36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 Jesus said to him, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 The second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Note that the first and second commandments are not called by Jesus "the greatest suggestions".  No, they are commandments, which even supersede "the 10".  That is not to say they nullify "the 10", but rather that they overshadow them.  In other words, you can be keeping the 10 Commandments 100%. But, if you are not loving God with all your heart and showing that love by loving "your neighbor", you are living in disobedience.

Ok, so what was the story today?  I'll link it at the bottom of the page, but basically, it was this.  Two churches in east Cobb county, a wealthy suburban area outside of Atlanta, GA, sent their church busses into a very poverty-stricken area of downtown Atlanta, to pick up homeless people. For those of you reading this out of current time, or who live far from me, it was "in the teens" here overnight. These churches picked up about 100 homeless people in their busses last night, to keep them from freezing to death.


You see, I find today's passage very personally convicting, because I am most often focused on making my own life very comfortable.  And, there's nothing wrong with taking care of one's basic needs.  But, frankly, I take it far beyond the basic level, "using my freedom in Christ to indulge my flesh" - - spending most of my time and resources on my own selfish desires.

So, when I hear a story about a church that extends Christ's arms to those who are quite literally perishing, both physically and spiritually, I am prompted to a lot of self-examination.  I don't usually like what I find.

Look, whether we like it or not, this is the truth of what Christ commanded us, children of God! Instead of our customary approach, which is to indulge ourselves and occasionally toss some crumbs to those who are dying, He asks us to flip the pyramid, to radically change the paradigm.  What He calls us to is a life of service to others, giving ourselves (our flesh) the crumbs left over.

So, here's what I'm going to do and what I challenge you to do also.  I'm going to make a change (can you hear Michael Jackson singing in the background?), a change based on what the Holy Spirit has been saying to me about this passage.  This will not make me a Christian, because the Bible is plain that a person can't work oneself up into being one.  I'm a Christian because of my faith in Jesus Christ.  Period. What making this change will make me is (hopefully) more obedient to my Master's command. What my obedience will achieve (because obedience always achieves this) is a greater expansion of the kingdom of God, even in ways I'll never realize or see.

Father, how can I become more and more like my Savior unless I am obedient to Your Word?  So often I am tone-deaf to the Holy Spirit.  Lord, open my eyes and ears and hands, and not only mine, but those of your Church ... so that all may know Your love, the only love which transforms. In Jesus' name, amen.


Monday, January 18, 2016

A Little Leaven

I wish my long-term memory was better.  Then, I could remember how many sermons I have heard on this verse, which has been so often quoted by elders to youth that it has become part of the cultural lexicon:

A little leaven leaveneth the whole lump.
Galatians 5:9  KJV

A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise!
The Message

The word "leaven" is an old English word for "yeast".  A leavening agent is something that causes a chemical and physical change (usually in bread dough) by producing gas bubbles which lead to fermentation.

In the Bible, leaven can have both positive and negative connotations.  Some theologians focus on verses that emphasize its positive or neutral applications.  For example, in Matthew 13 Jesus is teaching by the seashore in Capernaum.  Part of that teaching, verse 13, finds Him describing His kingdom as leaven.  The connotation is that the kingdom of Heaven will spread like yeast spreads through a recipe of bread, hidden, working quietly, transforming.  Hallelujah!

The Jews and Messianic Jews have for centuries celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread.  (That's an entire blog post in and of itself.) This feast commemorates the Israelites' sudden departure from Egypt.  They had to leave so quickly, their bread did not have time to rise!  So, at that feast, leaven (or its absence) can be connected with haste, a semi-neutral concept.  Other theologians, say that this typifies leaving the sin of Egypt behind them as they fled.

There are other negative connotations to leaven, and these are the most often cited.

We find in Leviticus 2:11 and 6:17 that bread with leaven could not be offered on the altar as a grain offering.  Leaven accelerates the spoilage process in bread.  (That's what fermentation is - - a type of spoilage.)  Then, carrying that theme forward, Jesus used leaven to describe the rottenness of the ruling religious classes' doctrines, that of the Sadducees and Pharisees, in Matthew 16:6-12.  So, of course, because Jesus used "leaven" as a type for sin, this interpretation has sort of stuck.

In Galatians 5, Paul carried forward this analogy to describe the false teachers who were leading astray the Galatians.  Just a little false doctrine, properly nurtured, can cause a great deal of damage.

When I make bread I only use a level tablespoon of dry yeast, along with 4.5 cups of fresh flour.  It doesn't take much to cause the bread to swell and rise.

My takeaway from Galatians 5:9 is that sin is not to be played around with.  A little bit of sin can do a lot of damage.  We may choose whether or not to sin, but we are not free to choose the consequences of our choices.  Those are prescribed by God. Many times we fool ourselves into thinking, "It won't matter just this once", or "It won't affect me this way" only to find that our "little sin" has had life-altering consequences.  If you have experienced this, you know exactly what Paul means.

A contemporary application of Galatians 5:9 is playing out on the campus of Wheaton College, a contemporary liberal arts college just west of Chicago, IL.  One of its professors, Dr. Larycia Hawkins, last month made statements in social media that contradict the institution's Statement of Faith.  It is common for Bible schools to require faculty and staff to sign a Statement of Faith pledge. These types of documents lay out the school's core beliefs and standards.  By signing, the employee is promising to not only adhere to those beliefs but also to defend and promote them.  Dr. Hawkins deviated significantly from the statement of faith which she signed, along with her other employment papers.  Essentially, she stated that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.  Decrying the deity of Jesus Christ and denying the essential role He fulfills in the salvation of mankind is quite a breech.  Since she has refused to back off from that position, Wheaton has begun termination procedures against her.  She has chosen to become a detrimental form of leaven in that Bible-based institution.

Kudos to Wheaton College for standing for the truth, revealed in God's Word! Let's pray for them as they move through this very difficult situation, and for Dr. Hawkins, that the Holy Spirit will work in her heart through this, also.  Jesus told us His disciples to "beware" false teaching and any kind of spiritual "leaven".  We, as Christ-followers, should do the same.  Regardless of the opportunities to sin, the temptations strewn into our path by the enemy, we should beware and resist/stand firm or, better yet, RUN in the opposite direction!

Dear Jesus, open my eyes to my sins, the leaven in my own life; and press my heart to, not only confess them, but to avoid temptation scenarios at all costs.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Friday, January 15, 2016


This is a picture of an antique knife, used in the Jewish circumcision ceremony known as the Bris. In examining Galatians 5:1-12, let's remember that the Galatians are being taken to task by Paul because they have gotten their "obedience" wrong.  Let's back up a moment.

What was circumcision, a key feature of this passage?  We find it first mentioned in Genesis 17 (specifically verses 10-14), when God is making an "everlasting covenant" with Abraham.   Circumcision is specified as a permanent mark to signify a permanent covenant.

Interestingly, there were times throughout the Israelites' history when the practice was put on hiatus. Moses does not appear to have been a fan, as he did not require his son with Zipporah to be circumcised right away.  It is recorded in Exodus 4:21-26 that the young man was not circumcised as a baby but, rather, as a young adult.  Then, during the 40 years of wilderness wandering, Israel did not circumcise the male children born during that time.  Warren Wiersbe explains why:
"During that time God had suspended his covenant relationship with Israel and didn't require the mark of the covenant on their male children.  He performed wonders for them and met their every need even though they were temporarily not his covenant people."  God was doing a "purge", a cleansing of the Israelites.  Until the older, more stiff-necked people died off, God put the covenant relationship on hiatus.  Before Joshua took the people into the Promised Land, however, he obeyed the Lord's command to circumcise all the males at Gilgal.  See Joshua 5.

All of this back-story brings us to the Galatians, a Gentile people who love Jesus Christ and want to walk in obedience to Him.  They have, however, been deceived by Judaizers who, I do honestly believe, were sincere (although sincerely wrong).  Look at what Paul says (5:2-3) about the Galatians trusting in circumcision to make them right with God.

2-3 I am emphatic about this. The moment any one of you submits to circumcision or any other rule-keeping system, at that same moment Christ’s hard-won gift of freedom is squandered. I repeat my warning: The person who accepts the ways of circumcision trades all the advantages of the free life in Christ for the obligations of the slave life of the law.
The Message version

You are going to laugh, but I remember getting my first smartphone.  It was so far superior to the old flip-phone I had!  You know, that phone where you had to press a number multiple times in order to text?  The new way was revolutionary!  There was absolutely no going back, for me.

What the Galatians were doing was submitting to, allowing themselves to be enslaved by, an old covenant.  They had chosen to remove themselves from the path of grace through Christ and to pursue achieving their own holiness through enslaving themselves again to the Law (5:4).
Jesus Christ established a new covenant through His blood.  He IS God's new covenant with His people!  How do I know this?  Where is the "proof"?  Let's examine the Scriptures.  You are expecting a NT reference, aren't you?  No, we must go all the way back to Jeremiah 31:31-34 (ESV).

31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LordI will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

I can hear some of you now - - "This was meant just for the Jews, the chosen people, and will be fulfilled in the last days."  Well, God WILL restore the Jews to Himself in the last days.  But, Jesus Christ made it clear that HE is the fulfillment of this scripture passage, and He did it at the last meal He shared with His disciples.  Luke 22:20 (ESV) - - -

17And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Jesus Christ's blood, poured out for us, established and sealed God's new covenant relationship with people, those people willing to enter into covenant relationship with Him, the Father God, through the Son, Jesus Christ.  If the Luke passage is not clear enough for you, consider Hebrews 9:15 (ESV), which is quite emphatic.

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

Does this mean that circumcising our male children is wrong?  Or, that observing Jewish feast days and customs is wrong?  Only if you are depending on them to achieve your own righteousness with God.  I have Christian friends and loved ones with Jewish heritage.  They choose to honor Jesus Christ by observing the Jewish feast days, because they see Him so beautifully represented in Old Testament practices.  But, they do not depend on their observances for their salvation.

On the contrary, as do all true Believers, they embrace a true and radical obedience, that of the circumcised heart: a heart which covenants with God through faith in Jesus Christ, which faith is expressed in love (Gal. 5:6).

Father, I thank you for circumcising my heart, putting your "forever mark" on me.  I confess and repent of those times I have tried to walk in my own righteousness. Those times have led me down thorny, dead-end paths.  Help me to walk in that true and radical obedience, which springs from faith and is evidenced by love.  In Jesus' name, amen.


Wiersbe in Google Books:

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Heirs by Adoption

It is popular to say, "We are all God's children", in reference to humanity in general.  While that may provoke warm, fuzzy feelings, it is not a true statement.  We are all created in the image of God, but simultaneously born with the taint of sin deeply imbedded into our natures.   The sin nature, resulting from the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, prevents us from becoming God's children by our birth.  Therefore, it could be said that we are God's creation, His "offspring" even, but not His children, in our unregenerate state.

God has only one "begotten Son", and that is the God-man, Jesus Christ (John 3:16).  Why, then, does Paul elaborate on the truth of Christ-followers, Believers, being "heirs," "sons"?  He makes the distinction in Galatians 4, that we are God's sons by adoption.

Now, the Jews believed themselves to be God's children by birth, by virtue of the fact that they were descended from Abraham in the physical sense. While the Jews are His chosen people, a fact established millennia ago and not negated in the Church era, this does not confer on anyone, Jewish or not, spiritual "sonship".  It is plain in Paul's inspired writings that sonship is conferred in the spiritual by God's grace, specifically and exclusively through faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. (Ephesians 2:8-9)  Unbelievers know nothing of this grand adoption.

It is important to note that the entire Trinity is present in our becoming sons/daughters of God.

But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,
To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.
And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.
Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.
Galatians 4:4-7 KJV

Do you see Them?  The Father began the process of adoption, reclaiming those whom He foreknew before time began would choose Jesus.  The Son, Jesus, obediently put on flesh and came to earth to fulfill the Father's redemption plan.  The Spirit is sent by God into the hearts of all who accept Jesus, the Son. The third Person of the Trinity completes the circle of love.  It is He who bears witness that we belong to God, to Christ, by His intimate cry of "Abba", the most personal name for the Incomparable, Incomprehensible One.  (See Romans 8:15 for comparison.)

"The Bible uses adoption as a picture of what God has done for us. We were dirty, diseased, impoverished street urchins, with no one to care for us. We were not there as helpless victims, but rather because of our deliberate rebellion against God. But one day He showed up at the cardboard shack that we were sleeping in and in love chose us to be in His family. He cleaned us up, removed our rags, clothed us in the righteousness of Christ, fed us with the nourishing truth of His Word, and guided us in His paths of righteousness and wisdom. He brought us into His family, where we have brothers and sisters to share our burdens and our joys. And He made us His heirs, so that throughout eternity we will enjoy the unfathomable riches of Christ."2
Steven J. Cole

God the Father chose to adopt us, as fathers and mothers may choose to adopt a child who is not biologically theirs.  It was not something He had to do.  He could have chosen to make us "foster children", perhaps.  But no! Our adoption is something ONLY He could do, something His very nature compelled Him to do, that aspect of His infinite, unfathomable love.

Now, what is our inheritance in Christ?  What are our riches as adopted sons/daughters?

Here are a few.  I am sure there are many of which we have no knowledge, as yet. The inimitable Charles Spurgeon said, "No man living has ever realised to the full what this means." In general, I am listing them from my memory as a daughter, without scriptural references.  I may come back and add scriptural proofs later.

1.  Justification
Being made right eternally with God, as He confers Jesus Christ's righteousness upon us
2.  Freedom
Being set free from the bondage of working to earn salvation (which cannot be earned)
Being set free to worship, adore, revere and serve the Boundless, Limitless Lord from a heart overflowing with love  ("For the love of Christ compels us...." 1 Cor. 5:14)
3.  Access
Having unlimited and unrestricted access to the heart of God through prayer, as a result of our Father/Child relationship.   The indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our hearts facilitates this.
4.  Sanctification
Being molded more and more into the image of Jesus Christ
5.  Blessings, Promises Covenants of God
Receiving all of them, revealed in the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation
6.  Citizenship in Heaven
Anticipating our "forever home", with Him

"Abba, Father" ... Spurgeon points out that the Hebrew word is "a babe's lisping", as it even sounds like the first sounds a baby makes, and that it represents how we are allowed to be natural and informal with our Father God.  It is a warm, affectionate, loving word which some have said is more like "Daddy" than "Father".  The same cry of the Savior to His Father in the agony of the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:36) is the cry the Spirit of the Son makes from the heart of the Believer, of the child of God.

No longer servants, but Sons, Daughters, Heirs, Children of the Highest!  From servitude to sonship! Praise His name forever!




Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Evangelists, Activists and Paper Tigers

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday weekend is on the horizon, and mentioning him here today fits with a verse I want to hone in on this morning (Galatians 4:16).  Growing up in the South, I remember not so much of when Dr. King was evangelizing and actively campaigning for social change.  (I was in the single digits of years...) But, I do remember the controversy surrounding making his birthday a national holiday. And, back then in the South, especially, there was a lo-o-o-ot of controversy.

The main reason for this was that Dr. King advocated for social change, and in so doing, made many enemies (including the one who assassinated him).  As he lay dying, he could have mouthed Galatians 4:16 - - -

16 Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?

Now, not all versions of "social change" are good.  You can argue with me about whether Dr. King's version of the truth was the whole truth or not. That would be a distraction, and not at all the point of my illustration.  The point is that the truth changes people and often makes the truth-teller a target.

This is what was happening in Galatia, concerning Paul.  Paul had started the Galatian church, but found himself (and the truth) being marginalized and fiercely criticized after he moved on to deliver the gospel elsewhere.

I admire Paul and others like them, whose hearts burn with the message they've been given to share. No shrinking violets are they!  Even if I disagree with the content of the message, I admire those who are willing to take a stand and "put it out there".  Paul says a couple of verses later ... (Galatians 4:18 KJV)

It is good to be zealously affected always in a good thing!

Or, as The Message puts it:

It is a good thing to be ardent in doing good.

As far as the gospel is concerned, it is not a good thing to keep quiet about it.  We were commanded by the Master to be bold in sharing it, with everyone (Matthew 28:19-20).  What we often fail to anticipate, though, is the opposition we will face when we do.  Jesus saw that coming, and told us so in John 15:18-19...

“If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. 19 If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.

No surprise, right?  The message of the gospel is antithetical to the ruling philosophies of this world.

The false teachers of Galatians wanted to shut the baby Christians out of the freedom that is God's grace, so that they would always be dependent upon the Judaizers for approval and direction (4:17).
The Galatians were unprepared for the battle, apparently, because look at their response to the law-bringers, the rule-peddlers, the enemies of the truth.  Paul says in 4:8-11 (The Message) ...

Earlier, before you knew God personally, you were enslaved to so-called gods that had nothing of the divine about them. But now that you know the real God—or rather since God knows you—how can you possibly subject yourselves again to those paper tigers? For that is exactly what you do when you are intimidated into scrupulously observing all the traditions, taboos, and superstitions associated with special days and seasons and years. I am afraid that all my hard work among you has gone up in a puff of smoke!

Not an effective battle strategy, I'm afraid, this bowing down to paper tigers, this returning to enslavement.  Yet, it is one that the redeemed of the Lord, Christ-followers, sometimes devolve to, losing ground in the process.  Our spiritual progress is sometimes "two steps forward, and one step back".  We willingly enslave ourselves to forces which have no power over us.  I know I've been guilty.  Old habits die hard.  Often the truth dies on the altar of the comfortable.

In response to the Galatians' veering far off the path, Paul was fearless in proclaiming to them (again) the liberating truth of the gospel.  The character trait of truth-bearers: fearlessness in the face of opposition, courage in delivering an unpopular message.

The same God who told us to "Love one another" (John 13:34) also told us repeatedly to "Fear not" (Luke 12:32, e.g.)  So, I'm not talking about those who just love to be disagreeable.  I'm talking about being fearless in telling the truth, but doing so with love in our hearts.  Soon, we'll be examining the fruits of the Spirit, in the next chapter, in fact.  They are indispensable for all Christ-followers, all of whom are, like it or not, truth-bearers.

Lo! the hosts of evil ’round us,
Scorn Thy Christ, assail His ways.
From the fears that long have bound us,
Free our hearts to faith and praise.
Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the living of these days,
For the living of these days.1

     God of Grace and God of Glory, Henry E. Fosdick, 1930.

Lord, give us wisdom, courage and opportunity to share the gospel.  Empower us with your Sprit and deliver us from our backsliding into the more familiar, unrighteous ways of living.  In Jesus' name, amen.