Archive for the ‘Galatians’ Category

Finishing Galatians – the Cross of Jesus

December 24, 2009

Yeah!  Today we get to finish Galatians.

Paul wrote in his own hand these last words (Galatians 6):

The focus of his argument is that people would rather force external rules rather than ‘be persecuted for the cross of Christ’.  Whereas, he himself has chosen the cross of Christ.

What is the cross of Christ?  Twice in Matthew, Jesus tells his followers that they must ‘take up their cross and follow him’.  (Matthew 10:38 and 16:24)

The Matthew 10:38 passage tells us that we must be willing to let go of emotional bonds.  Jesus speaks prophetically about the emotional dissidence that Christianity will cause in some households – mother against daughter, etc.  “Whoever finds his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

This passage seems to connote inaction.  When your closest friends and family ridicule you for your Christ decisions, it is easy to just be inactive – to ‘find your life’.  Jesus invites us to the life of the miraculous – with an eternal promise, but it requires a life of action and danger – those we love may not always understand.  Sometimes they may stand against us.  We are called to pick up our cross and focus on Jesus.

Then the 16:24 passage talks about our ideas on how things should be.  The disciples’ idea of a messiah was a political one.  They had a plan.  They knew what Jesus should do.  Then Jesus said he was going to die.  Peter took him aside and said “Dude!  No way!  This isn’t the way this is going to go down!  I’ve got it all figured out!”  Jesus rebuked him and then told all the disciples “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

The disciples had put Jesus in a box.  When Jesus started explaining that his plan was different, Peter didn’t think that was quite right.  What a tempting situation!  We live in a world of systems.  If you are going to do (X,Y, Z)… then this is how you get there.  We serve a God who doesn’t answer to those systems.  He transcends them. God puts people in captivity and jail for 12+ years to make them 2nd in command in Egypt.  He sends shepherd boys against giants.  He turns water into wine, feeds 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish….  If you want to live in the miraculous, you will have to pick up your cross and choose to live outside the box.  This isn’t a comfortable place to live.

Paul lived in a world that said:  If you are going to serve God, you get circumcised.  The Judaizers wanted non-Jewish Christians to follow the ‘system’.  Jesus came to set people free, not to burden them with rules.  Paul lived outside the box.  He knew the danger of changing one’s mindset to living inside the box.

If you live inside the system, you are ruled by the system.  If you let God rule you only, then you live outside the system, and are free.  Does this mean you don’t obey God’s laws?  No!  It just means that you answer to God instead of to the system.

Today we are encouraged to examine ourselves:

  • Do we have relationships that hinder us from seeking all that Jesus has for us?
  • Have we sought comfort in established rules of how things ‘should be’, or are we allowing God to really be in charge of our lives?
  • Are we living free, or are we in bondage?

Galatians 6, part 2

December 21, 2009

Verses 7-10:  “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”

Some days, you just want to do for yourself, huh?  After all, who is taking care of you?

I talked to a young person recently who is learning the life of servanthood.  She said “I’m learning that when you choose to live a life where you serve people, they don’t give back – they just keep taking.”  It takes a lot to continue to be humble and not lash out.  After all, when we figure out the right way to live, shouldn’t everyone live this way?  Mutual service should have a “mutual” component to it, right?

Paul understood this.  He said “don’t grow weary”… keep your eyes on the prize.  He also knew how to keep his eyes on the Source.  We are perfectly incapable of serving others selflessly in our own strength (at least I am).  We need Jesus’ strength to be able to see people the way He does, and to be able to love them the way He does.

The Christmas crowds and Christmas rush have a way of stretching everyone to their breaking point.  Those around us are already on their last bit of emotional energy this week, and might have crossed over into down-right snappy.  The delightful thing is that we have an infinite Source of Joy, Love and Peace.  Just a few minutes with Jesus can help you gain that selfless grasp of life again so that you can return to the fray ready to serve with His love.

When those around you are falling apart – Galatians 6 part 1

December 17, 2009

We have reached the end of Galatians.  What a treat this has been.

Paul ends his letter in two parts.  There is so much here, we are going to have to do this in parts.

Paul doesn’t pull any punches.  He just tells it like it is.  Sometimes, those around you aren’t going to have their life together.  Sometimes, you are going to want to run for the hills because even an association with someone is going to seem too much.

When they’ve sinned.

Paul says:  go to them, restore them and don’t judge them, because you might someday need similar grace.  Ouch!  When people sin, don’t we hold part of ourselves back to ‘help’ them.  We want to use our higher brain functions to ‘show them how to do it right’.  Paul says:  treat them as an equal.  You have the same base tendencies.  Lovingly restore them.  (If you check this with other Paul writings, this would mean that the person has turned from their sin, and isn’t continuing in it.)

About 200 years after Paul wrote these words, there was a great persecution.  Some of the Christians couldn’t handle the pressure, and turned in other Christians.  Those who were turned in were tortured, and some were even fed to the lions.  When the persecutions were over, those who remained, wanted to make sure they could trust the informants.  They devised a method by which the informants could earn their way back into the congregation.  This is where the whole idea of penance came from.  They had to stay outside the congregation for a year and couldn’t have communion for a year while they were paying their penance.  Interestingly, those who had survived prison were the most forgiving, and called for forgiveness.

Share the burden of the oppressed

Ouch.  We like to give to charities so that the charities can share the burden.  In what ways do we share the burden?  Have you considered having someone who has alienated their entire family over to the holidays?  What about having coffee with someone and listening to their story?  Hospitality has many forms.  It is easy to show hospitality to those who look and act like us, but hospitality of the heart means that we offer our time and energy to those who can’t return it – in this way, we share their burden.  Genuine human contact is precious, and it is one of the things they miss most.

Be the person God created you to be

I had a conversation on the bus with a woman this week.   I was telling her how incredibly creative one of my children is.  She said “yes, but there is no money in that.  Better tell them now, and make sure they make plans for the future.”  I have been thinking on this all week long.

I wonder how much of our society has been squelched because people are trying to be responsible and earn a living.  God designed us in His image, and His image is creative.  His image is also analytical and methodical.  He has so many facets.  You were designed in God’s image, and when you live up to being the person He created you to be, you add value to society.  Find your giftings, explore them and develop them to the hilt.  We won’t be the same if you don’t.

Free Living in Galatians 5

December 10, 2009

When I was young, I memorized Galatians 5:1, 13 & 22 by way of a song.  This chapter has been a part of my heart for years.  I never realized it was also the chapter where Paul blows his top.

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (vs. 12)

What is it about freedom in Christ that had Paul so hot and bothered?  What could adding a few rules hurt?

Let’s take a little walk, back to the evening before Jesus was arrested.  Jesus and the disciples were still sitting at the table.  Right after Judas left, Jesus gives them a new command:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34)  Then he goes on to give them three promises:

  1. That he is going to prepare a place for them, and that he will come back (our eternal hope)
  2. “Anyone who has faith in Him will do what he is doing, and even greater things.”  The Message translates the next part best: “From now on, whatever you request along the lines of who I am and what I am doing, I’ll do it. That’s how the Father will be seen for who he is in the Son. I mean it. Whatever you request in this way, I’ll do.” (John 14:14)
  3. That he will send the Holy Spirit.  Chapter 16 goes on to explain that the Holy Spirit convicts and guides into truth.  Elsewhere he comforts and endues Power.

Now.  If Jesus wants to give you all these things, and His only commandment is to love each other and to remain in Him, why would you want to go out on a tangent trying to obey other laws?  Listen to the results of this behavior:  “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15)

When I learned these verses as a teen, I thought it meant that I had to work hard to become that list of positive behaviors in verse 19.  That’s because I never learned verse 16.  Live by the Spirit and you won’t gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  It is a positive statement, not a negative one.  You can’t become Christlike by figuring out what not to be.  You can only become Christlike by getting to know Jesus – by letting the Holy Spirit do the work on the inside of you.

A dandelion doesn’t say I want to become a poof flower (whatever those things are), it just becomes one because it is part of it’s nature.  If you have the Holy Spirit on the inside of you, and you are listening to Him, you will become like Him.  If you are trying to figure out how to get it all right, you are going to lose.  The fruits of the Spirit grow from within – you can’t make them appear.

What about self discipline you ask?  For many of us, the real discipline is being quiet and letting the Spirit talk to us.  Listening to His voice and doing what He says instead of what seems like the right thing.

The life of freedom is also risky and full of adventure

December 8, 2009

Galatians 4:21-31 is a complicated passage.

The first time I read it, I took a lot of my own baggage into it, and quite frankly came out feeling very defensive for the Arab people.

One of the spiritual disciplines is to meditate on scripture.  We need to meditate on scripture so that it becomes a part of us.  We also meditate on scripture so that the Holy Spirit can open it up to us, sort truth from our own stuff and help us interpret scripture correctly.

Why don’t we want to live like Hagar?  Because Hagar had her son by Abraham.  She had all the responsibilities of a wife and mother, but none of the rights.  Instead, she still bore all the responsibilities of a slave.  If we try to serve God through a system of rules, we heap on ourselves a system of responsibilities that is unending with none of the freedoms.

Why do we want to fashion our life after Sarah?  She had to wait years for the desires of her heart to be fulfilled.  She had to watch while her slave got in a night what she had hoped and tried for and failed.  She had to wait for God to move.  She got the child of promise.  She had the rights, responsibilities and freedom of relationship.

Relationship is risky – it is a life of waiting, yearning and adventure.  Jesus said:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

How to talk to God

December 4, 2009

“God sent the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, FAther,” So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” Galatians 4: 6b-7

What does it mean to have the full rights of sons before God?  What it really means is that you don’t have to guess.

Not too long ago, some people wanted to meet the president, so they crashed his party.  Weird, huh?  You know who didn’t have to crash his party to see him?  His daughters.  They get to go to him any time they want.  They don’t have to go through layers of bureaucracy.  They don’t have to make sure they’ve done their homework and chores and behaved just so, just so they can talk to daddy.  They get to talk to him any time they want.

The same is true with you and God.  God sent the Spirit to live inside of you.  God is with you all the time.  You don’t have to “have it all together” before you get to talk to Him.  He’s already listening.  On top of that, He is eager to talk with you.  He is also eager to be part of your life and answer the desires of your heart.

The interesting thing is that the more we talk to God, the more we become like Him – because He cleans us up from the inside-out.  We become more functional people just by spending more time with God.

Have a blessed day.

Galatians 3 – Who are you looking at?

November 19, 2009

When I was little, the adults in my life tried to help me.  One sentence that stuck in my head is “Normal people act this way, or normal people do this.”

My poor first grade teacher reached the end of her rope and decided to use it on me.  “Kimmy, you need help remembering to stay in your seat,” she said.  “This will help.”  She then placed a gigantic jump rope across my lap.  I could barely move let alone wiggle out of my chair.  Eventually, the big jump rope disappeared, and Miss Hayes used even more drastic measures – she tied me to my chair.

One thing was for sure.  The way people acted was important, and I couldn’t figure out the formula.  (I have no idea how my parents survived.)

The Galatians were much like a kid who doesn’t have the ‘formula’.  Paul taught them about grace and listening to the Spirit, a non-formulaic way of knowing God.  Then Paul left.

Soon enough, along came some people who wanted to help them look like ‘normal’ Christians.  Here, let us help you.  These are the rules to being a Christian.  First you have to look this way, abide by Jewish rules – then you can experience real grace. The Galatians wanted a full experience.  They were willing to do whatever it took.

The problem was that the people who brought in the Jewish law brought in a covenant that taught people to look at themselves as different.  Where were they looking?  At themselves.  Where did God want them to look?  At Him.  The reason Jesus died on the cross was to fulfill the old covenant so that people would be free to look at God and let Him do the work on the inside of their hearts.

New behavior now comes out of new focus and regeneration, not outward training.

In the beginning of Galatians 3, Paul asks five major questions:

  • Who has bewitched you?
  • Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?
  • After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
  • Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing?
  • Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

He is asking:  Are you crazy?  Don’t you remember why you have the Spirit to begin with?  This isn’t just another religion.  You have come so far and it hasn’t been easy – why have you fallen to trying to do it on your own?

Here are my questions today:

  • When someone comes to Christ, do we rejoice in their freedom, or do we give them a month or two and then start trying to show them how to be a ‘real’ Christian?
  • Do we focus on outward things, or do we teach people how to focus on God and let Him do the work?
  • It is so much harder to teach people to listen to Jesus and do what He says than it is to teach them how to conform to a standard.  It is easier to get people ‘cleaned up’ and then teach them to follow Jesus than it is to teach them to follow Jesus in their broken down, falling apart lives that are usually filled with other people who don’t know Him.
  • When excellent leadership teaches us to ‘duplicate ourselves’, are we trying to duplicate our ability to spend hours on our face in carpet-eating prayers because we haven’t got a clue, or are we trying to duplicate our put-together selves that we got as a result?

When a leader disappoints

November 13, 2009

Right in the middle of this letter of confrontation, Paul describes how he confronted Peter.

Have you ever been tempted to not live up to your ideals?  Have you ever been disappointed by a leader who didn’t live out what they preached?

This passage is terrific for two reasons. First, we will see the temptations of a leader, and second, we will see the incredibly gracious way that Paul confronts Peter.

Temptation of a Leader

  • “before certain men came from James” – Sometimes get our brain on backwards and begin to perform for all of the voices in our lives instead of the ‘audience of One’ (God).  We view ourselves in light of how others ‘might’ see us.  We place others’ opinions in place of God so that we no longer see ourselves the way He sees us.
  • “he was afraid” – we act on others opinions instead of discerning the Word.
  • When you are in a position of leadership, people will follow you – no matter where you lead.  Make sure you are going where God wants people to go.

How Paul Confronted Peter

  1. He reminded Peter of his allegiance to the gospel
  2. He led with a question, comparing Peter’s actions to the gospel

It looks something like:  “You don’t eat wheat.  Why are you eating a scone?”  (yes, that was me on Tuesday.)  Direct, but not “you are such a hypocrite!  I can’t believe you could do this to me!… ”

There is definitely a difference in these two approaches.  Leaders are people and many times they disappoint us.  God give us the grace to hold them with the respect and honor we would want ourselves and confront them in a way that brings correction instead of destruction.

What to do when you may be wrong

November 12, 2009

(This is a continuation of our Galatians series.  If you missed the rest, you will find them here.)

Paul brought the gospel to the gentiles for 14 years.  He was a tent maker, so he didn’t become a great evangelist and make great money at it, wearing the latest robes, walking through the town square letting people pay tribute.  He had a pattern.  He went into a town, talked to the Jews, if they rejected the message of Christ, he went to the gentiles.

For 14 years, he went from town to town preaching the gospel.  Barnabas was his constant companion.  Along the way, Titus joined him.  We know from Acts that he made friends in many of the towns, people valued his ministry and were willing to listen to his direction as he sent them letters from other parts of the Mediterranean world.

But then an issue arose.  Probably at first, there were some detractors, but the issue became large enough that it began to interfere with Paul’s ministry.  People began saying that Paul’s approach to the gospel was wrong.  These men were very serious.  They felt that one had to follow Jewish custom in order to partake of the grace offered by Jesus.  The tension caused by this group reached such a pitch that you can hear the juices churning in Paul’s stomach as he describes them to the Galatians:

“This matter arose, because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.  We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.” (2:4-5)

I think it is interesting that Paul didn’t call them “warmongers” or “tools of the enemy” or something.  He called them “ones who ostensibly know Christ but don’t have Christian knowledge or piety” (false brothers).   Paul treated them as people who were ignorant and questioned their witness, but he didn’t take their arguments lightly as we will see.

With the pressure on, and stomach juices churning, Paul finally decided to do something about it.  So today, we get to learn from his example.

What to do when people say you are wrong:

  1. Be humble.  Paul was willing to be wrong.
  2. Find the most reputable authorities that you can and get their input.  Paul went to Peter, James and John.  He presented his entire message to them and asked for their review.  Paul told the Galatians that it wasn’t because they were important, but because they knew God best.
  3. Be willing to accept the review findings.
  4. Let the end be the end.  You will always have opponents.  Don’t let them get in your head.  If you have good people walking with you, keeping you on track, AND you stay in humble acceptance of their reviews, then you need to stay focused on doing what God has called you to do.

Discern Good Theology

November 6, 2009

So far in our study of Galatians 1, we have discovered that in order to stay focused on following Jesus, you need to:

1. Know God’s Voice

2.  Have Mentors and Let Them Speak Into Your Life.

Today, we discover that you also need to be discerning.

3.  Double Check What You Hear

Don’t blindly follow anyone. Everyone who isn’t God is fallible. If 20th and 21st Century living has taught us anything, it is that even the most connected, upright people can be royal screw ups.

Seriously, even double check yourself. Sometimes we can come up with really great theology because we went on a carb binge – then, when we bring it to the light of day and a good scripture reflection, we discover it is total rubbish.

Paul knew this. He said “But even is we… should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you.” Don’t forget to include yourself in the people whose doctrine you are double checking.

Where do you think bad theologies come from? Many of them come from (usually) wonderful people who love God, and experienced Him dramatically (either in a positive or negative situation), and want everyone else to do so as well. They then “discern” a theology based on their experience, thereby letting their experience speak to scripture, instead of letting scripture speak to their experience. We call this “experiential theology”.

When your focus become how you have experienced God, instead of God himself, you begin to miss God little by little until you have missed Him entirely.

So, spend time with God, listening to Him (reading His Word and praying), have mentors who speak into your life, and let scripture be your guide.