Justified by Faith ~ Freedom in Christ

Welcome to Galatia. Where life by many is lived by the law. Where your merit and what you do, means more than anything. This idea of, what do you do?; in contrast to, Who do you follow? Or the question of, what law or rules are you following? instead of,  Who do you have a relationship with?

The book of Galatians has been called the charter of Christian Freedom according to a couple study bibles.  Who better to write this letter than apostle Paul (formerly Saul). The story of Paul’s miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus is necessary story to the people in Galatia, it is necessary to us, it is necessary to me. Here’s a reminder. (Acts 26:5-23) As I reflect on this story, I think that when the Lord gives you an opportunity today write down or share your “Damascus Road” experience with someone who needs Christ will I? Will you

Paul wrote this letter to defend his apostleship and to defend the authority of the Gospel. To help the Galatians turn from legalism to faith in Jesus. This issue can still be present today where we try to earn God’s favor through doing so many things, following rituals, or obeying a set of rules.  I found a great reminder for myself in Our Daily Bread: Rhythms of Grace. It reminded me to take a second to pause and take inventory of your life: “If you find that Christianity exhausts you, draining you of your energy, then you are practicing religion rather than enjoying your relationship with Jesus. Your walk with the Lord will not make you weary; it will invigorate you, restore your strength, and energize your life” ( Matthew 11:28-29)

Paul gives a realistic picture of the challenges of transitioning from a religion based on rules to one based on a relationship with Jesus Christ. From a life based on entitlement, to one given through grace; to a life not lived out through our flesh, but through the power of the Holy Spirit.

So are we working for Him, or walking with Him? While you read through Galatians be reminded that we are justified by faith not just the law. ( Galatians 2:20 Galatians 3:10-11) That our list of do’s and don’ts doesn’t confine us, it is our relationship with the Lord. We have freedom in our faith in Christ alone.  He is all we need now and for eternity. (1 John 2:1-2)

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for your grace. I accept that I am just like everyone else and can’t do any of this life on my own.  We are imperfect in so many ways and prone to sin. There is nothing we can do that makes me better than anyone else.  You love us so much you gave yourself up on the cross for me. That’s a grace so amazing that I can’t wrap my head around it, I can only accept this free gift and know that I’m saved.  I pray for guidance and willingness to submit the rest of my life to you.  That as we walk together I grow my faith and serve you with continued joy.  As we read through Galatians keep your words through Paul in our hearts.

Amen

 

Lost Letters

Have you ever talked with someone about things in their life that were hurting them? It could have been alcohol, drugs, abuse, lying, meanness… the list can go on.  Maybe you have taken it even a step further and intentionally took time to mentor, coach, or were directive and intentional about sharing steps to help lead that person to a place that would change their life for the positive. Prayerfully eternal changes.  Really, a life closer to God.

If you have children I know this is part of our daily parenting.  Besides our own children who we will leave our biggest impact on, who are you filling into? Who are you guiding, planting seeds of hope, and eternal future?  Personally,  I know I can and need to be more intentional in my conversations and recognize the need from others. To be more courageous in sharing God’s love. I plan to use some of the tips shared yesterday from Jillian in The Last Word is Love.

Next question, has there been a time where you were mentoring and it seemed like it had worked? Like it was all good.  Coaching success!  Then unfortunately, you find out they are back to their old ways.  The bad habit had crept back in and the pressures of our worldly desires or influences took hold and brought them back to where they were, maybe worse.  Then to top it off, the person you were pouring into was making negative comments about you and your motives.  I personally can relate, I’ve been on both sides of this fence.  Most of my younger years the wrong side of the fence. This is where Paul was when he started to write 2 Corinthians. Paul was feeling saddened, frustrated, displeased at the church he had founded just four years earlier. He thought they had listened and his previous letter giving specific instructions to moral issues. In this letter Paul shows courage to speak up to those who were slandering him and his ministry, Paul defends our God against those who were twisting the truth.

In referring to a couple study bibles on the themes for 2 Corinthians here are reflecting points as we read and reflect.

  • Suffering/Trials – Paul had experienced it all.  Suffering, persecution, he paid a price for service to Christ and the gospel. 2 Cor. 6:3-13,  2 Cor. 11:16 -33. Reminder – God is faithful. He will provide the strength we need for any trial.
  • Giving – 2 Cor. 8 and 9 Paul lays out detailed ways of giving. Reminder for us is our giving and generosity of whatever helps those in need and allows them to thank God.
  • Sound Doctrine/Apologetic’s – Paul shares how to represent Christ. The boldness to share the gospel and boast in the grace that we have all received.  Paul does all this with Love.  2 Cor. 12:7-10

As we read through 2 Corinthians notice how Paul affirms, defends, and stands up to false teachers. Corinth was full of people who wanted to do everything their own way.  Making others look bad by talking about them.  Paul reminds them, he reminds us, that they are a new creation, ambassadors for Christ. 2 Cor. 5:17-20.  That in all the stress, anxieties that they go through, that we go through, it is encouraging to know that God has a divine plan for us to be part of His eternal kingdom.  So our mission while in this temporal world is to point others that way and to please Him.  2 Cor. 5:9

I recently read that Paul had written 2 other letters to the Corinthians and now they are physically lost.  Let’s not lose these and their instructions for us.

 

Dear Father,

As we read your word today we pray for the courage of Paul to always want to please you.  To be ambassadors for you and to let others know about the grace you have given us and them. That these worldly desires that the Corinthians face and we face today are temporal, and that the indescribable gift of a “new creation” covered by Your love is available to everyone.  We pray for obedience in all we do and a heart that will boast of Your love and goodness always.  We pray to listen and follow Your will until the day you come to take us home to you. Amen

 

References:

Tyndale Life Applications Study Bible

The Jeremiah Study Bible

Take Root

Matthew 13

Matthew 13 contains 7 parables to help explain faith and the Kingdom of Heaven. We will focus on the parable the sower.

Jesus first tells of seeds which fell along the path and were eaten by birds. He clarifies this is those who hear the message, but don’t understand and accept it. He then tells of seeds that fell on rocky soil. He clarifies that here he is describing those that gladly hear the Good News, but lose faith when trouble and persecution come. The Word did not “sink in” so to speak like the seeds did not sink in the soil. He then tells of seeds that fell among the thorn bushes. These seeds grow up, but are choked out by the worries of this life, the love of riches and the world. Finally, Jesus tells of seeds sown in the good soil which sunk in and bore great grain. This is describing those that hear the message, understand it, and bear fruit by living it out in their everyday lives.

A few years ago I told my wife how thankful I was for the blessings we have received, but that I was also fearful for how I would react when we faced what I perceived as some “real” challenges others have faced. We know that challenges will come because James 1:2 says “when” trials come and not “if.” I had attended church my whole life, but how do we make sure our faith is strong and the seeds are planted deep in the good soil? Is going to church regularly enough? Would that prepare us?

In order for the seeds to be buried deep and take root, we must have a strong relationship with Jesus. In fact, Jesus specifically directs us to do so…

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5 ESV

How do we foster that relationship with Him? Find a church that focuses on the Bible and sees it as the truth and never changing with time, despite what modern day culture tries to tell us. Next, be in the Word daily (finding a daily devotional helps) to provide a constant and consistent message of instruction and direction. Be in prayer throughout the day to be in communication with God and keep our heart in the right place. Join a Bible study/small group to create a community of believers and friends that can help facilitate and hold us accountable to growing our relationship with Him and our faith. There are many other great spiritual habits and disciplines. These are just a few we focused on.

Since that conversation, we have faced some new challenges we had not before, and I believe we were better prepared to face those. Putting on the armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) to create a relationship with Jesus allows us to move forward with confidence each day in knowing we are equipped to face trials and tribulations.

So, how do we now make sure we are not like that seeds that grew up among the thorn bushes and are choked out by the love of riches and the world? There is good news. The answer and steps are the same..let the seeds take root deep in the good soil through putting on the armor of God to create a relationship with Jesus!

What is one thing will you focus on in 2017 to strengthen your relationship with Christ?

Contemplating Life As Worship

If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. -1 Peter 4:11

The entirety of our lives is made up of what we think, say and do. Our active and passive response to what we are born into, what happens to us, and our surroundings — situations that unfold.

Whether we see it our not, God is the author of life; of our lives. Each breath we breathe is from God. His plan includes us. Part of that plan is our free will, our ability to uniquely decide how we’ll respond to the world as it presents itself, including interaction with each other.

Through studying the Bible and from insights gleaned from friends and sages, I have come to believe I should glorify God in all things, making my life a constant act of worship. But without some understanding of who God is, this is difficult. Even though God’s revelation is available to us all and His law is written on our hearts, it seems impossible to consistently glorify God.

If I was able to subjugate every thought, and every word, and every deed to God’s power; or to fully understand His purposes and His perfect plan for my life, who would I be then? It’s worth thinking about. A life focused on giving glory and power to God in all things — a perfect life, perfect alignment with God’s perfect will.

My hunch is this would be better than any life I could dream up, construct, or will into existence on my own. It’s crazy to think about this perfect life I am unlikely to attain — yet by my faith in Jesus, and through His grace, God considers me worthy of total righteousness, offering me a different kind of life. One in which I am able to receive God’s love as if I were His perfect child.

Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross offers the best example of God’s perfect love. This is the reason I choose to surrender all, bowing down to the maker of heaven and earth.

Thank you God for giving me freedom in the deliverance from my sin, through my submission to you. Thy will, not mine be done, as it is in heaven and on earth. Amen.

1 Chronicles 23; 1 Peter 4; Micah 2; Luke 11

All You Need Is Love

When Jesus speaks of the perfect life, He is very clear: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” -Luke 10:27. In perfect love, God desires our wellbeing, our fellowship and obedience.

Obedience is a hard word for me to hear, let alone to say or do! But obedience to God’s precepts ultimately make us better, stronger, healthier and happier. God’s law is no longer imposed, but encouraged in love. It’s not offered in oppression, but in freedom from sin through a life of tangible fellowship with the Creator of the Universe. Obedience to a perfect God is to seek the love Jesus speaks of.

Love gets more complicated when we are concerned for our well being, when others threaten our way of life, our freedom or interests. This is when we must chose between our own understanding or trusting God.

I am fascinated by the intensity of the discourse after this very unusual and surprising election. I have had to remind myself that God is eternally sovereign and we are not.

Living out our faith is about love in action, showing love without favoritism, loving the unlovable, practicing grace and gratitude. It is helpful to recognize our hypocrisy and self-righteousness, avoiding demagoguery, so easily embraced.

Personal spiritual transformation is the true source of social change. It is born in Love. God’s Spirit guides us. There is no other way.

God is sovereign and everything, even political power, comes from Him or is allowed by Him.

We have a lifetime of opportunity to live out values like kindness, humility, forgiveness, bravery, sacrifice, integrity, generosity, and compassion. We might easily claim these as our own, and overlook them in others, but love is the champion of justice and truth.

More than anything Jesus is saying to me, “trust God, surrender all to Him and love each other like there is no tomorrow.”

Perhaps John Lennon had it right; “all you need is love!”

1 Chronicles 15; James 2. Secret: Amos 9; Luke 4

A New Covenant

But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.Hebrews 8:8-9

As I read about this New Covenant I wonder: Why did we need one? How does it work?

God once made a covenant with His chosen people. These were the descendants of Noah, and the children of Abraham. He promised to bless them and save them; and to save the world through them. They, in exchange were bound to his law, essentially the Ten Commandments. Law that focused primarily on loving God and each other, putting God above all while striving for purity and relying on ritual sacrifice to receive God’s atonement for sin.

As I read through the book of Kings and 2Kings, it reinforces the tremendous disappointment God experienced in the almost constant rebellion of his people. Though God appeared at crucial times, rescuing His chosen people, offering many signs and wonders, still they turned away — worshiping other gods, sacrificing their children, and leaning on their own understanding.

The New Covenant came despite God’s disappointment, perhaps even because of it. It came as an expression of His constant love for people. This is not His plan “B” but the final reconciliation, through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Considering our tendency to rebel, it’s remarkable God extends salvation to us. When we receive God’s grace, in an instant our sins are washed away and we are made righteous by faith! No longer under the power of the law, we are set free in Christ and given freedom to pursue a relationship with the one true God. A holy God who declares our innocence, though we are guilty. A self-sacrificing God, who takes our place on the cross and dies for our sins so we don’t have to.

The New Covenant is based on an act of love that restores the fullness of God’s intended relationship with us — His created beings. Once set free from sin, we are able to pursue holiness in the power of God’s Holy Spirit and a life in the presence of a living God who offers everything we cannot attain on our own. In this way we are blessed with peace, freedom, power and joy in the truth and security of an eternal, dynamic relationship with the very creator of the universe! This is the New Covenant. Thank you God!

Reading: 1 Chronicles 1–2; Hebrews 8; Amos 2; Psalm 145

Dragonfly

In the faint light of a cool and certain world, three nymphs in a pond clung to a reed. In somber tones they discussed the departure of a friend. Why did he leave us? The young one asked. Seems strange to leave the world we know for one we don’t. I can’t imagine a better life than ours. Why don’t they ever come back?

The elder spoke. No one has ever returned from above, so we don’t know what it’s like. When you look up, all you see is a distant light, a bluish haze at the edge of the void.

As his friends descended back to the mud, the elder remained. The urge drawing him to the surface grew stronger. He began to ascend the reed, slowly towards the light. Eventually he broke the surface into the blinding sun. Groggy from the climb he stopped near the top of the reed and fell into a deep sleep.

When he awakened he felt he couldn’t breathe. The shell that had protected him for so long had become too small. Then just as it was squeezing the life from him, unexpectedly the center of his back cracked open and four wet gossamer wings emerged, unfolding majestically into the warmth of the sun. Then his body, with unforeseen skill climbed free from its shell, out into a new world. Soon the wings dried off as his eyes adjusted to a new world, unimagined — a world of dazzling colors and strange new shapes.

Then, as if he had always done it; his wings began to move at an incredible speed, alive with power, effortlessly lifting off the reed he flew. He hovered and darted back and forth across the surface of the pond, wondering about his friends below. This was what he was meant to be. To soar in the light above and begin his true life.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. -2 Corinthians 3:18

The life of a Christ follower, if it is anything, is a life of transformation through faith in action. Spiritual formation is the process of Christ’s likeness forming in us — His attributes of unconditional love, sacrifice and righteousness becoming ours. This is the miraculous transformation that we are called to and made for; practical as it is mysterious.

A few years ago I was at the funeral of my brother’s wife’s grandmother, Freda. She had lived the life of a Christ follower. Her funeral was a celebration of her as a beloved child, a young woman, wife, mother, grandmother and great grandmother, now passing into the next realm.

This realm, Christians believe, is an incredible place, found in the fullness of the presence and glory of the living God — for all eternity. Though finer details are subject to speculation, by faith we look forward to an eternity with no tears, in a place filled with the brightest light of truth and love. A realm beyond our wildest imagination.

At the funeral, many of Freda’s family shared fond memories and stories about her abundant love and other-centeredness. Then the Pastor shared a story about the metamorphosis of a Dragonfly. I loved his metaphor and its revelation about the mystery and splendor of eternal life. About an existence we are destined for — one we never fully appreciate in the here-and-now.

When I looked further into this illustration, I found other versions, stories and poems. Perhaps this analogy has been used for centuries to tenderly explain death and offer hope to grieving survivors. For me it was a tale about spiritual transformation and a reference to the great divide between this life and the next.

I find it remarkable that nature offers an abundance of great metaphors amidst the splendor and complexity of God’s creation.  We are so blessed with this revelation. God speaks without words.

The coolest thing about spiritual transformation is that as we grow in Christ, He grows in us. We don’t have to wait for the next life to experience or understand His power. As we change, becoming citizens of another kingdom, we are increasingly given eyes to see and ears to hear. Enabled to understand the truth.

Ours is not a blind faith, it is a faith realized in our daily transformation, as we follow Christ. Eternal life beyond our wildest hope waits for us, but it is only by faith that we truly see beyond the pale.

We live by faith not by sight. -2 Corinthians 5:7

Daily reading: 2 Kings 11–12; 2 Timothy 2; Hosea 3–4; Psalm 119:121–144

Autumn Blessing

What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me? -Psalm 116:12

In the pale light of an October evening, I sat on my patio — under the yellow rain of the locust trees, crows cawing back and forth. The cool air was filled with the smell of distant smoke as I sat wondering: How could I be so blessed?

In this tranquil place I had broken bread with my family and friends, sharing stories of our lives that intertwined like vines in a vineyard, planted and grafted, pruned and picked. Not all bore the best fruit, but the ones that did were special.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.John 15:1-2

Vineyards At Sunset

Why was I so fortunate? Honestly I couldn’t think of anything that I had done to deserve all that I had been given. A strong and healthy family. A beautiful, patient, loyal and loving wife. Three amazing boys, all so different. My businesses had been prosperous in ways that made it hard for me to take the credit.

It had also been a life that revealed the hand of God in the splendor of creation.

Scenery Of High Mountain With Lake And High Peak On A Clear Day

A litany of people offering hope and direction to a scrawny freckled faced boy, and then to an arrogant young man. People investing time in me along the way, wanting nothing in return. Now I worked with trusted partners in collaborations reaching farther than I ever could have imagined. Still, I had this feeling there was more to my life.

The feeling I had on this crisp Autumn day was more than abundant gratitude, recognizing God’s incredible grace. It was a sense of responsibility, but not burdensome — more like the anticipation of greater opportunities around the next bend. Yes I had been given much and there was a reason for this, a reason I wanted to understand.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.John 15:5

Nothing that was given to me was really mine. I had been entrusted with knowledge and treasures beyond my wildest dreams; perhaps even wisdom. I had been the unworthy recipient of unconditional love; this was the greatest gift of all. Yet when I finally realized that I was only the steward of these gifts, now I had to decide how better to use them.

In the brightness of Autumn it became clear, by surrendering all to God, the fulfillment of my purpose was possible. This was now my greatest opportunity.

Today’s reading: 2 Kings 4; 1 Timothy 1; Daniel 8; Psalm 116

Demonstrating Faith

“Be the change you want to see in the world!” Gandhi

The first rule of story telling is “show, don’t tell,” and it applies to every aspect of good communication.

“Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” St Francis of Assisi might have said this, and certainly others have used this idea to teach us that, our actions speak louder than our words. How we share the “Good News” of our salvation through Jesus may depend on our circumstances, but it is a thing that we should be doing constantly. This is both the by-product of our transformed lives and our obedient response to His teachings. All of this is the blossom of our faith.

“And we also thank God continually because when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe”. -1Thessalonians 2:13

Understanding who we are to God is one of the most private and personal things we can do. But when this occurs, one of the most natural responses is to shout it from the roof tops. This is evangelicalism, and it also happens to line up with the request of Christ in the great commission. In His own words; He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. (Mark 16:15) Not only preach it but….”go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” (Matthew 28:19).

The problem here is nobody wants to be told what to think or believe. We all have a tendency to want to figure this out for ourselves.  So how do we as Christians proclaim God’s revelation in a way that best glorifies God? The answer is simple, sort of. We must BE the truth. We must think and say and do the very things that Christ encourages us to do. It is then that we become compelling evidence of the wonder and power of God’s spirit living through people who turn to Him. It’s simple really, just follow Christ, the rest is easy.

Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done. Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts. Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. Look to the Lord and his strength; seek his face always. Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced, O descendants of Abraham his servant, O sons of Jacob, his chosen ones. -Psalm 105:1-6

1 Kings 19; 1 Thessalonians 2; Daniel 1; Psalm 105

The Bible: God’s Love Story

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. -Galatians 1:11-12

Does God love us enough to choose to communicate? I used to wonder about this, I no longer do.

Was the Bible written by man? In a sense, I suppose it was. But does it also have Divine origins? More fundamentally; is there a God who created us, who intervenes at times, having actually stepped into our world as one of us?

After a lifetime of contemplation and prayer, I can only conclude YES!

Christianity is often maligned for being exclusive and arrogant. But if in fact God exists, and has chosen a certain path of revelation, then doesn’t it follow that any information that brings that story into light is worth exploring?

The Bible offers this opportunity by sharing the amazing story of our reconciliation with God. Not for the pious and the self-righteous, but for those of us who are at times broken, struggling to understand morality and hungry for truth. I have found the Bible to be more than a codex for life. It is a powerful love story about rebellion, redemption and salvation. This is a story we all need to understand.

Man is man and God is God — holy and separate from us. Yet it is by His grace that we are redeemed. We are not called to seek adoration or please people, but to love others. Doing this isn’t easy in our limited power. But in our surrender and contrition we receive God’s power to love; not in our strength but in our weakness.

We are made to be the instruments of God — instruments of love.

In the Bible, Jesus instructs us to have genuine concern for ALL PEOPLE. Not in arrogance or judgement, but in humility, service and sacrifice. When I live with an attitude of grace and gratitude I demonstrate a spirit of peace, kindness, and warmth towards others. And this power comes from God.

It’s not surprising that only God demonstrates constant, pure and perfect love. As Christ, God provided the perfect and ultimate example. He calls out through time, to all humanity, inviting us to follow.

I would rather be a Christ Follower than anything else. In the Bible Jesus teaches us by His life, death, burial and resurrection; and that it is possible to be in harmony with God. It is also possible to love other people unconditionally. When I am able to do this I am able to truly love myself. Then my possibilities are aligned with my purpose. Only then am I able to achieve my fullest potential and to bare the fruit of the spirit.

Thank you God for loving me, so that I, in turn, am able to genuinely love you and others. May others see your love in me. Amen.

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. -Matthew 7:16-18

Today’s reading link: 2 Samuel 21; Galatians 1; Ezekiel 28; Psalm 77