Sunday, June 30, 2013

Put Galatians Back on the New Testament Shelf

BibleBookcase


Congratulations! Get ready for Ephesians after the 4th of July holiday on Tuesday.

Galatians 6 - Selfishness to Selflessness

LINK: Galatians 6


BACKGROUND


Warren Wiersbe has this great formula:
liberty + love = service to othersliberty - love = license (slavery to sin)
(Be Free (Galatians): Exchange Legalism for True Spirituality (The BE Series Commentary))
Warren Wiersbe's commentaries are my favorite. They are so very practical!


In light of believers receiving a gospel of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, Paul exhorts the Galatians that they are now free to help others by restoring friends who have fallen into sin and carrying their burdens (6:1-5), helping pastors and teachers by supporting them financially (6:6-10), and serving others (especially our brothers and sisters in Christ) out of the pure motive of love (6:10-18).

REFLECTION


Below is a devotional I wrote for a marriage retreat. It can apply to all of our relationships (parents, children, friends, coworkers, significant others). So, please don't ignore it if you are single. :) 



Live creatively, friends.
If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him,
saving your critical comments for yourself.
You might be needing forgiveness before the day's out.

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.

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.
(Galatians 6:1, 4-5, 7-8, The Message)

Take some time to slowly read through these verses. Read a little, stop and reflect, and read a little more. Now, read through them a second time: slowly, line by line, maybe reading aloud and emphasizing particular words like “forgivingly restore.”  Now read through it one more time. Don’t rush through it. Interact with the words.  Read it like you would rest in a warm bath or linger over a tasty treat.

Now, write down the passage in a journal. Then, rewrite it and personalize it in your own words.

Meditation on God’s word takes time. Don’t rush through this part. “Your words were found, and I ate them, and they became for me the joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).

These words are so important to absorb and apply in a practical way in our marriage. Some of the key things in this passage to consider include:

Forgivingly Restore (6:1) – In the original language this means “to mend, as a net, or to restore a broken bone.”  When we sin and especially when we sin against one another in marriage, like a broken bone, there is a broken relationship that needs mending! If we look at this verse within the context of the book of Galatians, we learn that Paul’s case for extending this forgiving restoration to others is because we have been forgiven and restored by God. When we live in grace and walk by the Spirit, we pass it on! Take some private time to have some restoration time with God, thanking Him for His grace toward you. Then, pray about areas in your relationship with your spouse where you need to extend grace and forgiveness.

Cancel Critical Comments (6:1) – They can kill a relationship. Sometimes, we need to not say what is first on our mind to our spouse. We need to press PAUSE and think through it.  My husband does this more naturally than I do. I have had to learn that when I want to do a bit of nagging about something he does that annoys me, I consider how graciously he “puts up” with me. Even more so, I think about what God has to “put up” with both of us, and I gain a whole new perspective!  God is so gracious and patient with us. We can be gracious and patient with one another. Once when I was winding up to make a critical reply in response to a relative who was yelling at us, George saw my face and quickly handed me a note that said, “We must extend grace, Carol.”  What a concept: I could make a conscious decision to hold my tongue. I could pray. I could “overlook the offense” (Proverbs 19:11) because there were deeper reasons for that relative’s outburst. Proverbs 19:11 in The Message says, “Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget.”  Critical comments kill, gracious responses bring life.

Do Careful Self-Exploration (6:5-6) – This is a good way to apply the point made above. Take some time to do some careful “sanctified” self-exploration (different from morose introspection). Instead of giving a list of grievances to your spouse, take an honest look at yourself. We cannot change our spouse, but we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5), allow God to change us. We have enough to tend to with our own lives. While we live interdependently with our spouse and as “one flesh,” we have separate choice mechanisms and cannot make choices for the other. So rather than comparing yourself with the other spouse and evaluating where that spouse falls short and you reign supreme, take an honest look at yourself, evaluating your strengths, weaknesses, and limitations. Then, “sink yourself” into that. Then, prayerfully ask God to change you from the inside out in those things that do not honor Him and to develop your strengths for His glory. Taking responsibility for yourself is a much better use of your time and can transform all your relationships.


Choose Selflessness Over Selfishness (6:7-8) – The choice we make in this area confronts us every day of our marriage. Do we choose to live only to please ourselves, concerned with what we can get out of rather than what we can give in the relationship? The biblical principle is clear: we reap what we sow. If we sow selfishness, ignoring our spouse’s needs and ignoring the Holy Spirit, we reap fruitless, unpleasant things! But when we live selflessly, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit, we reap blessings beyond self. 2 Corinthians 9:6 in The Message says, “Remember, a stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop.” The context of this passage is talking about giving money, but it can apply to giving in all areas. In my singleness, my mentors modeled a selfless marriage, each giving lavishly to the other. The wife would often pray that God would give me a selfless spouse. Maybe you feel like you have a selfish spouse. But following on the principles of the above three points, you can 1) forgive them for what you feel you are not getting, 2) cancel your critical comments toward them, and 3) carefully examine your own life in regard to your own selfishness. Jesus gave us the ultimate example because He “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Prayerfully imagine a marriage where you were both making a conscious choice to follow God in giving unselfishly to the other. What a harvest of “real living” that would be!

APPLICATION

D.L. Moody once said, “The Scriptures were not given to increase our knowledge but to change our lives.” We are not to just admire God’s Word. We are to apply it! This application goes beyond just this retreat weekend and can have a significant impact on your life and marriage.
Here are some things to consider doing:

  • Keep track of how many critical comments you verbalize to your spouse in a 24 hour period. Also evaluate your selfish attitudes and acts. Don’t count the ones made toward you, but the ones you made to your spouse.
  • Find a trusted friend who can give you some honest feedback. Ask them what they have observed in your speech and conduct toward your spouse. Then, ask them to pray for and hold you accountable in the next two steps.
  • Evaluate the above before God, and as He leads, acknowledge any sin to God and ask for forgiveness when appropriate.
  • Then, prayerfully ask God how you can say and do things to build up and encourage your spouse; focusing on his or her strengths rather than weaknesses. “Watch the way you talk . . . say words helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:19, The Message/NIV).

"Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener
when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other.
Act on what you hear!" (James 1:22, The Message)


PRAYER


Lord, thank You for freedom. Help us to love others selflessly because of Your great love for us. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Galatians 5 - Sins of the Flesh versus Fruits of the Spirit

LINK: Galatians 5


BACKGROUND


"Legalists in our churches today warn that we dare not teach people
 about the liberty we have in Christ lest it result in religious anarchy. 
The Christian who lives by faith is not going to be a rebel. 
Quite the contrary, he is going to experience the inner discipline of God
 that is far better than the outer discipline of man-made rules."
Warren Wiersbe 

Galatians 1-4 deals with doctrine. Galatians 5-6 deals with practically living that doctrine out in our lives.

Christ has set us free. We do not need to fall back into the Law. We can stay free and stand firm in that. We do not have to worry that this will lead us back into ungodliness because if we walk by the Spirit (5:16), we will be led into a life of love and service.  The Greek word, peripateite, is in the present imperative and means to "keep on walking" which implies it is a moment-by-moment choice on the part of the believer. It requires a yielding to the Holy Spirit's control in everything rather than yielding to the old nature that we inherited from the fall of Adam. 

The remainder of the chapter goes into specific sins of the flesh contrasted with fruits of the Spirit.  If one habitually indulges in sins of the flesh, it gives evidence that they are not a child of God.  The fruit of the Spirit of God working through the life of a believer in union with Christ (John 15 is the key) will be evident. These qualities can be grouped in this way:
In the mind - love, joy, peace  
In the actions towards others - patience, kindness, goodness 
In general conduct - faithfulness, gentleness, self-control
If we belong to Christ, the evil passions of the flesh have been crucified. Since we have life in the Spirit, we can walk by the Spirit, and we can walk in unity. 

APPLICATION


Meditate on John 15. 
Are you abiding in Christ today? 
Are you obeying the flesh or the Spirit?


PRAYER


Lord, lead us on into liberty in Christ that frees us to love and serve others. Teach us to abide in You so that we might walk in the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Galatians 4 - Bondage to Freedom

LINK: Galatians 4


BACKGROUND


"It is doubtful if there is any greater joy on earth than the joy of being free. 
And the ecstasy is heightened if a person has once been in bondage, 
held captive by a power that is impossible to overcome. 
Being liberated from such clutches brings pleasure beyond description."
Charles Swindoll


In this chapter, Paul gives three more arguments to prove his case that justification by grace is superior to the Law. In review, here are the first six from Galatians 3:

1) The Galatians were saved by faith, not the Law. (3:1-5)


2) Abraham, who lived long before the Law, was saved by faith. (3:6-9)


3) The Law could never justify but only brings judgment. (3:10-14)


4) Abraham entered into a binding contract with God 430 year before the Law was given to Moses. The Law was temporary, but faith is permanent. (3:15-18)


5) The purpose of the law was to set a standard that would show us our sin and our need for the unmerited love of God through the gift of Christ. (3:19-25)


6) Grace by faith in Christ transforms us from children to adopted adult sons in living union with Christ, and we are all united as brothers and sisters. (3:26-29)  


Here are the next three in Galatians 4:


7) The Law means slavery but grace moves a person to all the rights and privileges of adult sons. (4:1-11)


This is really an elaboration of the previous argument in Galatians 3. Usually, a child does not come into his inheritance until he is an adult. In the meantime, he is like a slave with trustees in charge of his inheritance until he becomes an adult.  The Law was like the trustee, but the Galatians were now mature, adult sons. Under grace, they had the full rights and privileges that that entailed. 


Christ set them free from slavery. Why would they want to go back? The Gentiles were free from the bondage of paganism. Why would they want to be subject to another kind of slavery in the Law?  God sent the Holy Spirit as a down payment of their inheritance (Ephesians 1:14) so that they could be more intimate with God than they ever could be following the Law.  Because of this, Paul exhorted them not to let the Judaizers convince them to follow weekly Sabbaths and the festivals like Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles in order to gain God's favor. (They can be very helpful to understand our relationship with God, but they are no longer a "requirement" for those who are free in Christ Jesus.) Christ, as a Jew and born under the Law, kept the Law perfectly, fulfilled it (Matthew 5:17), and redeemed them from the curse of it (Galatians 3:13). There was no need to go back to it. 


8) The Law cannot lead them toward maturity because it had separated them as intimate friends. (4:12-20)


The Galatians had received him with joy. Now they treated him like an enemy for telling them the truth. They were turning against this good news of grace and its messenger. The Judaizers sought them out to compete with Paul and flatter themselves, but Paul's motive was pure love for them. He longed for their growth to full maturity. They could not reach it following the Law. 

9) A final argument by allegory. (4:21-31)


Click on the Genesis 21 post to have this allegory explained in context. Scroll down to Part II of the BACKGROUND section. 


REFLECTION


I looked legalism in the face recently, and it sort of blew me away. I do not make it a habit of hanging out with legalistic people. They are pretty unhappy, but sometimes I get caught thinking I will just love them right into the grace of God. Sometimes it is an utter failure. This time it sort of went that way.  


The person is not free and still lives under self-imposed legalistic standards of right and wrong. I saw it in the way that person talked disparagingly about others. There was a right way to live, act, talk, pursue God, etc, and those others were living the wrong way. I understand  that someone who belittles others is often deeply insecure and wants to elevate themselves above others to fill that deep insecurity. I think that legalism makes them feel better, but it is a trap.


I got trapped in listening mode to where I think that person thought I was agreeing with everything said about others. I made extremely feeble attempts to interject positive things about the other people or explain that their behavior was probably based on how God wired their personality or gifting (This helps me love people that rub me the wrong way, and I thought it might help this person too.), but sometimes I think it would have been better to just walk away and let it be known that I did not think it was OK to talk behind other people's backs. 

I hurt a friend deeply once because I did not stand up for her when others where crucifying her with their words when she was not there. I was paralyzed with fear. At that time, I took a walk with another person who was also very uncomfortable with the conversation, but I do not think anyone noticed. I do not know why I freeze up in those situations. I guess I am trying to avoid conflict. I try to justify it by saying that the person has valid points and is just venting because she has been hurt. Maybe it appeals to the legalist that still lurks in me at times too. I don't know. 



Listening to this person venting over a period of months got me in trouble. I do not think I was truly loving that person by letting it continue. Sadly, the legalism started getting directed at me. It kept coming until I thought the best thing I could do was to not be legalistic in return and extend a bit of grace and just pray. I want that person to be free. So, I can feel Paul's pain in Galatians 4. Grace brings believers together. The Law separates God's family. 


The whole thing made me really sad for that person and mad at myself. I think it is a process to really and truly understand the grace of God. When we are free, we can extend grace in every situation. It does not mean being lackadaisical about our or another person's sin, but it means abiding in Christ (John 15) and listening to the Spirit; letting Him make the call versus our own flesh. That is the movement of grace, and maybe it is not as complicated as we make it. I am still in process and understanding God's grace toward me in a deeper way through this situation. So maybe it was not an utter failure after all.


APPLICATION


Today, I am praying that God will reveal legalism that lurks in my own heart. I am praying for others to be free from their legalism (I have seen HUGE growth in this area with many of the younger people we are involved with lately, by the way.) 


I continue to recommend this book too:


Free for the taking: The life-changing power of grace

Free for the taking: The life-changing power of grace


My study in Galatians has made me realize that I need to read it again!

PRAYER


Thank You for the Good News that sets me free from slavery! Lord, reveal any legalism that lurks in my heart, and help me never to put my legalistic standards on others. Lord, teach us all to abide in You, listen to Your Spirit that You have given as a pledge of our inheritance. Help us to extend grace to others. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Galatians 3:15-29 - Hope for the Hopeless

LINK: Galatians 3


BACKGROUND


"The [role] of the law is to show us the disease 
in such a way that it shows us no hope of cure; 
whereas the [role] of the gospel is to bring a remedy
 to those who are past hope." 
John Calvin

I split this chapter into two days because the principles in it are so phenomenally important!



Paul gives six arguments to prove his case that justification by grace is superior to the law. Yesterday, we learned about the first three:
1) The Galatians were saved by faith, not the Law (3:1-5) 
2) Abraham, who lived long before the Law, was saved by faith (3:6-9) 
3) The Law could never justify but only brings judgment (3:10-14)
Today, we will learn about the last three!


4) Abraham entered into a binding contract with God 430 year before the Law was given to Moses. The Law was temporary, but faith is permanent. (3:15-18)


A Roman covenant was a permanent binding contract or will. It cannot be set aside or changed. God's promise of salvation to Abraham was permanent and could not be changed by a Law that came 430 years later. The promise was made to Abraham and his seed, Christ (Genesis 12:7; 13:15; 24:7, it is a singular noun). This meant that Christ would be the conveyor of the blessing. Faith has always been the permanent path to salvation. It is given as an unconditional gift to those who believe.  Even with the Law, in the interval between Abraham and Jesus, God's blessing has always been on the basis of faith alone. The Judaizers were teaching that the Law was the vehicle for salvation. 

5) The purpose of the Law was to set a standard that would show us our sin and our need for the unmerited love of God through the gift of Christ. (3:19-25 and see quote above)

The Law was added because of "transgressions" (3:19). This word means "'a stepping aside from the right track.' The law laid down a right track (perfect standard) and made people aware when they were deviating from that perfect path" (Holman New Testament Commentary - Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians (Reference Books, p. 38).  The Law was not meant to be permanent, and it ended when Christ came to fulfill the Law. It was also inferior because it needed a mediator (Moses and the angels) whereas the covenant with Abraham was directly from God to man and was dependent upon God to fulfill the contract because it was a promise. The Law depended on each party living up to the contract. 



While the Law did not give life, it did reveal to man that he was a prisoner to sin and condemned to judgment (Deuteronomy 27:26; Romans 3:9, 23). Before Christ, the Law was a "tutor."  This is explained in Holman New Testament Commentary - Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians (Reference Books), p.39):
A better translation is "custodian" or "strict nanny." In the Jewish culture a slave was assigned to each child to escort them to school and to assist in their supervision . . . This nanny was more like a stern sergeant who had the bark of a German shepherd and the bite of a Doberman pincher. Every time the child took liberties without permission on the path to school . . . or did something wrong, this authoritarian nanny pointed her fingers at the child and in no uncertain terms told the child what it had done wrong and delivered the punishment. By correlating the law with this nanny image, we learn that the law was given to point out sin and to threaten a great punishment if God's people didn't straighten up. Man's very inability  to obey this law perfectly, and thus earn God's approval, caused men and women to long for a better way to salvation and a relationship with God -- by grace. God brought hope to mankind's hopelessness [emphasis mine] in the most amazing way by sending Jesus Christ into the world. The law led us to Christ for forgiveness and righteousness.
6) Grace by faith in Christ transforms us from children to adopted adult sons in living union with Christ, and we are all united as brothers and sisters. (3:26-29)

We are no longer under a Jewish slave-guardian but united with Christ through baptism in the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). We are clothed with Christ. In Roman culture, the transition from youth to adult was symbolized by putting aside children's clothes and putting on an adult's toga (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 4:23-24). This adopted adult son status made all who believe united in Christ and equal in God's eyes. We are all heirs to the promise as Abraham's seed!



REFLECTION


"OK, I still have this question. I know that Jesus died for my sins. 
That He rose again, but why would He want to do that? I don't get it."


These were honest questions last night from a sincere seeker of God who has been studying the message of The Scarlet Thread of Redemption since November, starting with the life of Adam and proceeding on to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah, John the Baptist, and ending at the feet of Jesus. She is in the process of understanding grace (coming from a works-oriented faith tradition) and wouldn't you know that our discussion last night would land us in this chapter that I had been soaking in all day in preparation for this post today?  God has a way of doing that sort of thing. :)


We saw lights starting to flicker in her eyes as we pored over this chapter. She is still a seeker in process, and I love watching that transition from darkness to light. 


My coworkers and I were giddy with excitement after our study (one of them was so excited that I got to talk about the blood of Christ because she knows I love to talk about His blood). So, we went to Yogurt Extreme to discuss and pray until husbands called wondering why we had not yet come home. (All except mine who knows that I have a habit of doing this. So, he doesn't call the police until after midnight.) 


It doesn't get any better than this. God's grace is an exhilarating topic, and I am convinced that having discussions with sincere seekers of truth is way better than chocolate. 

APPLICATION


Rejoice in God's marvelous grace today and tell someone about it!


PRAYER


Lord, thank You for the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  Thank You for Your forgiveness and giving me righteousness because of the righteousness of Jesus. Draw my friend to You by Your Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Galatians 3:1-14 - Do Not Go Back to the Law!

LINK: Galatians 3:1-14

BACKGROUND 


Paul strongly exhorts the "foolish Galatians" because they were allowing the Judaizers to persuade them to trade the priceless freedom that Christ earned for them by His death on the cross for bondage to the Law! That is a foolish trade-off. Why would they, who were saved by grace, want to go back to the Law? 


The Judaizers looked to Moses as the purveyor of the Law, but Paul went all the way back to Abraham in Genesis 15:6. Abraham was justified (declared righteous) by God on the basis of faith and not works, having been justified before the Law was even instituted. Justification has always been by faith.


Even though Abraham is considered the father of Judaism and revered by Jews, he was a Gentile, from a pagan Chaldean background; but his faith saved him because he "believed God, and it was reckoned (credited) to Him as righteousness" (Genesis 15:6).

Praise God that "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law having become a curse for us" (Galatians 3:13)!

APPLICATION



Here are important cross-references from Genesis that give background to Galatians 3. I have included inductive study questions to help you dig a little deeper:

Genesis 12:1-9 - What did God say to Abram? What did Abram do? 
Genesis 15-17 - This is the setting for Romans 4:3, 9, 22 and Galatians 3.

Genesis 15:6 – This is a key verse to memorize. How are we justified? 
PRAYER

We are so grateful that there is nothing that we can do to earn our justification.  Thank You Jesus for becoming a curse for us so that we might be redeemed! Amen. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Galatians 2:11-21 - "Law Man" or "God's Man"?

LINK: Galatians 2:11-21

BACKGROUND 


Paul proved he was a true apostle because he even confronted Peter (Cephas) who had withdrawn from eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles, something God had already told Peter he could do (Acts 10:9-15, 28).  


Peter had withdrawn from the "Gentile sinners" because he did not want to offend the Judaizers (the circumcision party). Paul emphasized that Peter was identifying with the Judaizers and promoting their false, legalistic beliefs by doing this. Other Jews, even Barnabas, were following Peter too. Paul accused them all of hypocrisy and dividing the Jews and Gentiles.


The Law is not bad (Romans 7:12), but a man is not justified by it (review Romans if you do not have that down). Only Christ justifies! No amount of "goodness" on our own power can ever make our standing right before God.


Paul tried to be good and worked hard to please God, but it did not work. This is what he did instead:

So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.   
(Galatians 2:19-21 The Message)
What freedom! Can you say AMEN to that?

REFLECTION 



The fear of human opinion disables; 
trusting in GOD protects you from that.
 (Proverbs 29:25, The Message)

I think my biggest sin is fear of man. Therefore, I could identify with Peter's dilemma. He thought he was "keeping the peace" by appeasing the Judaizers and did not realize he was creating more problems than he was trying to solve.


I have never had a situation turn out well when I was seeking to "keep the peace."  I was really "faking the peace" because I knew in my heart I was not pleasing God by going back on what He had told me to do. 


The biggest area where I used to do this was in saying "Yes" when God had told me to say "No" because the thing I was saying "Yes" to was a GOOD thing. I would appear selfish if I said, "No".  I know that God's best is the ONLY way to go, and you need to say "no" to everything else. God KNOWS so say "NO"!


Now I just say what God wants me to say, and my life is TRULY more peaceful! I do not care what others think of me when I say it either. I get up every morning and ask God what He would have me do, and I just do that. No more and no less. I do not live for the approval of man anymore. YIPPEE!


Update 2015: Last year, I did not say "No" when God told me to because I was afraid, and it was the hardest situation of the year for me. Thankfully, it does not happen much anymore, but last year reminded me of what it used to be like all the time! 

APPLICATION


Do you live for the approval of man or the approval of God? Dialogue with Him about it and cultivate a heart that listens to His voice!


PRAYER

Lord, what would you have us do today? (PAUSE AND LISTEN) Amen.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Galatians 2:1-10 - Gospel Alone

LINK: Galatians 2:1-10

BACKGROUND


The critics of Paul accused him of being a lone-ranger who did not confer with the other Apostles. In this passage, Paul emphasizes that all his actions were endorsed by the leaders in Jerusalem. Most commentators believe Paul is referring to the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15. Paul says that even Titus, a Gentile believer, did not see it necessary to be circumcised since this was one of the main reasons there was a council in Acts 15. The main point of the Jerusalem Council was to cement that Jews and Gentiles were saved by faith in Jesus Christ alone and did not need to be circumcised


Some believe that Paul is referring to the "famine visit" in Acts 11:27-30 because Paul mentions that the leaders in Jerusalem had one request: remember the poor (2:10). 


REFLECTION


Paul was not a lone-ranger, and we should not be either. We need to be in community as we do ministry and make decisions. 


Yesterday, one of the single women I meet with Skyped me to tell me that the guy she had been "hanging out with" had asked her if they could look into being more than friends.  She had not thought that she should be more than friends prior to this and was planning on telling him so when he beat her to it. When he asked her, instead of saying, "No!" She said, "I cannot answer you right now, I need to pray about it and talk to my community first."


Then, she called two of her close friends (a "clearness committee" of sorts), and they prayed and sought to listen to what God said about it. She was surprised to hear God telling her to explore this relationship! (She had been dead-set against it when I met with her three days before.)


She doesn't know if it will lead toward marriage, but she felt God was pleased with it and would lead the two of them every step of the way, regardless of where it eventually would lead. He is a man of immensely good character and will be very careful with her. I think that is very healthy!


I said, "Amen to that!" 


Update 2015: She was over last night and has been happily married to him since December 2014!

APPLICATION


Do you make decisions apart from the community that holds you accountable? Do you even have a community that holds you accountable?


PRAYER

Lord, I praise You that You have given us the body of Christ! Help us to not be lone-rangers! Amen. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Galatians 1 - Born to be Free

LINK: Galatians 1 

http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CN092MAPS1.htm
BACKGROUND

Galatians
When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them “in their place.” The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived. 
(The Message Remix, p. 2109)
Galatians was written to refute the Judaizers. Judaizers taught that Jewish believers had to obey Jewish laws in order to be saved. They were even pressing the requirements of Jewish laws on believers from Gentile backgrounds. The book was believed to have been written around A.D. 48-49 from Antioch of Syria before the conflict was officially resolved by the church leaders at the Jerusalem Council in A.D. 50 (Acts 15). This book was also written to encourage believers to walk by faith and freedom in Christ. 


The churches in South Galatia were established on Paul's first missionary journey. They possibly included the towns of Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. At the time of the New Testament, it was a Roman province. According to the Holman New Testament Commentary - Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians (Reference Books), the people of the region were Celtic Gauls, originating in the British Isles, especially Ireland (p.2). Although Galatians was written for these specific people, the letter is applicable to all believers throughout time. 


Like the book of Romans, Galatians deals with the topic of justification by faith. Consequently, it is often called "a short Romans."  It is also called the "Magna Carta of Christian Liberty." 

Galatians 1


Paul wrote to the Galatians because he was shocked that they had turned away from the wonderful gospel of grace through the finished work of Jesus Christ to the old system of works and law. They had made the Good News not the Good News at all (1:7 in the New Living Translation). He condemned anyone who would teach them anything but the grace of God! He asserted that he learned this message from Jesus Himself (A.D. 35). He went to Arabia for three years to be grounded in his new faith from God alone. After this he met with Peter and James (the Lord's brother) in Jerusalem (A.D. 38) but had to leave because of a threat on his life (Acts 9:29).  He made at least one trip to Jerusalem in A.D. 44 (Acts 11:29), but he did not meet the Jerusalem Council until A.D. 49/50, 14 years after his conversion. He proves that God was the one who taught him and changed him from a persecutor of the church to an apostle of Jesus Christ. 


REFLECTION/APPLICATION


Galatians is a book about the grace of God. I have already reflected in previous posts about my breakdown. One of the most significant things I learned was how much my life and ministry did not operate according to God's grace. It was in my head but not in my heart and actions. 


At the time of my breakdown, the book Free for the taking: The life-changing power of grace, by Joseph Cooke was recommended to me (maybe by Helene or perhaps the counselor she found for me named Pearl).  It truly was life-changing to learn of the grace of God from a missionary in Thailand who also had a nervous breakdown!


Years later in 1988, when I came back from a short-term to Thailand with intentions of going back long term, I contacted this wonderful author and had a delightful visit with him and his wife up in Seattle!  I got to see him one more time before he passed away when my mentors, Ginny and Lorraine (They were workers in Japan after World War II.), had him over before I left for Southeast Asia in 1997. It turns out they had been good friends for years! Isn't it a small world?


Fast forward this to today. I got a message from a young woman who reminds me so much of myself back then.  Just this morning, I was praying that she would have a good rest and told her so in a message. She responded this afternoon, while I was composing this post and wrote, "God is refreshing my relationship with Him and wants me to know his love more. So, I can minister out of overflow, instead of burnout and obligation."


God wants to pour His grace all over us so that we walk in freedom rather than obligation.  He does want our ministry to be overflow!  


I heartily recommend the above book as an application! I have permission from the author to copy it, but I see that Amazon has several used copies available for a very good price.


PRAYER


Lord, help us to walk in freedom through the grace given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

Put 2 Corinthians Back on the New Testament Shelf

BibleBookcase


Congratulations and WOOHOO! You are 92.8% through the entire Bible. You are on the HOME STRETCH! Keep going. You can do it. :)


You are ready to start the summer with Paul's "Prison Epistles"! 

2 Corinthians 13 - Examine Yourselves

LINK: 2 Corinthians 13


BACKGROUND


Paul concludes the book by telling the Corinthians to "get their act together" in terms of sin because he was going to exercise his apostolic duty by confronting sin and exercising discipline in the church. He said in 13:5-6, "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you -- unless, of course, you fail the test?" Then he said he would pray that they would be restored to maturity. He did this to build them up and not to tear them down. 


REFLECTION/APPLICATION

Throughout the book of 2 Corinthians, Paul was constantly trying to defend His apostleship. So here is a list of all the things that he said in his defense:

  • Commissioned by God (1:1; 1:21; 4:1)
  • Spoke truthfully (1:16; 4:2)
  • Acted in holiness, sincerity, and dependence on God alone in his dealings with them (1:12)
  • Was straightforward and sincere in his letters (1:13, 14)
  • Had God's Holy Spirit (1:22)
  • Loved the Corinthian believers (2:4; 6:11; 11:11)
  • Spoke with sincerity and Christ's power (2:17)
  • Worked among them and changed their lives (3:2, 3)
  • Lived as an example to the believers (3:4; 12:6)
  • Did not lose heart (4:1, 16)
  • Taught the Bible with integrity (4:2)
  • Had Christ as the center of his message (4:5)
  • Endured persecution as he taught the Good News (4:8-12; 6:4, 5, 9)
  • Was Christ's ambassador called to tell the Good News (5:18-20)
  • Tried to live an exemplary life so others would not be kept from God (6:3, 4)
  • Led a pure life, understood the gospel, and displayed patience with the Corinthians (6:6)
  • Was truthful and filled with God's power (6:7)
  • Stood true to God first and always (6:8)
  • Never corrupted or exploited anyone (7:2; 11:7-9)
  • Handled their offering for the Jerusalem believers in a responsible, blameless manner (8:20, 21)
  • Used God's weapons, not his own, for God's work (10:1-6)
  • Was confident that he belonged to Christ (10:7, 8)
  • Would boast not in himself but in the Lord (10:12, 13)
  • Had authority because he taught them the Good News (10:14, 15)
  • Endured pain and danger as he fulfilled his calling (11:23-33)
  • Was blessed with an astounding vision (12:2-4)
  • Was constantly humbled by a "thorn" in the flesh that God refused to take away (12:7-10)
  • Did miracles among them (12:12)
  • Was always motivated to strengthen others spiritually (12:19)
  • Was filled with God's power (13:4)
  • Passed the test (13:5,6)
  • Was always concerned that his spiritual children become mature believers (13:9)
(Life Application Study Bible NIV, p. 2107)
Some of these things pertain to Paul's apostleship but most of these points can pertain to a growing believer. Examine yourself" in light of this list. How can you grow in some of these areas?

PRAYER

Lord, give us the humility to examine ourselves. Help us to grow into full maturity in You. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

2 Corinthians 12 - When I am Weak, Then I am Strong

Folio from Papyrus 46
containing 2 Corinthians 11:33-12:9
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:P46.jpg#file
LINK: 2 Corinthians 12


BACKGROUND


Paul continued his "boasting" from chapter 11 by telling about his dreams and revelations. He thought it was not proper to boast, but he wanted to defend himself against the critics who questioned his apostleship. He told of his being "caught up to the third heaven, paradise" (Luke 23:43; Revelation 2:7) 14 years earlier which would have been about A.D. 42-44, before his missionary journeys. Paul could have exalted himself because of this great privilege, but God gave him a "thorn in the flesh" so that God's power would be manifested even in his weakness. This is what he really wanted to boast about! By the way, we have no idea what this weakness was, but most commentators believe that it was a physical affliction. 


Paul continues this chapter by asserting his true apostleship again because of the signs (miracles with emphasis on their significance), wonders (unusual events that evoke awe), and miracles (works only explained by supernatural power) that were a regular part of his ministry. On top of all that, he took no money for his service proving he was not in the ministry for personal gain like many of the false teachers. 


Paul concluded by exhorting them to clean up their acts of sin picked up from the culture around them before he arrived for his visit. 

REFLECTION (written in 2010)


None of us like weaknesses, but I have found that I can boast in them! God's power is so manifest in those times of weakness because I am utterly dependent on Him for everything. Being that I am, by nature, a very self-sufficient person, that is a very good thing! 


I have had back difficulties since junior high school in the early 1970s! My brother-in-law, the osteopath, says I have a very complicated back. It is a combination of my genetic abnormalities and three car accidents in my youth. I would classify this back difficulty as one of my "thorns in the flesh." I hate having to tell people "no" when they ask me to help them move or want me to take something off of their hands that they are carrying. It is so humbling because I do not want them to think that I do not want to serve them.  To say, "I can't" is a hard thing for me to do!


Usually, I am able to prevent these back difficulties through strengthening and stretching exercises that I have done faithfully for many years, but sometimes I will do something, like lifting something too heavy or bending and twisting suddenly, that makes it go out. Over the past twenty years, it has hardly gone out (helps to have a strong husband and two "strapping" boys to do all my heavy lifting). If it has gone out, either George or my brother-in-law has been able to get it back in place.

But when I sliced the tendon in my big toe in November of 2009, and I had to stop exercising in order for it to heal and wear a boot that made me walk unevenly, I was reminded anew of this particular "thorn in the flesh."  On December 18, 2009, while getting up from my bed to go to the bathroom, my kids heard me scream a blood curdling scream from the opposite side of the house and one floor below. I was immobilized for the next 12 hours without the ability to even get up to go to the bathroom. (Can you say bedpans?) Then I was in bed for the better part of a month with minor forays out to eat Christmas Eve and Day dinners, attend a few ministry meetings (if they were in my home), or teach my British Literature class. Posts for Bible Book Club were done while I lay flat with the computer up on my knees and in pain. I still was experiencing crippling back spasms into March. Even as I write this in mid-2010, I am still not 100% but am finding increased mobility as I slowly gain back strength that I had built up over years of staying in shape. I am grateful to be able to sit upright, take walks, do light weights, and modified crunches! Life's simple pleasures are the BEST!


In that midst of the most painful part of this "thorn in the flesh" journey, I could boast in my weakness. I could rejoice in the Lord!  It was a wonderful time spiritually as I became utterly dependent on Him. My weakness magnified His strength in me. Other than a couple of time where I broke down (having to miss a wedding and the funeral of the father of a dear friend was hard), I was so "in the zone" in God's wonderful presence and power working through me. I did not like the physical pain, but I loved the palpable presence of God!


2015 update: Most of the time, I am pain free. This back issue revealed that the orthotics I had been wearing since college were doing more to hinder me than help. I have no lift in my shoe, my muscles have built around a straighter spine, and I go on a semi-regular basis to an osteopath to make sure my legs are even. Every once in a while I have a "wig out" but I am much better these days! I am also typing this standing up. It turns out that much of my work involved too much sitting that was not good for my back. Now, I spend the early morning happily using a stand-up desk. I eventually do sit down, but my back is settled into a good position by then, and I get up and walk frequently. 


2016 update: I became a Certified Personal Trainer and Pilates Instructor in 2015. I learned some wonderful skills (Self-myofascial release [SMR], corrective stretching and strengthening to erase muscle imbalances in my body, MELT Method self-treatment techniques, proper posture, etc.) that have rendered me pain-free in every area of my body for the last eight months. My back stopped going out a long time ago, but I still had nagging aches and pains that are totally gone. It was so simple, and I wish that more care-givers understood how to help their patients be pain-free rather than dependent on their therapy!


APPLICATION


What is your "thorn in the flesh"? Can you boast in your weakness and allow God's power to work through You?  Dialogue with Him about that right now. 


PRAYER


Lord, please perfect Your power in our weakness so that Your power can work in and through us to accomplish Your purposes for Your glory. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.