Thursday, June 30, 2016

Are You Religious? James 1:26-27

When you hear the word "religious" what do you think of? Is it a good or a bad word in your world? If someone called you "religious," would you be happy about that or upset?

If I'm totally honest, I actually don't like it when people call me religious. I'm not aiming to be religious. Religious, to me, means rigid rules, memorized prayers, carefully laid out rituals, and a cold God that is completely detached from me. That's not what I want for my life and it isn't the way I've come to know my Jesus. My Jesus longs for a close relationship with me. My Jesus lays out guidelines for me to follow because when I don't, I get hurt (kinda like how I don't let my kids play in the streets because I don't want them being hit by cars). My Jesus still loves and adores me even when I screw up- which I still do twenty million times a day. Okay, not that much, but it's a seriously daily event. Just like I still love my babies when they mess up, he still loves me and I'm so relieved by that.

So what exactly am I aiming for if "religious" isn't my adjective of choice? I'd love to see a smile and a knowing nod. I'd love to know that when others see me, they just know I love Jesus. Because that's my aim- to love like Jesus loves just as he asks us to in Matthew 22:39 when he said "love others as well as you love yourselves" and again in Ephesians 5:1-2 (through Paul's fingertips as he wrote) when he says to love extravagantly just like God does. But more than anything that I hope others think of me, I hope God sees me doing my best to love those around me because it's His opinion that really counts for anything.

Let's look at the verses Jesus has for me to use today:

"If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you." (James 1:26-27)

And also The Message translation of the same verses:

" Anyone who sets himself up as “religious” by talking a good game is self-deceived. This kind of religion is hot air and only hot air. Real religion, the kind that passes muster before God the Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless in their plight, and guard against corruption from the godless world." (James 1:26-27)

At the time that James originally wrote this letter, being religious was considered a good thing. Today, there is a bad connotation with the word, I think. People often don't want to be called religious- I just told you above that I certainly don't. We call ourselves other things and describe ourselves in other ways:

"I'm a Christian."
"Yeah, I go to church."
"I just love Jesus."
"I'm on the path Jesus is laying for me."

For our purposes today, let's look at being religious through the lens of it being a good thing and as a simple describer of who we are aiming to be- people that show the world that we adore Jesus through our actions.

James actually lists out several things that he sees as non-negotiable for being good followers of Jesus:

1. Keep your tongue in check
2. Take care of the orphans
3. Take care of the widows in your life
4. Help the homeless and the loveless
5. Don't get corrupted by the world

We talked a lot about that first one yesterday, so let's look at the others today.

Take care of the orphans: Don't run away screaming simply because you are freaked out by adoption. Taking care of orphans doesn't automatically equal adoption in every family. God calls everyone to care for orphans in lots of different ways. You can adopt or foster, yes, but you could also donate to someone else's adoption, do a fundraiser for someone adopting, sponsor a child in an orphanage, send gifts using a service like "Operation Christmas Child," pray for the families going through adoptions, offer encouragement or to help clean their house- I could go on and on here. My point is, we can care for the orphans in our world in so many great and useful ways.

Take care of the widows: Sadly, widows are everywhere these days. So many people have been separated from the one they love by death and it's heartbreaking. I can't imagine losing my best friend, my husband. The least that we can do as they try to navigate this new (and sometimes not so new) life, is help them out along the way, come alongside them as they go through hard times (2 Corinthians 1:4 anyone?). Taking care of the widows is weeding their flower beds or mowing their lawns. It's spending time with them, praying for them, going out with them, inviting them over to participate in family activities. It's shopping with them, going to church with them, bringing them a gift "just because." It's offering a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. It's looking them square in the eye and acknowledging how much it sucks that they've lost their best friend and other half in life. It's a text, a message, or a phone call to say you're still here. It's doing whatever it takes to show them Jesus every single day because there is nothing in the world that I can think that would be worse than losing my best friend and spouse.

Help the Homeless and Loveless: Every day in America, we are smacked in the face with the existence of people who have lost their homes and who have no one that really cares. But daily, we walk past and ignore them. Still. This was an issue in James' time and it's still an issue today. As people who love Jesus, we should absolutely be volunteering to help out in places that need us- homeless shelters could use donations, soup kitchens could use workers, and food pantries need both. If you aren't in a place where you want to or are able to get your hands dirty serving, then buy some groceries and donate them. Check with a homeless shelter and see what they could use, then arrange a drive to collect the items. If we all worked together, we could do these things easily.

Don't Get Corrupted By the World: Jesus calls us to live in the world but not to be of the world. It can be hard to keep your eyes on Jesus when there are so many shiny new things in the world. But that's exactly what he's asking us to do. Focus on Jesus, do what he would do each and every day. Love others as well as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39).

You know, one of the reasons I pushed so hard against studying James is that I suspected Jesus would convict me on these things that we are talking about today. And he totally has. Some of it I think I am doing okay on, others? Not so much. How about you? How are you doing with serving others? Loving others?

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

On Social Media and Our Need to Speak: James 1:19-25 MSG

When I first read the verses I want to talk about today, I wasn't sure what God wanted me to say about them. These were the original words that I read:

"Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry." (James 1:19NLT)

And then silence was happening in my brain. So I talked to God about it. "What do you want me to say about this? What needs to be heard within these lines?" I turned to The Message next, hoping it would guide me toward my answer:

"Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear." (James 1:19MSG)

We are actually getting somewhere good. I know where we're headed now. I have to take this one step further. Let's look at the KEERV- the Kristi Expanded and Extremely Revised Version:

"Listen up, everyone! Make sure you tweet this and share, share, share all over Facebook! I want to see tons of hearts on your Instagram posts about this one and maybe a person wearing a fake tiger face on Snap Chat saying these words. Or a unicorn! Is there a unicorn? Because I love unicorns...Use your ears- those beautiful things that Jesus gave you on the sides of your face to listen to each other. If you MUST respond, then use that tongue in a gentle manner. Anger should be the last thing on your mind cuz ain't nobody got time for that nonsense."

When I'm saying this, you need to picture a tour guide Kristi in a goofy Hawaiian shirt and very large hat with a megaphone, except that instead of Hawaiian flowers I think I shall wear unicorns in bikinis on my shirt because this is my imagination and I can wear what I want in my own brain. I am also wearing gigantic sunglasses that actually look good on my face. Since we are imagining things, let's make them all good, right? Right.

We are so very good at running our mouths, often via our fingertips on social media. But what would happen if we followed God's advice through James on this one? What if, instead of overreacting and freaking out all over social media about the latest crazy thing to happen ("dead gorilla? How could they?" followed by "kill the alligators in FL!," anyone?), we were quicker to listen? How about if instead of spewing hatred and anger through our fingers anonymously over the internet, we pray about our responses and wait for God to guide us to the one he'd have us share? Do you think that maybe then we might all get along a little better, understand one another more, and represent Jesus better in this world?

Let's read on in The Message, because I'm feeling it for that translation today:

"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 1:22-23a)

And the KEERV:

"Spewing word vomit all over your computer screen and anyone within earshot is NOT the same thing as actually getting off your butt and doing something about that which you are whining and complaining! Follow the stellar advice given on the 2003 movie-gem, 'Robots' and 'See a need? Fill a need!'"

Social media, people! I love it as much as the next guy...maybe more because I think I may possibly be slightly addicted to it but that is a different post. Social Media gives us this feeling of actually accomplishing something when really, we are doing nothing. Sharing a post about a family who needs meals is not giving them a meal. Liking an article or tweeting your reaction to it isn't the same as sitting down and emailing your state representative about the big issue at hand. "Let me know if you need anything!" on your best friend's post about The Great Vomit of 2016 is not the same as showing up with a gas mask and clorox wipes to help clean up the nastiness.

James is calling us to action here. Show your faith to the world! Don't sit back and keep it bottled up inside of you. Actually demonstrate the love that so generously saved you on that cross. And just so you know, I'm not just talking to you. Jesus is talking to me on this one too. It's super easy for me insert a frowning emoji with the pat answer "praying!" when I see a sad post. I have no problems sharing that meal request or the donation request from Gofundme because it costs me nothing but a few seconds of my time. The real game changer happens when I actually ACT on my faith and help others physically. I don't do it enough and I'm guessing you don't either.

"But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action." (James 1:25)

Seriously bad transition here, but this verse is mostly here because a)I feel like Jesus wants me to talk about it and b)how do you skip a verse that says you are "no distracted scatterbrain" when you respond to needs with action? I am actually quite the guilty distracted scatterbrain here lately but I don't want to be. I am going to assume that you don't want to be either. So let's do this together: Talk to Jesus about how you can serve somewhere and then jump in with both feet. Get out there and help people out. Babysit the neighbor's kid. Bring a meal to that sick friend. Make dinner even if it's not your turn (do people do this?). Collect and then deliver food donations to your local food bank. Whatever you do, do it now while you're thinking about it. James is calling us to act out our faith here. Let's do that!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Enduring the Trial: James 1:2-18 NLT

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." (James 1:2-4)

About four and a half years ago, Shaun and I were asked to adopt a baby girl that a friend of ours was due to deliver in a few months. She wasn't in a place in her life where she was able or prepared to care for the baby, so she asked us and we accepted. We felt like God was leading us down this path with her and was asking us to stick close to this woman and her family. So we did. I thought that we'd end up with a baby in the end and an extended portion of our family (this is the trial I thought I signed up for).

Little did we know that just before Christmas (literally, I think it was December 23), we'd get a phone call that would completely change everything and turn the world upside down for awhile (this is the trial I actually got). Our friend, who was also carrying our baby, had been rushed to the emergency room with some other health complications (unrelated to the baby entirely) and was not doing well. We were afraid that we were going to lose both her and the baby. We leaned into Jesus and each other in those days as we awaited news and visited our friend in the ICU.

"If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking." (James 1:5)

We prayed and prayed for our daughter and her biological mother. Unfortunately, our sweet girl didn't make it though our friend did pull through and recover- a blessing in the midst of utter sadness. On Christmas Day, she was induced and forced to deliver our deceased child who was 30 weeks along. It was honestly devastating. It was probably one of the most devastating times in my life. I remember crying for hours and telling Shaun that I just needed it to be over so it could fade into a heartbreaking memory. The time felt like it moved so slowly. The only reason I even got through it was because I could actually feel Jesus carrying me through. He plopped person after person along the path I was forced to run as the encouragement I needed to keep going, to endure it.

There was a nurse who'd been there, done that. She'd delivered and lost her own son years before. Now she was "paying it forward" by helping others who were running the race she'd run. It reminds me still of 2 Corinthians 1:4 that talks about how God comes alongside us in hard times and is there for us so that we can be there for others when they go through it too.

My best friend visited me when our daughter was born and mourned with me that our daughters wouldn't ever get to be best friends as we'd planned. The baby still growing in her belly would never meet the baby she now held with me in that hospital room. There were others too, all on the path with me to encourage me to keep going, keep running, endure.

"God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him." (James 1:12)

This was a trial in my life just as James describes in James 1. And there was a testing in the midst of that trial too. Testing here doesn't refer to the test we think of when we picture that word though. It isn't a search for knowledge that already exists as it would be in a school setting. Testing here is more like the building of endurance, the building of something that isn't quite there yet. Shaun and I got something from that experience that we couldn't get anywhere else. We grew our faith so much in that time because we had no other choice. Jesus says in John 16:33, "'...Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.'"

I don't know what kinds of trials you're facing today or even if you're facing any right now, but I do know that Jesus is carrying you. He loves you and longs for a relationship with you. Every single thing that we go through in our days- good or bad- are an opportunity for great joy just as James says in 1:2 of his letter.

In closing today, remember the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is a feeling you get in response to good things happening in your life. It's fleeting and impossible to hold onto. But joy grows deep inside you from Jesus. You can keep it even when everything around you is crashing to the ground. It's a choice you make. It's bigger and better than happiness will ever be. That's what you need to hold onto. Whether things are going well or falling apart, you have Jesus and you can keep your joy in him. Remember this verse describing how God feels about us: "He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession." (James 1:18) Isn't that reason enough for pure joy? We are his prized possession!

Monday, June 27, 2016

Introduction to a Study of James

About two weeks before we finished reading through and studying Galatians, I began talking to Jesus about which book of the Bible he wanted me to read through next. I want this to be different. I only want to go where he leads, not where I feel like I'm being blown as if on the wind and definitely not where I lead. My leading only takes me to dead ends with no future. And so God told me. I felt an overwhelming answer: James.

I peeked through I and II Peter anyway, thinking maybe one of those would be a better place to go (because, you know, I'm a slow learner apparently). I even briefly considered Acts or Romans (Jesus wasn't really saying James, right?), but alas, I was drawn back to James over and over again. Are you sure, God? I don't know much about James! Yes, James is the one. That was what I felt like he was whispering to me. And so we are going to start here, with an introduction to the book of James.

I started by reading through several introductions in several different Bibles. One was a Hebrew-Greek Study Bible; another was a Chronological Bible. I also looked at the introductions written in a Mom Bible and a copy of The Message. Each one contained a few things that were the same and acknowledged a few things that were up for debate by "the experts." I even read through some commentaries and articles about who James was and why he wrote this epistle.

Who wrote the book of James? There were a couple of guys named James listed throughout the New Testament. One was an apostle of Jesus- one of the twelve in fact. But experts agree that this book can't be written by him as it was written after his martyrdom in 44AD (Acts 12:2).

The only other James who is famous enough to be able to address a letter as simply "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ" without any other clarifying statements is James, oldest half-brother to Jesus (check out Matthew 13:55 to see that reference) and son to Mary and Joseph. Initially, James didn't believe his brother's claims to being the Messiah (John 7:5, Mark 6:4). Honestly, if you thought about it, would you? If either of my brothers tried to tell me that, I'd struggle to believe it too. I would want to see it with my own eyes. So no judgment from me on this one! But that's just the thing, isn't it? Faith is believing without seeing. Still, Jesus is pretty awesome and understanding of our human nature, because he actually does show himself to James after his resurrection.

And after he saw him resurrected (1 Corinthians 15:7), he changed his tune! Again, wouldn't you? Paul certainly did after seeing him on the road to Damascus, remember? But I digress. After seeing Jesus risen again, James was in the upper room with the other disciples when the Holy Spirit came upon them (Acts 1). He then became a leader in the church in Jerusalem (check Acts 12:17 and look back at Galatians 1:18-19 for references to this fact) thereby becoming well-known enough to address his letter "James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ."

When was James written? That isn't entirely clear. Some experts believe that it was written around the time of the Jerusalem council in 46AD while others believe it was closer to the martyrdom of (this) James in 62AD. Either way, it was written in Greek "to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations" (James 1:1), which implies that it coincides with events from Acts 8-11 sometime. Jewish Christians were being persecuted and were, therefore, spread out pretty far from one another. Acts 7 actually details the death of Stephen at the hands of Jewish leaders, including Saul of Tarsus who stood by watching in approval (remember that later Saul becomes Paul). Jewish Christians were dying. It was a scary time to be a believer.

It's cool though, that what Satan intended for evil (killing Christians, and especially Jewish Christians, for their beliefs), God spun around and used for good. The Jewish Christians were so scared about persecution that they spread far and wide across the known world. If they hadn't spread so very far and shared the good news about Jesus's death and resurrection, would we know about Jesus today or would they have killed off anyone who knew anything? God used that persecution to spread the good news of the Messiah. Just an observation.

What's the main point of James? Interestingly, James is full of great instructions for Christians. Some even refer to it as "the New Testament counterpart to Proverbs." James spends five chapters explaining that you need to demonstrate your inward faith with actions on the outside. Keeping your faith inside kills it. In fact, James 2:17 says, "faith, by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead." So the main point of James is to teach us to not just feel our faith but to show our faith through action!

I am so excited to dive into this book of the Bible. I can't wait to see all that God reveals through this study and put that learning about faith into action (see what I did there? Faith and learning in action? No? Okay then...). My prayer today is that God speaks through these pages and reveals more and more of himself to anyone who reads his messages. I am so thankful that we have the absolute privilege of studying God's word without persecution unlike the Christians of James' days. Have a blessed day and allow God to bless someone else through you today as you go.


1. Aust, Jerod, Profiles of Faith: James- Half-brother of Jesus. Access Date: June 24, 2016. Website:
2. Bible Gateway. Access Date: June 24, 2106. Website:
3. Zodhiates, Spiros Th.D., The Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible. TN: AMG Publishers, 1996.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Conclusion: Galatians 6:11-18 NLT

"Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save." (Galatians 6:12)

For the false teachers roaming Galatia, it's all about appearances. Not much has changed in two thousand years, has it? We are still all about appearances.

When I go to the grocery store, I inevitably stand in line for several minutes to pay for my groceries. And do you know what I see there? I see magazines full of women in bikinis. There are celebrities who are screwing up in life (like we ALL DO) and (lucky for them!) the media has caught images of it for all to see. There are recipes, diets, and cleanses that promise to make you look better just in time for summer. There are even decorating ideas for homes and gardens and the like.

As humans, our eyes always want more. Solomon even says so in Ecclesiastes: "Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content." (Ecclesiastes 1:8)

What if we all did something crazy? Instead of desperately looking for the next thing that will make us feel good, what if we leaned into the promise of Jesus and breathed in his deep joy in our lives just like Paul has been telling us to do throughout all of Galatians? What if we embraced the freedom He has already given us and stopped trying to be better all of the time?

And I don't mean that we should allow entropy to take over to just waste away- because why bother? I mean, why can't we stop competing with each other and just realize that we are already awesome the way God made us? Why can't we just embrace who God made us to be and get better at the things God already put inside of us?

"As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God." (Galatians 6:14-16)

This! Let's do this instead! Let's boast to one another about how amazing Jesus is. Let's share our stories without worrying what everyone thinks because, seriously! How amazing is my Jesus that he took a sad and angry pregnant, divorced teenager (me!) and redeemed all of that?! It doesn't matter what the world thinks of me. It matters what Jesus thinks of me and he says that I'm pretty amazing. And you know what? He says that you are amazing too despite anything you have done or will do!

Remember Romans 8:38-39: "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

We are LOVED PERIOD! Loved for who we are, who we were, and who we will one day be simply because we are God's children.

" From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus." (Galatians 6:17)

This is my desperate prayer today- that we can forget what the world is telling us we should be and embrace who God already says that we are. We are free to love Jesus and that is an amazing thing! I can't think of any better way to end this post than with these words straight from Paul written two-thousand years ago:

"Dear brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen." (Galatians 6:18)

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Planting, Harvesting, Parenting, and the Perils of Social Media: Galatians 6:1-10 NLT

Today's section of Galatians is entitled "We Harvest What We Plant." Let's start at the beginning:

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important." (Galatians 6:1-3)

I love Paul's straight-to-the-point attitude here. He is honest always. Honesty- true and complete honesty spoken in love- is so rare these days. Lying has become so commonplace. But this post isn't actually about that. In the interest of staying on track, I love specifically that Paul calls us to help one another. This applies to every single relationship we have- church members, family, friends, children, strangers...everyone! You are not too important, no matter who you are, to help someone who needs helping. Who can you help in your life today?

I know in my life, the most obvious people I should be helping every single day are my children. They are all in different places in their lives and need different kinds of help (2 teenagers and 2 elementary aged). It's my God-given job to help them in the ways they need helping. This does not mean enabling them by doing everything for them. No, it means guiding them toward the right paths and teaching them how to embrace the fruits of the spirit in their own lives for their own selves. It's my aim to raise children into adults who love God and love others so much that they refuse to leave the world the way they found it. I want them to change the world as much as they can! I want the world to be a better place for having had my children in it. And that brings us to the next set of verses:

"Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.
Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them." (Galatians 6:4-6)

As a parent in the social media age, it's so easy to compare. Did I breastfeed long enough? Will I be judged for my bottle feeding choices? Are shoes necessary at the age of 6 months? What about at age 1? Are my kids involved in enough activities? Preschool or no? Homeschooling, public schooling, or private schooling? The list is endless and we all compare, compare, compare, judge, judge, judge. Enough is enough! Paul is warning us all in these verses to knock it off, to pay attention to our own work (in this case, our own family).

Don't worry about what everyone else is doing in their families. I heard a sermon once about comparing ourselves to others. We have a tendency to compare our entire movie with others' highlight reels. You can't know everything going on in someone else's life so it's not fair to compare your entire life to mere pieces of another person's, especially on social media. Social media is designed to highlight only the best. Those amazing family pictures? Think about how many bad ones there were before that perfect one or the fight they may have been having just before everyone smiled and said, "cheese!" We actually have a few of these from vacation over the years! Crying family members and grumpy kids immortalized in a picture with a forced smile. It's frustrating in the moment, but makes for a great story later on.

And now finally, these verses:

" Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:7-10)

These verses talk to me about the kind of fruit we will bear from our children. If we plant bitterness and impatience in our kids by modeling that for them day in and day out, they will likely grow up to be bitter and impatient in their own lives. If we give them every blessed thing they ever ask for and hand them a trophy every time they participate in something, guess what they'll grow up thinking? That they deserve and are entitled to whatever they want in life.

If we want children that grow up loving God and trying with all of their might to possess solid fruits of the spirit like we talked about yesterday (remember, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, love, joy, peace, patience, self-control), we- as their parents- are going to have to do our best to demonstrate those qualities. Our attitudes, our words, our actions- they all contribute to the planting process in our children.

Will we mess this up? Yes! Have we likely already modeled behaviors that we would prefer not to see in our kids? Absolutely! Does Jesus love us anyway and willingly give us a second, third, fourth, millionth chance? Definitely. If you've been modeling fruit that isn't good for your family, start working on turning it around today. I myself have been trying to work specifically on gentleness in my own life. Because I value honesty and faithfulness so very much, I am trying to work on a way to speak the truth in gentleness and that is no easy task. But I know it has extreme value and I want to model it the best that I can for my family so that hopefully, they can see the value too. And while you're at it, tell your family what you're working on! Not only is it a great way to demonstrate trust and change for God, but you're giving yourself some accountability by speaking it aloud.

If you didn't come up with a fruit to work on yesterday, I beg you to come up with one today. If not just for you, then for others in your life- kids, spouse, parents, siblings, friends. We learn and grow from each other every day. So what are you going to talk to God about working on?  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

You've Got Two Choices: Galatians 5:16-26 NLT

"So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses." (Galatians 5:16-18)

Every moment of every single day, we have two choices. We can follow ourselves or we can follow God's leading. Because we aren't perfect, we will have a combination of these two each and every day for the rest of our lives. But in these verses, Paul is urging the Galatians and urging US to do our best to allow the Holy Spirit to do the leading. This is the way to have the best possible life. When you mess up, turn back around, talk to God, and set back out on the right path.

If we choose to follow ourselves, which is ultimately our "sinful nature," we can look forward to a whole host of problems. Check out the list that Paul has written out for us as a sample:

"When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:19-21)

I have to take a minute to address that last line: "...anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God." (Galatians 5:21b) I think that what Paul is saying here is that if you are living only for yourself, fulfilling your own desires and needs and wants, you can't possibly be living for Jesus. The two are mutually exclusive to one another. When you accept the gift given by Jesus, you are set free in Him to live for Him. Loving Jesus means showing it outwardly and that means stepping away from the nonsense in the list above to embrace the list below:

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!" (Galatians 5:22-23)

These are some popular verses. There are songs written about them. There are Bible Studies and other books written about them. They are often memorized at Vacation Bible School and in Sunday School classrooms. We could devote an entire week or more to the study of these verses. In the Bible Gateway Commentary on these verses entitled "Freedom for Moral Transformation," it is written that "the fruit of the spirit is the moral character developed by the Holy Spirit."

The author goes on to write this: "These character qualities are not a new list of laws or moral codes that must be kept; they are the result of living and being led by the Spirit." In case there was any doubt here, Paul is not saying you're free from the Law of Moses but here's a new set of laws for you to live by. No! Again, when we are living for Christ, we are working on developing these characteristics in our lives because of the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

" Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another." (Galatians 5:24-26)

If you think back to Galatians 2:19, we saw that Christians were crucified with Christ. But in Galatians 5:24, Paul is calling us to crucify our own "passions and desires of [their] sinful nature." The Galatians Commentary adds this thought: "Since Roman crucifixion was a merciless, painful means of execution, Paul's statement describes an absolute and irreversible renunciation of evil."

We are called to make an absolute choice here. Choose to follow Christ fully and put aside the sinful nature. Choose to actively practice the fruits of the spirit so they can grow in your life. Paul says all of this in Galatians 5:25 when he writes, "Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives."

This goes against so much of our worldly teaching! The world would have you believe that our feelings can and should guide us, that many of the fruits of the spirit listed above are just feelings that you can't control. No! They are choices- hard ones to be sure- but choices none the less. You can choose to love others. You can choose to rest in the joy of Jesus despite your circumstances. You can choose to practice patience, kindness, and gentleness with those around you. Are they difficult choices? Yes! That's why we need the Holy Spirit to guide us! That's why we need to continually practice them every single day. A runner doesn't go out and run a marathon on the first day they choose to become a runner. They practice daily in order to build up the necessary endurance to do the marathon. It's the same with us in our daily lives. We must choose to practice these fruits in order for them to grow and blossom in our lives.

I think everyone struggles with some of these fruits at varying times in their lives. That doesn't change how Jesus feels about us or dictate how good a Christian we are. Please don't hear me saying that because I'm not. I think the two fruits I struggle with the most are gentleness and patience. They don't come naturally to me. Anyone who knows me knows that I value honesty and faithfulness quite a lot. And sometimes, those two values throw gentleness and patience out the window. I am working on them! Trust me. Jesus has brought me a long way but he is far from finished with me. I am a work in progress. But guess what? So is every single other Christian.

My prayer today is that these words are valuable to someone, that I've shared only what God would have me share with you. I have no idea how many people will read these words nor does it matter. I am doing my best to follow where God leads me. Where is God leading you? Which fruits of the spirit are you working on with Him in your own life?

*Bible Gateway Commentary: Freedom for Moral Transformation- 

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

We Can't Do Enough: Galatians 5:1-15 NLT

This is our third week walking through Galatians together. Paul starts this chapter off with a reminder of some great news:

"So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law." (Galatians 5:1)

And then he goes on to say this:

" Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace." (Galatians 5:2-4)

Okay, so this isn't something we actually struggle with in our time. There are very few people who believe circumcision equals "right with God." But we can plug in almost anything else here and it would be the same. "If I just read my Bible enough," "If I go to church enough," "If I serve others enough," "If I pray for enough minutes in the day..." No! None of it! It's all great stuff, but you don't need it to be made right with God. There is nothing, nada, zero things that we can do as imperfect humans to make ourselves right with God! And that's why Paul is reiterating all of this over and over again. We need Jesus for that!

Now don't get me wrong, you should be reading your Bible and talking to God; church is an important way to fellowship with other believers and serving others is awesome. But none of it, by itself, will ever make you good enough for God. Again, only Jesus's gift- accepted by you- can do that. Paul says this well in these verses:

"But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love." (Galatians 5:5-6)

"Faith expressing itself in love!" That would make a great t-shirt, don't you think? ;) Seriously though, from here, Paul offers up a warning:

"You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you." (Galatians 5:7-10)

Be careful that you don't imply to new believers or to those who don't yet believe that they must fix themselves before God will want a relationship with them. It's not true. Remember that in Romans 8:38-39, Paul tells us that there is nothing that can separate us from God's love. He loves us period. End of sentence. We can never make ourselves good enough. Again, only Jesus!

"Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves." (Galatians 5:11-12)

Salvation is defined as "being saved or protected from harm, risk, etc." We are saved and protected from harm though the cross of Christ.

"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another." (Galatians 5:13-15)

Yesterday my kids got to practice using their freedom to "serve one another in love." You see, there is a fight that happens every time we get in the van without Shaun. Andrew sits up front with me (sometimes he's driving, sometimes not). This means that someone is always alone in the back and there are tears. Well, yesterday I got tired of the fight. And so I told them that they'd be practicing loving one another. And they did. Throughout the rest of the day, they made one another lunch, jumped on the trampoline, climbed trees, played games, said kind words- all to compete with each other to be loving. Haha. How nice would the world be if we all did this each and every day? If we went out of our way to be kind and to offer up extravagant love (see Ephesians 5:1-2 MSG) for one another?

I pray that today will be another good day and not one of "biting and devouring one another" as Paul describes it above. ;)

Monday, June 20, 2016

Making it Happen: Galatians 4:21-31 NLT

Today's section of Galatians actually refers back to a story in Genesis. Let's read through the verses in Galatians 4:21-31 together:

"Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.

24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:

'Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband.'

28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? 'Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.' 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman."

I know it's a lot of reading, but it'd be great to look at the story to which Paul is referencing in Genesis. You can find it in Genesis 16 (that's the story about Hagar and Abraham having a son) and again in Genesis 21 (that's when Sarah actually conceives). A lot happens in between, of course, and is also worth reading.

If you're not up for that much reading this morning, here's the basic facts of the story. Abraham and Sarah got married. They went through a lot together but never got pregnant. Both grew old. Abraham received a promise from God that he would multiply Abraham's descendants so that there were more than the stars in the sky. But he still had no son. And so, Sarah convinced him to sleep with her servant, Hagar, in order to force the miracle to happen. Hagar became pregnant. She and Sarah fought. Eventually Sarah did become pregnant and, one thing lead to another, Hagar left with her son. God saw the two crying as they hid and promised her that he'd make him into a great nation as well.

Here's what I feel like God wants me to share from today's reading (rather than a verse by verse analysis of the passage):

We do this all of the time. We get a promise from God (we think) and then we try to force it to happen in our own time. But our time isn't God's time. If you truly believe that God has made a promise to you, wait on him! He will follow through on what he said. God doesn't break promises!

But how can you know if what you think is a promise from God is truly from God and not just all in your head?

Here are some things you should do to check on the validity of what you're hearing:

1. Read your Bible. Is there anything in there that would go against what you're hearing? For example, God isn't going to promise to give you a new person to love while you're married. That's adultery and it's not okay, according to the Bible. He isn't going to make a promise that goes against his own word. It doesn't work.

2. Do a lot of praying. Continue to talk to God about it. Is it a new job opportunity? Talk to God. An adoption overseas? Talk to God.

3. Check with trusted friends. Do they have any valid concerns? Do they think you sound loony? Ask them to pray with you for the next several days (weeks, whatever seems appropriate) for clarity on the issue.

4. Read your Bible Again! The best way that God speaks to us is through his word. Talk to God and ask for clarity in the words you are reading.

5. Take a step if all seems okay so far. I read a quote from Mother Theresa today that went like this: "I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust." Most of the time, God doesn't lay out his entire plan in one pretty little picture for us. He wants us to take simple steps in his plan. Stormie Omartian wrote a book years ago called "Just Enough Light for the Step I'm On." In that book, she goes on to explain this very thing. God doesn't give us all of the steps he wants us to take. He gives them to us one at a time. Maybe that's all we can handle. But it definitely forces us to just trust in his plan if we can't truly see where we are going. We have to follow the One who is guiding us.

As you take each step on God's path for you, continue to follow the above steps. It's easy to think that you know where you're headed and get off the path. Keep checking in with God. Is this what he wants you to do?

Let me give an example from my own life. I was a homeschooling mom for several years of my life. Slowly, one at a time, my kids have gone off to public school starting with the oldest and ending with the youngest who will start for the first time this fall. I prayed and prayed about this. I've been reading my Bible and talking to trusted friends and family members about it. My biggest question: what am I supposed to do when they are all in school? I didn't get a clear answer on that one. I moved forward anyway and enrolled the youngest in school.

At this point, I still don't entirely know what the school year will hold. I know I need to be fully present here in my summer with my husband and kids. I also know that I will be given many chances to overfill my time. I have to take the time to check in with God for each one so that I know I'm not just filling time.

Now I know that this post wasn't entirely what Paul had in mind when he shared this story in Galatians 4 so many years ago. This is really about being children of God and a part of God's promise. It's about pushing aside the law and embracing our roll as the children of the free woman. But like I said above, we have to allow God to lead us where he wants us to go and this is what I felt led to share. Take a few minutes and talk to God. Ask him to reveal what next steps he wants you taking. Where is he leading you?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Be Strong: Galatians 4:8-20 NLT

"Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years." (Galatians 4:8-10)

There are lots of things going on in these three verses. Let me list out all of Paul's concerns so that we can look at them and then look at his response.

1. slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist
2. God knows them but maybe they don't quite know God
3. they are reverting back to their old ways
4. They are trying to earn favor with God

Remember that this is a letter written by Paul to the Galatians. Letters didn't just zip from one place to another by airplane or truck in those days. It took a long time for news and letters to travel from one place to another. This letter is going over and over some of the same things because Paul wants to be absolutely certain that they get it. And so he is reiterating some of the things he's discussed in previous chapters in different ways so that they fully understand. And his response after he lists these things out?

"I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws." (Galatians 4:11-12a)

I feel for Paul in those first sentences in this section. How many times have we gone through something tough with a friend, a family member, a child and thought that what we were doing was making a difference only to see that they weren't getting what we were saying at all? That's Paul's fear here too. Had he worked long and hard with the Galatians to introduce them to the freedom of Jesus's gift only to lose them after he left? That would be heart-breaking! This isn't some simple little issue like teaching a kid to use the potty, helping a friend to balance their budget, or getting a family member set up in a new apartment. This is life-changing, eternity-dependent stuff! It's vital that they understand what he's taught them. Their eternities depend on it. And Paul loves these people; he cares what happens to them. He needs them to understand that it's not what they do, it's not the law that saves them. It's Jesus, dying on the cross for them!

"You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you. Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News. But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself. Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then? I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth?" (Galatians 4:12b-16)

Paul goes on to remind the Galatians of their time together, of how they embraced him and accepted him into their throng. I love how thoroughly Paul loves this group. He is willing to do whatever it takes to bring them back into the circle of Jesus. Can you imagine if we all did the same? Can you imagine if we dropped all of the judgment, the rules, the mistreatment, the "I'm better than you" stuff and really reached out to every single person in our lives and showed them this kind of fierce love and care for their eternities? I'd imagine that the world would be at least a little bit different. Maybe we should take down our walls and try things Paul's way, follow his example and embrace others fully.

"Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them. If someone is eager to do good things for you, that’s all right; but let them do it all the time, not just when I’m with you." (Galatians 4:17-18)

Paul's letter shifts slightly here. This is such a great reminder and a good way of measuring intentions. Who among you is loving you as often as they possibly can? And, alternatively, who is just trying to butter you up and pull you away from right thinking? These are the questions that Paul is posing to the Galatians but they apply today too. When Paul wrote this, Bibles weren't just waiting in every drawer in every hotel room. You couldn't stop by the Book Store and grab one or hit up your Play Store (App Store for the iPhone people) and download a copy. But today? We can check what's being said to us against what God says in the Bible. So if you aren't sure about something someone is trying to preach to you/say to you/convince you about- look it up. Figure out if they are right or leading you wrong.

"Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you." (Galatians 4:19-20)

When you care about your friends, family members, co-workers, kids, anyone- and they're making bad choices, it totally feels the way Paul is describing it in verse 19! Have you felt the sadness of someone you love choosing a way that doesn't align with Jesus? Because I have. And the only thing we can do for them beyond what Paul is describing here is the most important thing we can do- pray for them daily.

As we wrap up today's all-over-the-place devotional (seriously, I felt totally ADD today with this one), take a minute and really pray for someone in your life who isn't choosing to follow Jesus. Pray that you'll have an opportunity to share Him with them, that they will see Jesus in their life somewhere in someone or something, and don't forget to thank Jesus for what he's done for you.  

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Children of God: Galatians 3:23-4:7 NLT

" Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian." (Galatians 2:23-25)

Most everyone has seen one of those movies where the star is the US President's kid and all they want to do is go somewhere-anywhere- without a million armed guards. The guards are always big and burly guys with big shadows, big guns, and big (often dumb) personalities. And so we spend a good portion of the movie watching this kid perform Houdini-like acts to escape the guards that are with him (or her in some of the movies) to be with the movie's token love interest who is just an average kid. You know, like the rest of the world, and therefore obviously the envy of the President's kid.

Well, in Old Testament times, the Mosaic Law was like those guards that are always with the President's kid in the movies. It's there, all the time, to protect God's chosen people. And if they're being honest, sometimes that law meant to protect was overwhelming and maybe even a little bit overbearing. I mean, there were hundreds of laws that the Jewish people had to follow all of the time by the time Jesus appeared on the scene. It was "Us VS Them" for hundreds of years. And then this happened:

"For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you." (Galatians 3:26-29)

Like a breath of fresh air, Jesus came and knocked out all of the guards. They were no longer allowed to lean in too close and breath down the necks of their charge. They were no longer casting long shadows over the people they protected and giving off an air of danger. There wasn't the worry of when "the other shoe would drop." There was only freedom. Freedom to just be people. Jew and Gentile was no longer important because now we are ALL simply and beautifully children of God.

At this point in Galatians, Paul moves on to a new example. This point is obviously an important one and he doesn't want anyone to miss it. Let's read:

"Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world.

"But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, 'Abba, Father.' Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir." (Galatians 4: 1-7)

Paul's second example reminds me of Cinderella. Go with me on this one. It's not exactly right, but I think we can make it close. So when Cinderella was little, she and her dad were happy. They experienced a sad loss when Cinderella's mother died, but they still had each other. They were still happy. But then her dad dies and the property- though one she has grown up on and owned by default because of her father all of her life- goes to her stepmother. Because, you know, her dad didn't want to be alone forever. So now his child is under the guardianship of the stepmother who treats her like a slave. Are you seeing the parallel yet or is it just me?

In the time that Cinderella is set, she would have had few choices in her life. She couldn't just go out on her own and expect to live a good life. Leaving would have likely lead to her eventual death for one reason or another. So she had no choice but to live as a slave in her own house.

But that brings us to verse 4 "when the right time came." In our example, it's the ball at the palace. The time had finally arrived for Cinderella to be free rather than a slave. Her Prince- in this example, quite literally a prince who was subject to the law since he needed a wife to be king- came and set her free when he slipped that shoe on her foot (remember the part of verse 3:27 where we are called to put on Christ like putting on new clothes? See, this example is gold, haha).

When Cinderella becomes Mrs. Prince Charming (because apparently I either don't know the name of the prince or my brain will only bring to mind the Disney version of this fairy tale), she joins him as heir to the throne just as we do with God when we accept Jesus's perfect gift. He walks us right up to God's throne. He covers our sin and makes us good enough in a way that we could never, in a million years, do by ourselves. Now that's what I call a happily ever after!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

God's Promises: Galatians 3:15-22 NLT

Paul is preaching even more freedom in Jesus Christ today as we take a look at Galatians 3:15-22 today. Let's take a look at a few verses:

"Dear brothers and sisters, here’s an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say 'to his children,' as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says 'to his child'—and that, of course, means Christ. This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking his promise. For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise." (Galatians 3:15-18)

In these verses, Paul is analyzing words. I love words. They are one of my favorite things, so the fact that Paul is taking the time to do this is pretty cool to me. Basically in these verses, he is talking about some misunderstood wording in the old testament. Apparently, much of the Jewish world believed that God made his promise of blessing to Abraham and all of his children (some texts read "seed" here) when in reality it only says "Abraham and his child." Paul is pointing to that child and saying it is actually God's one and only son, Jesus. That means it is not the people of Israel. He is saying, "hey, you don't have to be a member of the Jewish community for God to love you. He loves you anyway, just where you are."

This is good news for all of us. No matter who we are- white, black, brown, red, yellow, (aw, it's Jesus Loves Me!) gay, straight, happy, sad, fun, boring, perfectionist, tattoo-covered, pizza loving, pizza hating (because, for real, the important things here ;) ), mom, dad, single, married, kid, adult, bike rider, motorcycle lover or hater, Christian, Muslim, or Jew- God loves us. Not only that, he wants a relationship with us so much that he sent his SON to DIE for US.

I don't know anyone on Earth who would do that. In fact, Paul wrote these words in Romans 5:7- "Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good." So even hundreds of years ago, when everything was very different than it is now, it wasn't a common thing to be willing to die for someone else.

Let's get back into Galatians 3 with verse 19-20:

"Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham."

Remember that when Paul is speaking of "the law" that he is referring only to Mosaic Law. He is not talking about laws of the country like following the rules and regulations laid out by our government. This is not permission to disobey and break laws in your country of residence. So get that out of your head now. ;)

In reading about the Israelite people throughout the Old Testament, we get to see a ton of great, inspiring stories but we also see so many screw ups. David, the man after God's own heart, was an adulterer and had a man killed to cover up the fact that he got the guy's wife pregnant. Tamar seduced her father-in-law disguised as a prostitute in order to get pregnant by him after his first two sons died without giving her any children (there is SO MUCH MORE to that story but I don't want to make this post about that so look at Genesis 38 if you want the full story). Abraham lied- more than once. His wife, Sarah? She laughed at God's promise to give her a child in her old age (I might have too, honestly. Yikes).

They say that "hindsight is twenty-twenty." It's easy for us to look back at all that happened over the course of hundreds of years with the Israelite people and see that keeping the law, following the rules wasn't enough to bridge the gap between sinful people and a perfect God. That's why Paul says this at the end of this section of his letter to the Galatians:

"Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ." (Galatians 3:21-22)

So many people are under the impression that being a Christian means a boring, rule following life. It's not true. We are free because of our choice to love God, to accept the promise he's made through his son Jesus Christ! And I wouldn't want it any other way. Today, I am so thankful to God for all he has done for me. I know, thanks to the Israelite people's stories in the Old Testament, that I can't do anything on my own to be made right with God. I need Jesus and I can't imagine life without him.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Love others as well as you love yourself." - Matthew 22:39

On Sunday night, the LGBT community of America was hit hard when a terrorist attacked and killed 50 people in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. More were injured. Others will carry the haunting images of that night in their mind's eye for the rest of their lives. The bulk of America has come forward in support of those injured or murdered in this heinous crime. They support the families and friends that said good-bye much too soon.

A large number of those supporters are also members of the Christian community. Chick-Fil-A, a Christian company, handed out free drinks and sandwiches to blood donors in one location on a Sunday- the day they are always closed for the sabbath. Others are donating blood, posting supportive memes and prayers, and more. But the response from the bulk of the LGBT community? "We don't believe you." As a Christian, this makes me sad because they are right to doubt the sincerity. We walk around all high and mighty like we are perfection when every single one of us KNOWS we are not. There was only one perfect man who ever walked this earth. His name was-and still is- Jesus Christ and our (general) treatment of the LGBT community would have him shaking his head and wondering aloud where he went wrong if he were here in the flesh among us today.

Do you know where Jesus would be right now if he were on Earth in his human body for all to see? He'd be helping the LGBT community dig themselves out of this awful sadness. He would be there loving them and comforting them. He would be sharing words from the Father with them, embracing them, allowing their sadness to happen because this is a sad, sad thing. He would walk through it with them, never leaving them alone to bear it in solitude. Because Jesus knows what God would say. "Love others as well as you love yourself (Matthew 22:39 MSG)." If we're being honest, we know we aren't doing this for many groups who believe differently than we do. It's easy to love someone who agrees with us. The challenge is loving someone else in spite of our differences.

Romans 8:38-39 says this: "And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord."

God loves every single one of us right where we are in life with an unmatched, indescribable, fierce love. Period. Nothing added. He sent his son to die for us all; so no matter how anyone feels about choices being made by others in the world, God still loves them.

And he calls us to love them too in a most extravagant way in Ephesians 5:1-2: "Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that."

Our job here is to love others the way Jesus loves them. It's not our job to force changes. That's God's job. He can and will do a much better job working on each heart of each person in this world than I ever could or would do. John 13:35 says, " Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." We're to be known for our LOVE! And we aren't! We are judgmental, critical, uptight, hypocritical- the list goes on and on. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the world changed how they saw us? If they heard "Christian" and immediately thought "love?" Let's start today, right now. Let's love on this devastated community for real. Let's stop jabbing fingers at them and scowling in their direction. Let's just love them for who they are: beloved children of God.  

No Good Works: Galatians 3:1-14 NLT

Throughout the first two chapters of Galatians, we have really been studying Paul's own autobiography. Now, in Galatians 3, we are getting to the meat of his letter to this group of people. Let's read.

"Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross." (Galatians 3:1)

Woah, Paul. Harsh much? Foolish? Evil spell? I'll tell you what, Paul didn't ever mince words. He said exactly what he thought, didn't he? And why wouldn't he? Remember what we read from the commentary yesterday. If Paul hadn't stepped boldly forward and done his level best to put an end to all of this "you can do enough good works to make yourself right with God" nonsense, we- as Christians- would be in trouble today. These Galatian Christians needed a quick reminder of what they'd been taught!

"Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it?

I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ." (Galatians 3:2-5)

Again, it's not what you do that saves you. Paul is beating this horse (a proverbial one, not a real one, so no PETA here please) hard. He needs the Galatians to get this one. Again. They'd already received the real message. Jesus died on the cross for them. He took their sins- our sins- upon himself and made us ALL right with God. And then he rose again and walked among us to give us HOPE. They don't need to do anything else to be right with God! Those who are walking among them telling them they need Jesus Plus are wrong. They don't need to add anything to the gift they've already been given.

" In the same way, 'Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.' The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.

What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, 'All nations will be blessed through you.' So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith." (Galatians 3:6-9)

Paul is pulling out his primest (is that an actual word?) of examples here in talking about Abraham. That quote that he has in verse 6, "Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith." That is from Genesis 15:6. It's a direct, old testament quote and any Jewish people reading or hearing this letter would have known it. They were regularly referred to as the "children of Abraham." This is another argument from Paul in favor of faith in God over good works.

In verse 8, Paul does something very interesting. He refers back to several other places in scripture (Genesis 12:3, 18:18, and 22:18) where God promises Abraham that "all nations will be blessed" through him. He pulls in the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people), the very people he is called to share Jesus with, into the mix and declares their ability to get right with God through their faith and acceptance of Jesus's gift.

"But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, 'Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.' So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, 'It is through faith that a righteous person has life.' This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, 'It is through obeying the law that a person has life.'

" But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, 'Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.' Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:10-14)

This section of the scripture in Galatians 3 is well explained in the Bible Gateway Commentary, "The Alternatives: The Curse and the Blessing." In verse 10, Paul is offering up two roads that can be taken. One is a road that leads to blessing while the other leads to curse. Remember that the Galatian Christians lived in the midst of Pagan Temples and Jewish Temples. They didn't belong in either place and were tempted by the Jewish way of life. Many believed that following Jewish laws was really the way to blessing in their lives. But Paul is writing this letter to remind them that it's not the law that will make them right with God, it's their faith in Jesus alone.

So in verse 10, he points out the road that leads to a cursed life and in verse 11, he points out the one that will lead to a blessed life. He references Habakkuk 2:4 here. "The Alternatives" commentary describes each verse as signposts along the roads of life and says it this way: "Since faith is the way to righteousness, law cannot be the way. So, Paul says, clearly no one is justified before God by the law. This signpost tells us that faith and law are not the same way, but two different ways."

It seems important to mention at this point that Paul is not saying that following the law is bad in and of itself. The issue is that so many Galatian Christians thought that they could become God's people by keeping the law. They were being convinced that following the law was the way to being made right before God even though Paul had already told them that it's their faith that will save them.

This section ends with Paul reiterating the way to a blessed life, the way to God: "Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith." (Galatians 3:14) Isn't that a relief? We don't have to try to earn our place in heaven by being "good enough," which is something we can't do anyway. We are saved by Jesus alone.

* Bible Gateway Commentary "The Alternatives: The Curse and the Blessing"