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Friday, 16 July 2021 00:00

Free at Last! Now What?

Written by

FreeAtLast

Galatians 6:1-18

Becoming a Christian as a Jewish believer was freedom into the unknown. Life had consisted of a set of rules for everything, but suddenly the rules were gone, having been fulfilled in the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14). 

In the last few chapters of Galatians, Paul teaches us how to live in freedom and love, in contrast to legalism. It’s easier, frankly, after having lived by a strict set of rules, to continue in that life. Even as non-Jewish believers, we tend to relapse into a legalistic set of rules for our behavior as Christians.

Re-cid-i-vism – noun. a person’s relapse into criminal behavior, often after the person receives sanctions or undergoes intervention for a previous crime.

Leaving prison should mean having a fresh start, but for many returning citizens it presents a host of new challenges. Re-entering society can be overwhelming for many reasons, and unfortunately many people end up back in prison. The rate of recidivism in the United States is an astonishing 70% within 5 years of release. (Reducing Recividism: Creating a Path to Successful Re-Entry. First Step Alliance. October 12,2020)

The early Jewish believers may not have been literally incarcerated, but their lives, like prisoners, were intensely impacted by the legal system of Jewish life. Paul offers guidelines for living in the new freedom in Christ. In chapter six he begins with how to deal with a believer who is caught in sin. 

Who comes to the aid of someone guilty of sin? The one who is spiritual. But who is “spiritual”? One who manifests the fruit of the spirit . . . gentleness, patience, kindness, self-control, not boastful or envying (Gal 5:22-26). 

How? With gentleness and humility considering yourself, since this could be you.

We are to bear each other’s burdens and bear our own burdens. What does that mean? No one is allowed to sit and idly ask everyone else to carry their pack, but when a boulder-sized burden needs moved, we all work together to lift the load.

What are the criteria? We are to examine ourselves. How close am I to God’s example of perfection? (Christ’s.) Not how well do I compare to Mr. or Mrs. Not-So-Perfect?

            Can I do just enough to get by? Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows . . . Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal 6:7-10).

Let’s all beware of spiritual recidivism, falling back into sinful behaviors.

 jlh

Thursday, 15 July 2021 00:00

What Counts

Written by

WhatCounts

Galatians 5

This is one of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  It is jam-packed with great stuff.  

Among other things, it includes a great summary of New Testament teaching.  Want to hear Paul’s teaching in a nutshell?  Here it is: The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

There you have it.  Simple enough, right?  

Well, yes and no.  

It is simple to understand.  It’s not so easy to live out.  

Our flesh gets in the way.  

In fact, Paul says that all true believers have a built-in conflict within them.  The desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are in tension with each other (verse 17).  That’s the bad news.  

Here’s the good news.  The Spirit of God is far greater than our flesh.  True freedom is listening to the Spirit’s desires rather than giving in to the impulses of the flesh.  

That is why Paul says, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh,” (verse 16), be “led by the Spirit” (verse 18), “live by the Spirit” and “keep in step with the Spirit” (verse 25).  It is an active relationship with a real Person (who happens to be God!). 

It is challenging for us to think about how to have an ongoing, moment-by-moment relationship with a Being we can’t see, hear, or touch.  Nonetheless, God helps us with that.  We have the Word of God, which is central to our relationship with the Spirit.  We also have each other.  God’s Spirit dispenses his grace through the Body.  God even gave us a list of the “fruit of the Spirit,” (verses 22&23), so we don’t have to guess at what the Spirit wants to work in and through us. 

Nonetheless, we could all get better at listening to the still small voice.  His voice may be quiet, but his power is not small.  Putting more effort into obeying the Law is not the way to freedom.  The path to freedom is learning to listen and obey the Spirit of God who dwells within us. 

  

Wednesday, 14 July 2021 00:00

Adopted

Written by

Adopted

Galatians 4

In this chapter, Paul employs two extended metaphors, both dealing with being sons. 

In the first word picture, Paul compares Christ-followers to adopted sons who have come of age.  No longer under the guardianship of the Law, they have now entered into the fullness of their rights, privileges, and responsibilities as heirs. 

This is worth reading again...

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir” (Galatians 4:4-7).

Through faith in Jesus, we are adopted into the family of God.  It is God’s Son who purchased our adoption, and it is the Spirit of the Son who indwells us.  No longer is the Law our nanny.  Instead, the very Spirit of God has taken up residence in us to transform our thinking and guide our lives.  

As fully adopted children of God, we don’t have to go through a priest or intermediary to get help. We have the privilege of talking directly to God, our Father.   

We also have the hope of being co-heirs with Jesus.  That means we inherit all that he deserves because of his obedience.  That is plenty of motivation to listen to the Spirit and to obey.   

This new status is far superior to the old status under the Law.  Paul urges his readers not to devalue the incomparable privilege of living as adopted sons and daughters of God.

This new status is not something we have to earn through slavish obedience to the Law.  This new status is based on God’s promise.  He is the one who makes it happen.  That is the gist of Paul’s second word picture.  

We are not children of the slave woman, defined by human effort to accomplish God’s will.  Instead, we are sons and daughters of God’s promise, which is accomplished through God’s power.  We enter our new status through faith. In what God has done. 

Now we are free children of God.  We are not free to do whatever we want.  Instead, we are free from sin, free to know our Father, our Savior, and the Spirit, and free to follow Him in doing what is good and right.  

In other words, as adopted children of God, we are called to live as true sons and daughters of God in freedom and Spirit-empowered righteousness.  The Law couldn’t make this happen.  But what the Law couldn’t do, God has now accomplished through His Son and His Spirit.    

Brothers and sisters, let’s choose to live a life worthy of our grace-bestowed status as God’s children, redeemed by Jesus and filled with his Spirit.      

Tuesday, 13 July 2021 00:00

Growing Up

Written by

GrowingUp

Galatians 3:15-29

    What did you want to be when you were a child? I wanted to be a princess. In second grade, I wore my hand-me-down dress with the crinolines underneath and announced to everyone that I was a princess, spirited away from imminent death, and left to live in poverty with my guardians. (This is what happens when you teach children about Mephibosheth.) If I had stayed in my childhood imaginings, you would be addressing me as “Princess Linda”. As part of the pattern of childhood development, we leave behind our childish ways and learn to behave like adults. As we read Scripture, we also see a spiritual maturing element. In Galatians, we find the value of the Old Testament Scriptures. While there was a certain amount of glory to the law, there was a greater glory in the gracious salvation of God, found in Christ. 

    With the coming of Christ, the nation of Israel moved from childhood into adulthood. The law could not justify the guilty sinner. Nobody was righteous. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 10”11) The law could never give a person oneness with God, it separated men from God; there was a fence around the tabernacle. Childhood excluded me from certain adult privileges like driving a car, voting or assuming my rightful place on the throne. It was great to pretend to be a princess but I wanted to be a princess with my own set of wheels. “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.” (Galatians 3:23) You will be relieved to know that I have traded in my childhood princess status for the garments of adulthood. Believers no longer need to wear the spiritual garments of childhood where the law was their guardian. In Galatians 3:27, we read, “…you…have clothed yourselves with Christ.” The believers have laid aside the garments of sin, “…all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6): and by faith received robes of righteousness. (Colossians 3:8-15) The believer has an adult status before God, leaving behind the childhood guardianship of the law. Why do people go back into the childhood of the law?

    My legal status as a tiara-wearing princess was soon discovered to have no merit. My parents were not just my guardians, they were my parents and I was their heir, and consequently, I still had to eat my peas. Our status as Christ-followers makes us heirs of God where the law could never make us heirs. “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs, according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:29) This section of Galatians is valuable to us as we read the Old Testament.  It shows us that the spiritual lessons of the Old Testament are not just for the Jews, but have an application to Christians today. Freedom in Christ means that I can leave the childhood of the guardian of the law and move into the adulthood of inheritance. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” (I Corinthians 13:11) The Christian life ought to take on new wonder and meaning as you realize what you have in Christ. All of this by grace-not by the law. You are an adult in God’s family, an heir of God. Are you drawing on your inheritance?

lkb

Monday, 12 July 2021 00:00

Checking the Boxes

Written by

CheckingTheBoxes

Galatians 1:6-9 & 3:1-14

Have you ever found certain biblical teachings to be confusing? 

Verses like “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13) and "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (John 15:16). Which is it?

Or Jesus' delay when Lazarus died. When the sisters send word, “Lord, he whom you love is ill” (John 11:3), they clearly expect him to come. And yet Jesus delays. “So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was” (John 11:6). That’s confusing. Why would he wait? 

Then, of course, there's the faith and works dilemma in the book of James (2:14), “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?” 

And what about the "Law or Grace" tightrope, the subject of today's Scriptures? The Apostle Paul is making it clear that keeping the law—which so many were trying to do—cannot save. He writes, “Those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse.” (See Gal. 3:10). In contrast, he continues, 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’” (3:11). 

Are God's law and his grace contradictory or do they work together? I'm confused! Are you?

How would you explain this to a young Christian?

Even though we know the difference between law and grace, our lives often seem to be tied up in law-keeping.

In high school, my band director required certain activity involvements to earn our band award.
We had to check the boxes.

___ Practice an hour a day

___ Play with an ensemble regularly

___ On-time for rehearsals

___ Perform for an outside group

___ Sell concert tickets

In my Christian college, we were expected to follow certain disciplines to complete our program successfully.
Boxes, again.

___ Have daily devotions

___ Attend chapel regularly

___ Attend a local church on Sunday

___ Witness, distribute tracts

___ Be involved in Christian Service

Were you ever trying to “keep the rules,” hoping to earn God’s favor? What was that experience like?

Perhaps you have regarded biblical law in the same fashion. Is keeping The Ten Commandments or pursuing the characteristics of a "good" Christian your purpose? Wanting to grow in our Christian faith is a worthy goal for all of us, but is that growth dependent upon our law-keeping and rule-following? 

What is the value in following principles (instructions) for Christian living?

Have you found yourself trying to check all the boxes in your Christian life? How comforting it is to realize that the God of all grace extends his gracious love to us, not because we keep the rules so faithfully, but because Jesus paid the penalty for law-breaking and we who have trusted him are declared righteous and free to obey and serve.

Are you experiencing joy, not by law-keeping but by responding to God’s grace in obedience and service?                                                                                           
jbd & gmd

Wednesday, 07 July 2021 00:00

The Final and Greatest High Priest

Written by

FewImmediateAnswers

Hebrews 4:14 – 5:10

This week I’m heading out to the Delaware shore (that's "beach” in East Coast speak).  If the water and waves are good, I’ll spend hours body surfing.  When I do that, I must pay attention to the currents, which can pull swimmers away from the beach.  It’s easy to drift.

The currents of this world have a way of pulling us away from what matters. The author of the book of Hebrews warns his readers not to drift away from Jesus and the gospel.  Rather than drift, we are to intentionally draw near to God.  We can do this with confidence because Jesus is the final and greatest High Priest.  

Like all the high priests before him, 1) Jesus was appointed by God from among the people, 2) he could sympathize and relate to the people he was chosen to represent, and 3) he made sacrifice for sin.  Nonetheless, Jesus is a “better hope” by which we may draw near to God (Hebrews 7:19).  Why?          

Jesus was appointed by God “forever in the order of Melchizedek” (5:5-6).  The whole Melchizedek thing is complicated (check out Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 for more).  Suffice it to say that what Melchizedek (which means “King of Righteousness”) appears to be (that is, a priest of the Most High God without beginning or end), Jesus actually is.  The important word is “forever.”  Unlike all the high priests who went before him, Jesus lasts.  He will never die.

Because of the incarnation, Jesus can also relate sympathetically with those whom he represents, namely, us.  The author of Hebrews says Jesus “learned obedience” and was “made perfect” through his suffering.  At first glance, this sounds heretical, as if Jesus had started out disobedient and imperfect.  However, the context is emphasizing Christ’s identification with us humans.  As a human, he experienced firsthand the challenges of obedience, as he was tempted in every way.  The text clearly tells us that “he did not sin.”  Nonetheless, the suffering of obedience which Jesus endured made him the “perfect” high priest for us, because he can now represent us as one who has experienced our trials and temptations as one of us.   Jesus understands. 

Finally, Jesus offered a sacrifice for sin.  But not just any sacrifice.  He offered himself.  Jesus is both the eternal High Priest and the once-for-all sacrifice for sin.  Because Jesus was a human who had never sinned, he was able to take our punishment in our place.  Jesus is enough.  He’s all we need. 

Jesus is the final and greatest High Priest because he lasts, he understands, and he is enough.  His sacrifice opened the way into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God.  Through faith in Jesus as our High Priest, we may freely and confidently come to the Father.  We have access.   

So....don’t drift away.  Instead, draw near.      

Friday, 09 July 2021 00:00

The Straightedge

Written by

TheStraightHedge

Hebrews 10:1-39

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood, and my wife and grandson, and I have been outside trimming our boxwood bushes. Over the past several months the bushes have developed some errant growth, which needs to be cut off and the bushes restored to their intended shape. One of the tools we’ve used is an electric hedge trimmer. It has teeth that go back and forth in a straight line along the blade. The blade is a straightedge.

Many people use various forms of straightedges. Carpenters, for example, would be hampered without a straightedge. Carpet layers sometimes use a serpentine straightedge (kind of an oxymoron, don’t you think?).

The problem with pruning our boxwoods is that most of the bushes do not have flat surfaces. Some of the bushes are barrel-shaped, some round, some more oval, some conical, and so forth. You can probably see what we’re up against using a straightedge to trim something that isn’t straight. We have to apply the straightedge over and over again to small portions of the bush in order to correctly trim and shape the bush.

The Bible has a lot to say about straightedges, particularly the Straightedge of all straightedges. Unfortunately, we bushes need the divine Straightedge applied to us over and over again so that we can be brought into the intended shape. We’d probably prefer a serpentine straightedge curved according to what we want. But that’s not the God of all straightedges.

“Be holy because I am holy”  (Lev 11:44). “By one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb 10:14).

One of the best worship choruses of all time is about being straight as the Straightedge:

Holiness, holiness is what I long for
Holiness is what I need
Holiness is what You want for me

Righteousness is what I need (that's what I need)
Righteousness, righteousness is what You want for me

Take my heart and mold it
Take my mind; transform it
Take my will; conform it
To Yours, to Yours, Oh Lord.

Life Application Questions

  • How serious am I and you about wanting the divine Straightedge to shape us into his image?
  • What did the sacrifice of Jesus’ body on the cross, in contrast to the sacrifices of bulls and goats, have to do with the straightedge? See Heb 10:1-14.
  • How should we respond to all that Jesus has done for us? Note the multiple statements, “Let us . . .” See Heb 10:19-25.
  • What can negate the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins? Who should fear falling into the hands of the living God? See Heb 10:26-31.

~ dbs

Thursday, 08 July 2021 00:00

Few Immediate Answers

Written by

TheFinalAndGreatest

Hebrews 9:1 – 28

We wait.

Most of us like immediate answers. Ask for a hamburger now, and in less than two minutes it should be in our hands. 

Small children are headliners when it comes to patience. When the two-year-old says, “Now!” they really mean ‘It should have been in my mouth two minutes earlier.’

Disciples of Jesus are also waiting. Great anticipation surrounds the event which we believe alters everything—the return of Christ. About that glorious day songs have been written, prayers lifted and tears beyond counting rolled over cheekbones. Thankfully, Scripture provides world-class encouragement to waiters.

After a long and lengthy theological syntactical display, the 9th chapter of the Book of Hebrews deposits golden wisdom in faith’s vault. Speaking about that Day, Scripture declares the spiritual wealth of Christ Who “…bring[s] salvation to those who are waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28). 

In our waiting, we join the heritage of believers like Abraham, “For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Abraham’s wait extends from the very long ago to a time perhaps ten thousand years from today; and, there is struggle in waiting for the Day. 

Disciples wait believing in the surety of Him Who is Christ. We were called and now choose to live believing in the One Who answers as we pray, “Come quickly Lord Jesus”. We wait (Revelation 22:20).

Life Applications

Which spiritual disciplines sustain your faith as you wait for the Day?

Are you aware of moments when waiting for Christ’s return is most challenging?

Are you able to help sustain others who struggle with the waiting?  

~ajs

Tuesday, 06 July 2021 00:00

Accept No Substitutes

Written by

AcceptNoSubstitues

Deuteronomy 18:15-22

    There is an old advertising slogan that tells us to: Accept No Substitute. Many companies, selling everything from chocolate to tea, to expensive automobiles, have used this slogan. What is it about this slogan that encourages us to buy products? Is it the desire to have the genuine article and not a cheap knock-off? Is it the prestige or brand recognition that will garner us a better reputation? What areas of your life will you absolutely not choose a substitute for what you consider to be the genuine article? In our house, there is no substitute for Diet Coke or homemade chocolate chip cookies. Israel had seen God demonstrate His love for them repeatedly, yet they chose to worship a golden calf over Yahweh. Why did they choose to settle for a substitute? 

    God desired for His chosen people to choose to be in a relationship with Yahweh. Israel didn’t need to experiment with new religions because God had revealed Himself and His Word through Moses, his prophet. Once you have the real thing, why go in search of substitutes. Moses promised the people that God would raise up other prophets as the nation needed them. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites and will put my words in his mouth.” (Deuteronomy 18:18) God desired for His people to know Him and worship Him. He desired relationship. Why did Israel ignore God’s prophets and choose substitutes for their worship?

    Prophets were the genuine messengers from God-Accept No Substitute-they were not cheap imitations; they were his representatives. Prophets wrote down the messages for future generations: Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and the 12 men we call “the minor prophets”. These prophets not only rebuked Israel for sin, they encouraged them in holy living and pointed to a coming Messiah. Yahweh remained exactly true to His character. He never wavered in His love and justice toward His people. Yet, the substitutes glittered and gave the Israelites a false sense of security and they desired the imitations over the authentic God.

    God sent the ultimate genuine representative of Himself and Jesus was not recognized as the Messiah. Moses not only pointed to a whole line of prophets, he was also announcing the coming of the prophet, Jesus. “For Moses said, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people…all the prophets who have spoken have foretold of these days…When God raised up his servant, he sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.” (Acts 3:22-26) We hold God’s very words in our hands-Accept No Substitute. God has made a substitutionary sacrifice to restore our relationship with Him-Accept No Substitute. Yet, I reach for things on the shelves of my life that I hope will fill the God-shaped void in my life, busyness, the cravings of my heart holler to become substitutes for genuine obedience and relationship with the Abba Father. Why do substitutes try to gain control of your heart? Accept No Substitutes. Once you have the real thing, why go in search of substitutes?

lkb

Monday, 05 July 2021 00:00

He Cared Enough to Send His Very Best

Written by

HeCaredEnoughtoSendHisVeryBest

Hebrews 1:1-2:4

In today's world, fewer and fewer people take the time to select greeting cards which they then sign, hopefully with a personal note, address, stamp, and take to the mailbox or post office. Why go through that procedure or spend the time and money when you can "log on" and send an electronic card on which you've simply typed your name? Or, easier yet, you can just hit "like" when Facebook reminds you of someone's birthday.

The days of the Hallmark card and those wonderful, tear-jerking commercials are fast disappearing. Is it because we no longer "Care Enough to Send the Very Best”? Or are we just too busy with things that are more important to us? 

How do you stay in contact with friends and family these days? —letter-writing, email, social media? 

Well, God cared enough! He sent us His Very Best, his Son, Jesus! The first chapter of Hebrews continually reminds us of this amazing truth. 

Take a minute and count how many times the passage refers to the Son. 

The book of Hebrews is replete with examples of how Jesus is greater than anyone or anything else God could have given to reveal his desire to have a relationship with us, including Moses, the prophets, and angels. 

Can you recall three or more "angel sightings" from Scripture?

We hear occasional reports of people being rescued or helped by someone who disappears almost immediately, and they attribute their experience to angels. We can’t verify every anecdote we hear but we can be sure that angels do exist, and that they often had a significant role in what God was doing. Unseen angel armies won great battles and announced Messiah's birth. Certain majestic angels played significant roles in God’s plan. Both Gabriel and Michael revealed great prophecies to Daniel (8-12). And perhaps the most familiar to us is when Gabriel brought the astounding announcement of Jesus’ impending birth to Mary (Luke 1). 

Have you had an angel experience in your life? 

But when God planned to send someone to redeem lost mankind, he didn’t choose a mighty angel. Rather he sent someone far superior to an angel. Note these ways Jesus is superior.

  • They have the name of angels; his name is Son.
  • They are worshipers; he is worshiped.
  • They are creatures; he is the creator.
  • They are the ministers of salvation; he is the author.
  • They are the subjects; he is the ruler in the age to come.

Since God was pleased to send his very best, how can we do less than offer our best in serving Him?                                                                                                                

jbd & gmd                                                                                                                                                                                                          

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"Your word is truth," said Jesus to his Father (John 17:17). We want to build our lives on this truth. The Bible is God's self-revelation, given to us so that we can know him and his Son Jesus.