Thursday, September 24

Restoration and Reaping

So here's the last in this summer's series on Galatians. If you have questions please email them to me and I'll address what I can. My prayer is that as we move through a period of secularization we may remain God's People and faithful to the freedom that we have been called too. 

If you needed help to whom would you go? My Facebook profile lies when it says I have 438 friends. Some are duplicates, some are immediate and more distant family, about 35. Preachers and others like them make up another 65.  But two of them are unabashed Dodger fans so they’re suspect.

More than one I’ve friended because it is safer knowing what they are up to than not knowing. Then are those from the previous churches and friends I grew up with. But, if I needed help, restoration, renewal there are probably less than 15 on whom I’d call.
We are at the end of Galatians. Paul reaffirms his teaching on the flesh and Spirit, conceit and selfishness into these final words. He underlines what he has taught us about the ‘Law of Christ’ and it’s superiority over the ‘Law of Moses’.

The law of Christ is Paul’s focus as he ends chapter 5 with a warning against conceit and pride and moves into those who are tripped up by sin. “If anyone is tripped up into sin”, the word means to lose one'ss footing, to slip or fall then it is the duty of those who are keeping step with the Spirit (5.26) to restore them. Let me stop here and use two groups to teach us God’s truth.

Two types of people

Rick gave me a poster that said, “There’s 10 type of people in the world, those who understand binary and those who don’t”.  There were two types of people on the mind of Paul as God led him to write to the churches in Galatia. One group were spiritually minded, set on God’s grace and relying on Christ. They had been grabbed by the freedom offered in Christ and refused to let go. Of bigger concern to Paul, were the second group who were selling out to the Jewish cleanliness code. Trying to add their own work to God’s completed work and believing that only ‘law abiding Jews’ could be real Christians.  

This was a prideful and self-focused group. So much so, they separated themselves from the Gentiles who followed Jesus. And their influence even caused Peter and Paul’s missionary companion to ignore these non-Jewish brothers and sisters. 

Robert Heinlein, not a Christ follower, wrote a great statement on self-sufficiency via his character Lazarus Long.
“A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects” (Heinlein).
A blogger expressed a similar thought more recently when she posted,
“The trait of self-sufficiency was one that I always admired. I…revere that trait because I am an American and admire the iconic pioneer who set out in a covered wagon entirely self-sufficient” (The Living Philosopher)
Paul’s now turns his attention to the responsibilities that, those who have remained faithful to Christ will have to fulfill. Practical actions that Christ’s followers will be doing in order to fulfill the ‘Law of Christ’.

We are expected to restore those who have fallen into sin. The word ‘restore’ used is that of the disciples mending their nets (Matt 4:21; Mark 1:19. It means to set a bone, make usable again, fix and renew, or make whole again. That is the call for the true follower of Christ when it comes to brothers and sisters falling into sin.

The saying, “There, but for the grace of God, go I” is true. When it comes to correction or bearing the burdens of others there is no room for conceit. Calvin said it well, “Correct the faults of brethren in a mild manner, and to consider no rebukes…which do not breathe the spirit of meekness(Calvin and Pringle, 1948). To do otherwise sets ourselves up for failure.
There are no Christian amoebas, but there is the Body of Christ. The Lone Ranger Christian doesn’t exist because the call of Christ is a call to “the concept of mutuality” (Longenecker, 2015). There is a need for those who desire to remain true to Christ to do so with a joy and expectation, even if it is hard, time-consuming, exhausting and sometimes thankless. God’s desire is for His people not to think, “I’m better than you and I can prove it” or “you’re better than me and I resent it” but “You are a person of importance in your own right… and it is my joy and privilege to serve you’” (Stott, 1968).

Two outcomes

There are two outcomes designate for those who have been birthed into the world. They come from the normal everyday sowing seeds by our actions, words, and thoughts. One will either reap corruption or eternal life—either the works of the flesh or the Spirit. There is no middle ground no matter how much we want to believe it.

A 40-pound sack of corn has about 64,000 kernels and in Iowa typical fields contain 30,000 plants per acre. In 2008, the state average yield was 171 bushels per acre which means about 15, 390,000 kernels per acre (, 2015). Phyllis understands this because she planted pepper plants this year.

God’s rule about sowing and reaping is simple. Hosea says “If you sow the wind, you will reap the whirlwind” (8:7) and in Genesis 1:11 God tells us that creation has been set up so that “Let the ground bring forth grass, & the herb yielding seed, & every fruit-bearing tree bring forth fruit after its own kind” that is one reaps what is sown. If we sow sin, evil, hatred, etc. we will reap the same and if we sow the seeds of the fruit of the spirit—kindness, patience etc… we will reap those. It is really simple.

Here’s a question to consider. Up till today, what have you sowed? Some of us will immediate think of our failures, our sowing of evil and immorality. Some of us will think of good things we’ve done, our children, community impact etc. The real truth is that we’ve sowed both types of seeds and we will and do reap both evil and good. That is because we are sinners, saved by God’s grace.

Because we are now in Christ we can take steps to sow seeds with much more thought and deliberate effort. We can begin to sow seeds “with our eyes on the future…with the harvest on our minds” (Homan, 2007). Look what Paul tells us about the way we sow, “God is not mocked.” The word comes “from turning one’s nose up at another and sneering at them or treating them with contempt” (Stott, 1968). It is to consider God a fool or believing you know better than God.

The problem with some who claim to follow Jesus is that they don’t give a rip about the seeds they sow. As a result, Trump, Clinton, Sanders, or whoever say nasty, stupid, and demeaning things without a thought as to the harvest. The agricultural truth of the God says, we cannot afford to live with such a nonchalant attitude. Instead, we must learn to be mindful of what, where and for what purpose we are planting.

One Hope

The ability to live such a life is our hope and the one thing we can ‘take to the bank’ is that God’s grace is determined to see that hope take root in our lives. Our hope is in Christ and Christ alone.

When we live out this hope we experience an outpouring of grace. Sometimes it is directed toward us but usually it is aimed at others. Paul says there is support for those who teach and bearing the burdens of others.  There is a view that sees the long game and not becoming wearing of doing good.

To do good, is to fulfill the ‘law of Christ’ to love our neighbor, to “jointly shoulder each members burdens” (Hendriksen, 2002), to restore those who have failed, to recognize how susceptible to failing we are and thus remain humble. It is sowing seeds that normally lead to a regular, everyday harvest, not to glorious adventures or spectacular miracles (Stott, 1968).

With the hope of God’s eternal life as our harvest, the world’s pressuring us to take on circumcision or some other outward ‘proof’ of our faith can be dismissed and unnecessary and harmful. We can instead simply continue on loving Christ and His people as we’ve been commanded. And, by the power of the Holy Spirit we can fulfill Christ’s law of love. Let us pray.

Works Citied,. 'Common Corn Questions and Answers: Corn Production'. n.p., 2015. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.

Calvin, Jean, and William Pringle. Commentaries on The Epistles of Paul to The Galatians and Ephesians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1948. Print.

Heinlein, Robert A. Time Enough for Love. New York: Putnam, 1973. Print.

Homan, Spencer. 'Spencer Homan Sermon on Don't Kid Yourselves (You Reap What You Sow)'. n.p., 2007. Web. 16 Sept. 2015.

The Living Philosopher,. 'On Self-Sufficiency'. n.p., 2013. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.

Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians, Volume 41. [Place of publication not identified]: Zondervan, 2015. Print.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. 5th ed. London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968. Print.

Tuesday, September 15

Bearing Fruit that Lasts Galatians 5:16-26; John 15:1-5

rann Texas is named after Ira and Ann Yates who settled along the Pecos River in far west Texas. In 1915, he traded his grocery store for the land, which came with a mortgage of $16, 559 to be paid off over the next three years. It was a hard, unwanted piece of property but Ira and Ann continued too struggled raising sheep, goats and cattle. In a deal with Transcontinental Oil four wells were drilled on his property and October 28, 1926, at 992 feet, well 1-A came as a gusher (Kepner, 2015). There is a historical marker on the western edge of Irann that reads “You won’t find any oil west of the Pecos River”. That was the guiding principle for the 1920’s among oil explorers (Modisett, 2015).

Be glad people don’t always pay attention to those ‘guiding principles’. The guiding principles of Paul’s day is that there were many gods and that you had to placate with offerings and keeping various rules. There were norms in society that each gender and people were expected to fulfill and if you crossed the lines or tried to do something that was against these principles you paid a price.
Into this world comes Jesus, the Christ. The visible likeness of the invisible God, he comes with God’s grace to remove the rightful curse on our lives by taking the punishment we deserved. He paid the death sentence each of us owed to God because of our sin. And God raised him from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection is the sign of God’s satisfaction that the debt, the penalty, our curse, is paid off and removed. It is the promise from God that a new life is possible through Jesus.

But, the Galatians are in the process of selling off this new life in order to take on an old way of doing things. They’ve been tempted to run back to the safe and ordinary, the guiding principles of First Century religion rather than stay the course along God’s will for them. So we come to a contrast between the “Works of the Flesh” and the “Gifts of the Spirit”.

Up to now the comparison has been between God’s grace and the freedom that Jesus offers over against the slavery to the law.). Yet, as I mentioned last week, Paul wants to make sure the freedom we have in Christ isn’t lived out as without regards to the world and other people. In 5:1 states, “For freedom Christ has set us free” and in v.13, “do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Now he addresses those who might want to forget about any restraint on their freedom and how it stands against God’s Holy Spirit.

Walk don’t Run

He begins by telling us to, “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” and this sets up the conflict that rages within us. “To walk” indicates an ongoing way of life. It is to walk about in the Spirit, where the Spirit leads, according to the word of God. Negative examples are easy to find, those who say one thing and live another.

But the outcome of living like this is that it isn’t possible to fulfill the flesh, the sins that come from our old nature. Now I’d like to say that such a walk is possible to achieve this side of God’s Kingdom but I’ve yet to find someone who manages it day after day without fail.

When we walk in this way we don’t run into sin. When we walk in this way we don’t run ahead of God’s leading. When we walk in this way we don’t run away from God thinking we’ve got it all figured out. These two, the Holy Spirit and the flesh are dead set against one another. The only answer to our sin is to walk by the Spirit. The question is how?

Work vs. Fruit

I’m not going to go through the list of the works of the flesh and fruits of the Spirit. Most commentators and teachers have tried to categorize, organize, define, and group them so they make sense to our Western mind’s need to see things laid out. In truth, it seems to be a waste of time.
Let’s take a larger view of these two lists. Fruit grows. It happens naturally when a tree is healthy. One may prune and fertilize but even in old trees like those in my backyard, plums do grow.
Work takes effort. It is dependent on what we do. We have to attempt, manage, decide, undertake and expend the effort to bring about the outcome of work. It is totally dependent on our actions and choices.

Works of the flesh are our attempt at living life. Because every one of us are sinners, our attempts fail and the best choices are horrendous compared to Christ’s desire. This list just underlines the outcome of what happens when we decide to live life on our terms.

The fruit of the Spirit is the natural outgrowth of living by the power of and attached to Christ who is the true vine (John 15). Fruit has nothing to do with our decisions, abilities or desires but they rest totally with the sovereign God. Whether we bear fruit depends on whether we’re joined to Christ that means whether we’re saved. It doesn’t depend on whether or not you’ve had your daily devotion today or typed “Amen” on the Facebook link.

When you compare works to fruit you discover that one is God-driven, the other human driven. One is sweet while the other takes sweat. One is natural the other is fallen and unnatural. One provides entrance into God’s kingdom and the other bars our entrance for eternity.


Many folks want to walk in the Spirit but end up working for the flesh. They can post great things on Facebook but their relational life is anything but pleasing to God. They can look find to the rest of the people in a church or at a bible study but in truth their life is one of working and controlling a life that is spiraling out of control.

We are like the Yates trying to pay off huge loans by running sheep on horrible, bare land when right below us is the power of God to transform our lives. But we don’t let go. We don’t go against the ‘guiding principles’ and what our friends think in order to grab hold of God’s promises. I fear that some will miss the life within God’s kingdom simply because they weren’t willing to let go of the works of the flesh. 

What has to happen, is to take the step of walking in the Holy Spirit and stepping away from those things that threaten to drag us into the work of the flesh. And to do this we must be part of the true vine, our Lord Jesus. Let’s pray.

Works Cited

Kepner, Lisa. 'YATES, IRA GRIFFITH, JR. | The Handbook of Texas Online| Texas State Historical Association (TSHA)'. n.p., 2015. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Modisett, Bill. 'Remote Yates 1-A Well Ushered In One of World's Great Oil Fields'. n.p., 2015. Web. 10 Sept. 2015.

Monday, September 7

Communion: breaking slavery

This sermon follows on the theme of "freedom in Christ" which Paul has been writing about throughout this letter.  Hope it meets your needs.

f you think following Jesus will mean first place in life, think again. In 1993, Mike Deleavo, a cross-country runner was one of only five who did not miss a turn at the NCAA championship in Riverside, California. None of the five who took the longer, correct course, challenged the final out of respect for the in-state opponent Adams State College who won its second consecutive title.  Delcavo told the Riverside Press-Enterprise. "If I had stayed on the wrong course, I would have finished respectably. But when you read the official results, I'm 123 out of 128 runners" (Articles.

Yet, our goal as a follower of Jesus is to follow him, go the right way, no matter where the world ranks us. The Galatian’s were falling prey to a group who demanded Jewish ritual rules including circumcision. Paul clearly tells them and us that when we sacrifice such human designs for God’s perfect plan we cut ourselves off from the grace of God and the salvation through Jesus.

As Israel faced their rebellion, God, through the Prophet Jeremiah, pronounces the judgment we read earlier. Happiness, gladness, celebration, will end because of the people’s sins. Was it the breaking of the laws? Yes, of course, but at the root of that breakage was their “stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to God” v.12. 

Freedom vs. Slavery

Let me quickly speak of the slavery that we risk when we remain tied to the world and the religious rule keeping that these Jews were pushing on the people. I say quickly because we’ve gone over this before in Galatians. Here is what God does when we put our faith and trust in something other than Jesus. This was God’s promise in Jeremiah, “I will hurl you out of this land into a land …and there you shall serve other gods day and night” v.13. Let me say that I think many Christians are going to be caught up in cultural idolatry by worshipping their pet ideas, politics and beliefs to the exclusion of Jesus. And God just may let our faith rise or fall on those beliefs. What sort of things am I talking about--good ideas, commendable futures, and concepts which are biblical. But, because our trust is in what they promise we lose sight of the Grace of God through Christ.

 Freedom not License

One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride and one of the great lines have to do with Vizzini’s overuse use of the word, ‘inconceivable’. Finally Inigo Montoya says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means” (The Princess Bride). I want to apply this line to the word that is often used today—freedom.

The U.S. Constitution declares people “have been endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness(U.S. 1776). The freedom which our nation perceived as originating with God has taken a strange turn throughout the years. But the problem isn’t from a liberal or conservative Supreme Court, legislature, government bureaucracy, or taking prayer out of school. The problem stems from us.

It seems that freedom has morphed into individualism. Freedom has become the right to do whatever I want when I want without limitations. And if I don’t like it, get offended, upset or bothered,  I  am free to sue, disparage and attack others.

Freedom in Christ allows no “opportunity for the flesh” which means falling back into sinful selfish behaviors. If that’s not clear enough, Paul immediately gives us the positive aspect of freedom. “Through love, serve one another”.

Robert Bella, professor emeritus at U.C. Berkeley and not sympathetic to the Scripture understood how American adults became “caught up in the myth of the individual” (McKnight). What was linked too and flowed out of a biblical and civic responsibility took off like cancer and stripped itself of all moorings to others and started to claim the word ‘freedom’ for itself.

Bella describes, what passes for freedom, as “doing what I want,” and “finding oneself…In some sense … freedom to be left alone is a freedom that implies being alone” (Bellah).
What passes for freedom, even among Christians, is “independence, autonomy, and personal sovereignty” Dr. McKnight continues,
“Theologically, such a definition of one’s personal ambition smells of profound sinfulness. This view of life defines freedom as the absence of limitations and the presence of self-sufficiency and power” (McKnight).
Our getting in touch with ourselves, discovering who we are, becoming emotionally healthy and the rest isn’t bad. But it isn’t enough. “Mental and psychological health is not biblical freedom any more than eliminating racial prejudice is the Millennium” (McKnight).

Freedom in Loving

“For, the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (v.14). There is a very important difference between keeping the law and fulfilling the law.

It may surprise you but verse 14 is not a command but a statement. When we love our neighbor as ourselves we fulfill the entire law. It’s not keeping the special days, eating kosher and making that fulfill God’s law but when we do the unexpected and live as Christ’s person (Dunnam and Ogilvie).

Yet it isn’t us that do this loving of others. It is Christ’s love (that’s the passive voice) which is already poured out from the cross and which continues (the perfect tense) to be shown forth in our acts of love for others.

I ran across a pastor who said he posted on Facebook the question, "What makes it hard for you to serve other people?" Some of the answers he got included: 
"Serving is hard when it doesn't fit in to my schedule or plan. It's hard when their need seems endless. I don't want to risk helping/serving because I may get sucked in. Being swallowed up in the serving and not getting to be the me I think I am or should be (Miller).”
Then he says, “But my favorite answer was this one: "What makes it hard to serve others? Others” (Miller).

Loving others, does not equal first place as Mike Deleavo discovered but it is in line with God’s will and fulfills the purpose of His love since before time began and we celebrate it this morning at His table. Let us pray.

Works cited 'A Race Full of Confusion: Despite Costly Wrong Turn, Cross-Country Results Stand'. n.p., 2015. Web. 3 Sept. 2015.

Bellah, Robert N. Individualism & Commitment in American Life. New York: Perennial Library, 1987. Print.

Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

McKnight, Scot. Galatians. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1995. Print.

Miller, Kevin. 'Facebook Question: What's Hard About Serving Others?'. Preaching Today. n.p. 2015. Web. 3 Sept. 2015.

The Princess Bride. 2015. DVD.

Saturday, September 5


Ok, so this is a full week late in getting it posted. I have good excuses but the fact is, I just didn't get it done before I headed to Oakland for my step-father-in-law's memorial service.

anny Villegas was roofer in Texas for five years following 70-months in a Federal prison for bank robbery. He drove to Florida and went to the Kennedy Space Center Federal Credit Union and told the teller he was robbing her and that she “might as well call the police now.”
He then sat on a couch in the lobby to wait for the police. Lt. Ron White said, Villegas wanted to “rob a federal bank because he wanted to go back to a federal penitentiary” (Asso. Press, 2007).

Last week, we ended with Paul’s confusion, “I am perplexed about you” (v. 20). Partially because these people would leave behind the grace and freedom they’d found in Christ and because he had thought they had a bond between themselves which showed him to be truthful and honest.

Now the confusion continues as he asks if they have even listened to the Law. Hearing was more important then because it was mostly an ‘oral’ culture. Songs, stories, letters, plays, teaching were all verbal and the use of written words, contracts and the like were usually meant for the few or to be read to the groups they addressed. For the Jew, to “hear the Law” is to “internalize that word, to understand it, and to obey it… terms like of ‘seeing’, ‘hearing,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘repenting’ are used synonymously” (Longenecker, 2015) for the process of listening to God’s Law.

A personal favorite explanation comes from Timothy George who translates this as ““Do you realize what you are getting into?” Do you really know what is involved in what you are about to do? Then listen more carefully to what the law itself says” (George, 1994). Those who had been Gentiles and were facing pressure to be circumcised might be excused from understanding the effect of the Law but not those who had previously been Jews.

Freedom from?

The introduction I used was about a man who could not stand to be free from Federal prison. Other stories can be told of those who can’t stand to be free from a life of abuse or addiction. There are those who can’t stand a life without pain and failure. But when read in 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” What are we free from and what are free to?

We are free from trying to save ourselves. Our eternal future is no longer tied to keeping to a special diet, celebrating certain festivals and making a list of sacrifices to make God happy. A 20-something woman, raised in a Christian home and church assured her interview she was ‘saved’. She explained being a Christian meant asking Jesus into your heart and that you had to ask him to forgive you for “bad things, the sins you do.”

When the interview asked, “And what does God want from you?”

She was quick to answer, "He wants me to do good stuff …. You know, be nice to others and don't hang around with bad people.” The interview then summarized this exchange.
“We've transformed the holy, terrifying, magnificent, and loving God of the Bible into Santa and his elves. And instead of transmitting the gloriously liberating and life-changing truths of the gospel, we have taught our children that what God wants from them is morality. We have told them that being good (at least outwardly) is the be-all and end-all of their faith” (Fitzpatrick and Thompson, 2011).
Thomas Merton wrote, “It is not that someone else is preventing you from living happily… Rather than admit this [and ask for God's help], you pretend that someone else is keeping you from exercising your liberty. Who is this? It is you yourself” (Merton, 1972). 

Way back in 1967 I learned the difference between religion and faith when Fritz Ridenour penned a book for Regal Press called How to be a Christian without Being Religious. He pointed out that Paul, a Pharisee, “had plenty of religion… still the Law did not bring him peace. It did not put him in touch with the living God” (Ridenour, 1967)

The world promises purpose, hope, a future and peace. But it repeatedly fails to keep these promises. We are also free from trusting these false promises that never appear. We are free from the seemingly mundane and uselessness that life can become. Did you know that the ‘treadmill’ or ‘treadwheel’ was invented in 1818 as a device to use in British prisons? The purpose was to give prisoners the task of walking upstairs for hours on end to generate a little power for mills and the like (Lienhard, 2015).

Freedom to?

What does this freedom mean for us? Can we possibly become like the Galatians or the bank robber who desires the certainty of the routine we run back into it?
We’ve heard it before from Paul, but we are free to receive God’s grace. We are free to be children of promise, whom, since before Abraham, God has called to be his people. We are free to be forgiven. We are freed from the curse that our sins laid on us. Our freedom binds us to others who have been set free. Freedom gives us a deep, personal relationship with God in which we are privileged to call him “Daddy”
Thus, we are free to live for Jesus and like Jesus. The question is, what does that look like? In John 8 Jesus is faced with those who want to profess they are descendants of Abraham. To them, Jesus tells them

1.     His teaching is the truth and the truth will set us free.
2.    Those who are free would do what Abraham did which is believe and trust God
3.    Free to love him, that is to keep his commandments, to love as he loves, to give ourselves sacrificially like an offering for others.

John Stott points out, we inherit the spiritual reality of the Old Testament promises. “They are fulfilled today not in the Jewish nation, as some dispensationalists hold, nor in the British or Anglo-Saxon people, as the British Israelites teach, but in Christ and in the people of Christ who believe”. And “Secondly, we experience the grace of God, His gracious initiative to save us” (Stott, 1968).

Obtaining and maintaining one’s freedom…

You may not believe this, but there are some take the freedom Christ has given and assume they are free to do whatever they want to do because, “after all, God will forgive me because of Jesus.” Such behavior is a sign that one is either not really free, or simply foolish. “Freedom in Christ does not give us the right to do as we please but the power and ability to do as we ought” (Anders, 1999). Romans 6:1-2 says, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?”

God’s work brings about ‘sanctification’ i.e. holiness by killing, little by little our sin nature. Whereas ‘justification’ is a past event, our salvation, the holy life is an ongoing adventure. “Both of them proceed from Christ by the grace of God: now sanctification is the abolishing of sin, that is, of our natural corruption, whose place is taken by the cleanness and pureness” (Whitlock et al., 1995).

Galatians 5:1 give us two commands concerning our maintenance of our freedom, “stand fast” and “do not again”. We do not win our acceptance by our own obedience (Stott, 1968). That is what religion is all about, earning heaven by doing good deeds. We are to stand fast by relying on God to continue the work he has started in us, even when we face hard time and naysayers. God has broken the heavy yoke so that we may stand (Leviticus 26:13) and we are, in no way, to take that on ourselves again.

We are much better off listening to Matthew 11 when Jesus says,
28Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Let us pray.

Works Cited
Asso. Press. 'Man Stages Robbery to Get Back In Prison'. Washington Post 2007. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.

Fitzpatrick, Elyse, and Jessica Thompson. Give Them Grace. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2011. Print.

George, Timothy. Galatians. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 1994. Print.

Lienhard, John H. 'No. 374: Prison Treadmills'. n.p., 2015. Web. 26 Aug. 2015.

Longenecker, Richard N. Galatians, Volume 41. Zondervan, 2015. Print.

Merton, Thomas. New Seeds of Contemplation. New York, NY: New Directions, 1972. Print.

Ridenour, Fritz. How to be a Christian Without being Religious. Glendale, Calif.: Gospel Light Pub., 1967. Print.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. 5th ed. London: Inter-Varsity P., 1968. Print.

Whitlock, Luder G. et al. New Geneva Study Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1995. Print.

Monday, August 24

I really do care Preached 23 of August 2015 at Kenton Church

here are some passages in God’s Word that lends themselves to preaching. John 3:16, Psalm 23 or Matthew 5-7. The way we, that is westerners think, it has clear limits, can be set into bite-size pieces. Then, there are passages like this one.

These verses are pushing a doctrine of justification or sanctification. Paul’s not teaching us about the role of spiritual gifts or plant a church. Instead, this is one of those passages in which we see the heart of Paul toward those with whom he worked and besides whom he labored for Jesus. This is why I paired this passage with Acts 20. There you see Paul speaking with the leaders of Ephesus, the church with whom he had the longest pastorate.

It is a change of tone for Paul. He doesn’t lower his standard for Christ, but he now addresses these brothers and sisters as one who loves them and aches to see them restored. It has been described as a “tender, urgent and intensely personal appeal” (Hendriksen), “a fatherly, apostolic spirit” (George), “He turns from ‘spanking’ to ‘embracing’ (Wiersbe), for he remembers their willingness to sacrifice for him and the way in which they accepted him at his lowest.

You can’t share what you don’t have

Verse 12 starts, “Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” The problem is only the first verb actually appears in the text so a ‘literal translation’ becomes, “Becomes as I, for I as you”. Strange to us but perfectly normal grammar and construction for its day.

Paul urges the Galatians to become like he is. He wants them to be free from keeping Jewish traditions, being enslaved by the Law, and to be free in Christ. He wants them to embrace and be embraced by God’s grace and to remain true to Jesus’ call.

The second part of this verse, “for I as you” reminds them that he didn’t pretend to be a super Jew, full of condemnation for Gentiles. He wasn’t aloof and distant as some had been, including Peter. No Paul had come there at his weakest when he was sick.

There are many guesses as to what sort of illnesses Paul suffered and include epilepsy, malaria, eye problems, to migraines. Whatever it was, it was, “chronic, very painful, repulsive, and humiliating (Dunnam and Ogilvie).” We may draw from these verses that this first visit to wasn’t so much a theological mandate as it was to allow healing. In the grip of an unsightly and revolting illness, Paul’s may well expect rejection by the Galatians. The verbs in verse 14 ‘score and despise” carry a sense of contempt and revulsion. The second verb is ‘to spit out’ as in disdain is a ‘defense against sickness or demonic threats (Dunn).

Instead of rejection Paul and treating him as if he’s possessed or contagious. He is accepted, he and the gospel. The people understand he is a messenger of God—an angel. At Ephesus, you can see Paul’s heart poured out for these leaders, even as he tells them they will be betrayed by some of their own people. Can you imagine anything more horrible than having been shown that would happen?

God’s Word is personal

One of the points of this section is to show us that God’s grace is a personal work, not a private one. The bible tells us of families that are baptized but, at the core, God’s gospel is one that touches individuals after individual. It doesn’t pass from parent to child or grand-parent to grand-child. Each new generation, each person needs to confront and be confronted by God’s claim on their lives for themselves.

Personal does not mean private. Private faith says, ‘everyone has their own belief that is true for them.’ Personal faith declares, ‘let me tell about a person who has changed my life’. Private faith doesn’t interpose itself into the everyday world. Personal faith cannot help but become the center of one’s live. Private faith plays nice with everyone. Personal faith is often lashed out at and scorned.

Private faith is, at its heart, self-indulgent, introspective, and centered on one’s needs and desires. Christian faith, personal faith brings peace like Christ had in the garden—not my will but yours be done. Personal faith brings strength, but it is the strength to bear pain, persecution and hatred of others. Knowing Christ gives meaning but it is meaning that comes as we care for widows and orphans, give a cup of water, visit those in prison, build wells, treat those with Ebola and sacrifice our lives for Jesus.

God’s word destroys human limitations

Paul was limited by his health but as we read he visited people, planted churches, wrote letters and served Christ.

I want to share a story of Lizzie Johnson who, although limited, found her faith limitless. This woman died in 1909 and for most of her adult life, 26 years, she was bedridden, unable to even lift her head. In May of 1890, she accepted her situation as she said yes to Jesus and was told to make a quilt, sell it and give the money to missions. It should be noted that a lot of effort was going into putting young girls in Africa into Christian missions.

She made her ‘crazy quilt’ but it didn’t sell. For fourteen years, it was folded in a corner of the room until Bishop Warne, who was placed over Illinois in 1900 visited this woman. Hearing her story, he asked if he could borrow the quilt.

“Over the next twenty years, it circled the world three times, and the story of Lizzie Johnson was told on every continent of the globe. Bishop Warne estimated that $100,000 was raised during that time through the quilt for the cause of missions” (Newsome).

At the suggestion of her brother, she made bookmarks and the donation toward mission was near $25,000. This was when the New York Times sold for a penny. In addition she answered, or dictated to her sister answers to some 100 plus letters each month” (Newsome).

Now let’s jump ahead to after WW2 when a Japanese Christian, Takuo Matsumoto, where he was the President of the Methodist mission school in Nagasaki where, when it was attacked with the second atomic weapon. He survived but over 250 of the girls in the mission school were killed. Coming to Champaign to speak he discovered Lizzie’s sister Alice was there. He told her “All that I am I owe to Lizzie Johnson. (Dunnam and Ogilvie)”

This is because “Alice Johnson remembered that her sister had given money to support the education of a young boy in Japan named Takao Matsumoto” (Dunnam and Ogilvie).

Takuo did not forget the woman who brought him to a life of blessings. The Galatians were in the process of forgetting Paul and all the blessings that God’s grace had given to them. They were about to sell out and turn away from the news that had set them free. Takuo didn’t, in spite of what he suffered, in spite of those he saw killed. He remained true to the Christ who loved him, called him and with reverence the one who made a difference simply because she sewed bookmarks.

Remember, what you plan to do may not work out. Where you want to be may not happen. But, when you’re willing to be where God sends you and do what God commands you, blessings are all yours. Let us pray.

Works Cited

Dunn, James D. G. The Epistle to the Galatians. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993. Print.

Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.

George, Timothy. Galatians. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 1994. Print.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002. Print.

Newsome, Jack. 'Lizzie, the Missionary Worker'. n.p., 2015. Web. 19 Aug. 2015.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1989. Print.

Tuesday, August 18

Who Do You Think You Are?

s a child my mom told me my heritage from her family was English, Irish, Scotch, Danish and possibly Jewish. My heritage on my mom’s family turns out to be Danish and British. Not only do I enjoy doing genealogy, but I’m a fan of “Finding Your Roots” on OPB hosted by Henry Louis Gates Jr. and “Who Do You Think You Are” on TLC.  I know they’re edited for newsworthy and cool discoveries but it’s hard to get excited when you see Angie Harmon meeting her 5th cousin, once removed, on the family farm, dating from the 1700’s.
When it comes to our spiritual lives the question of whether our identity is linked to the Law or Grace is of eternal importance.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.
Paul tells us that the law was our jailer and taskmaster. The word translated guardian, teacher, tutor, or schoolmaster doesn’t quite capture the person or his role in Roman life. This was a slave who was in charge of a young man to keep him safe and teach him how to be a Roman. They were was not the boy’s teacher so much as his disciplinarian. “He was often harsh to the point of cruelty, and is usually depicted in ancient drawings with a rod or cane in his hand” (Stott). One ancient Christian writer observed “students are scared of their pedagogues” (George). The law imprisons us and beats us for our failures.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 
Grace comes about by faith. It takes us from under the thumb of a taskmaster and makes us an adult, or in this case a child of God’s and heir of the kingdom. Charles Wesley, English pastor, evangelist and Oxford scholar was born into and raised into the ministry, it seemed. He’d come to Georgia and preached to American Indians, he read the bible, tried to live a holy life, gave money to the poor, and preached in British prisons. Yet he had no peace about his own destiny.
He was at Aldersgate Street where as they read in Romans how God works in the heart through faith, Wesley’s said, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” He continued,
“I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death”(Wesley).
So what happened to Wesley? He became immersed in Christ, baptized. With grace our identity is not sealed with circumcision but with baptism. The act does not save us but it signifies our faith, reliance and trust in Jesus in an outward manner. My best friend throughout high school was baptized as a believer, professed faith in Christ and has set is aside. Effective baptism is not a human decision, but flows from God who moves a person to respond to and accept the faith to which they feel called.
When we “put on Christ” we are clothed with Christ’s character. We become imitators of Jesus and this takes practice and time. “The patience, gentleness, humility and love of Christ; His wide-openness and sensitivity to people and willingness to risk… are to be cultivated in our lives” (Dunnam and Ogilvie) p 74.
As people of faith, our new identity causes us to fulfill Jesus’ commands in Matthew 16:24 “If anyone will come after me, let them deny them self, and take up their cross, and follow me.” Who are the people you have met who have carried their cross? Such people are not always notable, in fact, they are often time quiet and you never know what is going on.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.
Here’s a verse we have heard but need to learn. The New English Bible says, “You are all one person in Christ Jesus” (v. 28). We need to be absolutely clear that Christ does no wipe away or abolish such distinctions as these. We should also understand that this is a list not the list of the differences that are touched by faith in Jesus. In Christ these differences just don’t matter. They don’t get in the way of being together in worship or on the mission field.
“We recognize each other as equals, brothers and sisters in Christ. By the grace of God we would resist the temptation to despise one another or patronize one another, for we know ourselves to be ‘all one person in Christ Jesus’” (Stott).
We also have a home, a family, a tribe, a place where we belong, for we are Abraham’s offspring and therefore heirs with Christ. 
Who are we? We are either people under the harshness of the law or we are heirs of God’s kingdom by his grace. In chapter 4, we discover that being under the Law is like being a slave, even though you have a right to something more. Consider Israel who, although had the promise of the land given to Abraham, didn’t see that promise fulfilled for centuries.
What’s more there is a sudden linking of the Law with the demonic.
1I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. 
Last September Prince Harry turned 30-years-old and inherited some 10 million pounds (Charleton). It was right there in his mother’s will, but he could not realize it till he turned 30. Those called in faith have an inheritance, but it cannot be realized apart from trusting Jesus with one’s life and future.
They are described as the weak and beggarly (v.9) and the reason for bringing them up again is because the Galatians are at risk of or may have already started down the road back into slavery to these spirits. Set against these elements in Jesus who was born at the right time, was human, not some spirit, was subject to the law as a Jew and came with a purpose—to bring salvation and adoption.
And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.
In the place of a harsh tutor or pedagogue we have a loving and caring Father in God. There is no harshness in Him for any punishment we deserve was placed on Jesus, who became cursed in our place.
The law isn’t evil nor has it become ‘bad’ because Jesus has come. The enslavement to it was and is the work of Satan. John Stott writes,
“God intended the law to reveal sin and to drive men to Christ; Satan uses it to reveal sin and to drive men to despair. God meant the law as an interim step to man’s Justification; Satan uses it as the final step to his condemnation” (Stott).
This is part of Satan’s work from the beginning, to take what God has set forth and ‘bend’ it to evil.
So, who do you think you are? Do we belong to the people of faith or to the law? Do we belong to God’s family, sons and daughters—heirs of the Kingdom or are we minors, unable to rightly judge and needing a guardian to handle our affairs?
I believe the answer lies in whether or not we’ve heard and answered Jesus’ call to come, take up our cross and follow Him. Let us pray

Works Cited
Charleton, Corey. 'Prince Harry to Inherit £10Million Share Of Diana's Fortune'. Mail Online. N. p., 2014. Web. 14 Aug. 2015.
Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print.
George, Timothy. Galatians. Nashville, Tenn.: B & H, 1994. Print.
Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. 5th ed. London: Inter-Varsity P., 1968. Print.

Wesley, John. 'Journal of John Wesley - Christian Classics Ethereal Library'. N. p., 2015. Web. 13 Aug. 2015.

Wednesday, August 12

Grace and Law

So this the sermon preached August 9 at Kenton Church as part of the summer sermon series on Galatians

This past week a pastor, Rev. Gretta Vosper, of the United Church of Canada may face questions about her effectiveness to pastor. Her denomination is the most liberal in the world but they have to determine if “she has gone too far” (Perkel). At issue is that, she is an atheist. “I don’t believe in... the god called God...Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share.” This isn’t new as she went public with her belief in 2001. She’s not alone. Portland has an atheist Presbyterian minister and in Austin Texas a Presbyterian church allowed an atheist to become a member. These sort of issues are not new to Christ’s people. In fact, it was similar issues that Paul faced among the Galatians which is why this letter is so important for 21st American Christians.

At the heart of chapter 3 is the question of how one obtains God’s grace. Are the blessings that God has promised to those who follow him, come by following rules or by faith in Christ. Three times Paul uses the phrase “works of the law” which are synonymous with the Law of Moses. Which is attempting to gain God’s Kingdom by legalistic rule keeping and diets.
What happens when one places their hope in anything other than Jesus is they are drawn off target, they become distracted or forget what’s key. Back in 2004 Matt Emmons was one bullet away from winning his second gold medal. He shot a perfect bullseye except it was the wrong target (Rivera). I watched an Olympic swimming event in which the first place in the breaststroke slightly turned his head to see his rival. His race was lost.

Here is the founding mission statement of a major U.S. university.

“Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed, to consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.(Harvard University)
It’s been changed. Now it proclaims,

The mission of Harvard College is to educate the citizens and citizen-leaders for our society. We do this through our commitment to the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education.(
God is no longer part of the process or the goal for Harvard. It is about human ability. The direction and hope is no longer based in Christ but in a liberal arts and sciences education. And Harvard is only one example of the reality in which we live.

 At the 350th anniversary celebration of Harvard, Steven Muller, former president of Johns Hopkins University, bluntly stated, "The bad news is the university has become godless." Larry Summers, the former president of Harvard, confessed, "Things divine have been central neither to my professional nor to my personal life(Greer)"

The Galatians had started to shift their focus when Paul is informed and writes this letter to the foolish and stupid Christ followers in the region. How do we keep from being called foolish and stupid for the way we choose to follow Jesus? If you think Paul’s name calling is harsh consider that this it is the same word Jesus uses when in Luke 24:25 he told his disciples, “You foolish and slow of heart”.

It seems that someone has noticed the change and maybe even regrets it. But is too late for us or can we maintain a vibrant trust in Jesus?

Let’s consider the rhetorical questions in verses 1-6.
·       Did the Holy Spirit come because of what we did or by responding with faith?
·       Are we foolish enough to think the completion of our belief comes by our actions?
·       Have all our experiences in Christ been for nothing?
·       What is the source for the miracles you’ve experienced come from—human effort of God’s grace?

The answer Paul is looking for is obviously God’s grace and faith in Christ. The church had fallen victim to lies, smooth arguments, and deceit, much like Genesis 3 and the story of the serpent and Eve.

In Deuteronomy 8 we have two sections that illustrate why our answers are important today. God clearly tells us that keeping his commandments will lead to good harvests and safe lives. The reality check comes in the second passage. Start thinking we did it inevitably leads to following and worshipping other gods. God’s answer for that is destruction.

So what’s your answer? There have been plenty of people, sitting in pews, going on mission trips, active in programs, who have decided that ‘they and Jesus’ had accomplished much. I have close friends who gave up on God and their ministry when confronted with their sin. I’ve known youth who claim to follow Jesus whose life ignores Christ’s commandments. I’ve seen servants of God walk away when they get the job of their dream, the vacation cabin at a lake, the money that lets them travel, the new house, car, boat or friends. They would call themselves Christians but take any mention or memory of Jesus from them and their lives wouldn’t change.

I hope our answers are different.

Know Your History

We are just part of a long line of followers of Christ. It stretches back, not to the first century but to Abraham and even before him. Paul reminds the Galatians and us that God’s promise to Abraham came centuries before the Law was given to Moses. God promised Abraham a land and a nation. In addition, God’s fulfillment of this would be a blessing for all peoples.
This promise came 430 years before the Ten Commandments. This promise came before circumcision. This promise came before dietary restrictions, cleanliness rules and Pharisees. Through God’s promise to Abraham, all nations, even Gentile ones, would receive blessings, which involves the justification that Christ’s death gives.

The difference between the promise to Abraham and the Law of Moses is summed up well by Martin Luther who wrote,

In the promise to Abraham God said, ‘I will … I will … I will …’ But in the law of Moses God said, ‘Thou shalt … thou shalt not …’. The promise sets forth a religion of God—God’s plan, God’s grace, God’s initiative. But the law sets forth a religion of man—man’s duty, man’s works, man’s responsibility. The promise (standing for the grace of God) had only to be believed. But the law (standing for the works of men) had to be obeyed. God’s dealings with Abraham were in the category of ‘promise’, ‘grace’ and ‘faith’. But God’s dealings with Moses were in the category of ‘law’, ‘commandments’ and ‘works’ (Stott)

So why is the law? Its purpose is to convict us of sin. It is there to rightly display God’s curse on all who do not keep the whole law. The law brings a curse on all people because no one can keep it. The law binds all people with death and damnation because salvation, through the law, is only possible if we keep the law.

What do you think of that word ‘curse’? It means to reject, cast away, consider useless, not worth saving. As Dr. Stott says, “this is the position of every human being who has ever lived, except Jesus Christ.”

Faithful Responding to Christ

Paul tells the Galatians that Jesus was placarded on the cross. I will guess you’ve seen the huge lighted billboards along Broadway in New York. News, the latest movies, even Navy recruiting images are flashed to the tens of thousands who walk and drive along those streets. Imagine if Jesus’ death was displayed in such a way. That is what the Bible says, Jesus’ death was clearly seen for anyone who looked. There’s no mistaking it. It can’t be missed, unless we don’t want to see it.

Most preachers can tell stories of how people, whom we thought believed, actually were just ‘playing church’. The tendencies in Galatia are the same as in Portland. Those who trust in rituals, a moral code, science, wisdom, beauty, skills, money, power, things, or even doctrinal truth are at risk. “If one bases his or her hope for this life or the next upon anything apart from Christ he is placing confidence in flesh(Hendriksen)

Any fellowship we hope to attain with God will fail because God, through Christ made it happen. In Jesus, we are justified and without being justified, being set straight on God’s paths, there can be no fellowship. In fact, the sad truth is the opposite of justification is condemnation. There is no middle place.

What does it mean to respond in faith? It means to recognize that Jesus became and took our cursedness, because we can’t keep the law, and placed it on himself on the cross. That explains why God the Father turned his back on Jesus when he was hanging there. For that moment, with our sins on him, Jesus became what we are by our fallen nature. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)”

John Stott has a great statement of what this response looks like. He writes:
“Faith is laying hold of Jesus Christ personally. There is no merit in it. It is not another ‘work’. Its value is not in itself, but entirely in its object, Jesus Christ… Renounce the folly we can add to what Christ has done “come humbly to the cross, where Christ bore our curse, and cast ourselves entirely upon His mercy. And then, by God’s sheer grace, because we are in Christ Jesus by faith, we shall receive justification, eternal life and the indwelling Spirit.(Stott)

Have you done that? Do you need to do it? Does your sin keep getting in the way, do you keep saying, “As soon as I get this under control” or “Once I’m better at this”. You are no more acceptable to Christ once you’ve seemingly conquered your demons than you are now. The question is whether you’re willing to answer His call to come and be changed.
Let’s pray.

Works Cited:

Dunnam, Maxie D, and Lloyd John Ogilvie. Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Philemon. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982. Print. 'Harvard College Mission Statement in 1636 | Educating Generations for CHRIST'. N.p., 2012. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Greer, Peter. Mission Drift. Bethany House Publishers, 2015. Print.
Harvard University. 'Mission Statement'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Hendriksen, William. Exposition of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, And Philemon. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2002. Print.

Perkel, Colin. 'Atheist Minister Fighting United Church’s Effort to Fire Her'. The Globe and Mail. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Rivera, Steve. 'USATODAY.Com - Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming At Wrong Target'. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 Aug. 2015.

Stott, John R. W. The Message of Galatians. London: Inter-Varsity P., 1968. Print.,. 'Emmons Loses Gold Medal After Aiming At Wrong Target (Washingtonpost.Com)'. N.p., 2015. Web. 6 Aug. 2015.