Galatians 3:15-22 – Law and Grace

Brothers and sisters, let me take an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case. The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ. What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise. For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on the promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator. A mediator, however, implies more than one party; but God is one.

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But Scripture has locked up everything under the control of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe. (New International Version)

If the Apostle Paul were living in our day, I’m pretty sure he could have his own reality show, if he wanted. Paul is a terribly interesting man. Within church circles, his adventures are legendary. 

One of the most interesting things about Paul is his piercing intellect and flawless rhetoric. Today’s New Testament lesson has Paul taking on a Galatian heresy. Maybe we could call it “Law and Grace: SFU (Special Faith Unit).”  

The folks who were holding to the law were reminded by Paul that the promise to Abraham was a contract or covenant made by God that was binding, permanent, and divinely ratified. The law, on the other hand, was not – it was designed to be in effect for a specific amount of time, temporary, and only bound the people of God until the promise was fulfilled in Christ.

So, why in the world was there a law to begin with if it is no longer in effect? 

Paul said the law was added because of transgressions. It was as if God’s people were precocious and disobedient little children who needed some firm boundaries and rules in order to keep them safe and lead them to the time when they would grow to maturity. 

My friends, stop thinking like children. Think like mature people and be as innocent as tiny babies.

1 Corinthians 14:20, CEV

With the arrival of adulthood, there is no longer any need for the law.

The law was never designed to be permanent. So, when Christians cling to a rules-based faith, they are showing their immaturity. They need to grow up and embrace the permanent reality of living in the Spirit. 

Although you should have been teachers by now, you need someone to teach you an introduction to the basics about God’s message. You have come to the place where you need milk instead of solid food. Everyone who lives on milk is not used to the word of righteousness, because they are babies. But solid food is for the mature, whose senses are trained by practice to distinguish between good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14, CEB)

We must press on toward spiritual maturity, not being simpletons who embrace the law as if it were the actual faith itself. Instead, we need to pursue an adult faith – one which is thoroughly permeated and bathed in grace.

Grace is the permanent and pervasive reality that governs everything Christians are to do and say. Grace cannot be earned, only accepted, not achieved, but only given by God. 

Until we can grasp this fundamental truth of Christianity, the Christian life will never make sense. Only until we release our expectations of rules and let go of our orienting around law will we discover the liberation of a grace-filled existence.

Jesus said, “In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:48, MSG)

We spread the message about Christ as we instruct and teach everyone with all the wisdom there is. We want to present everyone as mature Christian people.

Colossians 1:28, GW

The believer’s task is to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus. That happens not through the law but by grace – utilizing the God given gifts of faith, hope, and love.

Gracious God, you saved me through Christ alone by faith alone. Now help me to live by grace alone as the highest and greatest truth operative in the universe and in the kingdom of God. Amen.

John 14:23-29 – Spiritual Peace

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe. (New International Version)

The Holy Spirit is our Advocate, Companion, Helper, Comforter, Counselor, and Teacher. All of that is wrapped up in the word “Paraclete” (a transliteration of the Greek word, Παράκλητος).

A straightforward literal translation of “Paraclete” needs a phrase rather than a word: “Called alongside for encouragement,” fairly-well translates the word. Our needs as followers of Jesus are many – thus requiring a multi-faceted mentoring ministry by the Spirit.

The Spirit was sent to be with Christians continually, reminding them of all Jesus has said and done as the ultimate witness to Christ’s life and ministry. So, the role of the Holy Spirit is providing aid for Christians, especially in difficult situations; the Spirit helps in a time of need.

The Spirit is also our close Companion. Indeed, it is a special friend who stands up for us, advocates on our behalf, gives us remedial teaching, and brings comfort. In other words, the Holy Spirit is motivated with love for us, just like the Father and the Son.

Whatever we need, the Holy Spirit is something of a divine concierge in the middle of adversity, attentive to our every need. Perhaps a story will better illustrate the Spirit’s nature and work.

When my girls were small and I was a financially struggling seminarian, we were one evening down to our last bit of food. Although they thought it was a privilege to eat Wheaties for supper, my wife and I knew the cupboard was now bare.

So, we prayed. As we got up from our knees and started off for bed, there was a knock at our patio back door. We looked at each other wondering who in the world it could be at such a late hour. When I drew the shades, one of our neighbors, a little Puerto Rican woman, was outside holding what appeared to be more than her own body weight in overflowing grocery bags.

As I ushered her in and before I could say a word, she said this: “I went to bed and had just fallen into a deep sleep. But the Holy Spirit woke me up and told me to take as many groceries as I could carry to you. So, here I am.”

In that moment, I knew in my head and felt in my heart a ministry of the Spirit which transcends language. And the next morning, our girls learned something about God that they would never get from listening to their Dad’s teaching and preaching. I must also add that this is a story which gets retold often because it reminds us of how God meets us in our need and how much God cares.

Through such encounters with the Spirit (and I have mercifully been granted many of them!) I begin to understand and appreciate the wisdom of the saints throughout the ages:

“When the grace of the Holy Spirit enters a soul and is established there, it gushes forth more powerfully than any other spring; it neither ceases, dries up, nor is exhausted. And the Savior, to signify this inexhaustible gift of grace, calls it a spring and a torrent; He also calls it gushing water, to indicate its force and impetus.”

St. John Chrysostom

“Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.”

Corrie Ten Boom

One of greatest gifts which is given to us because of Christ and the Spirit is peace. Personal peace. Family peace. National peace. World peace. There is such a tremendous need for peace!

And yet, so many of us lack peace to the degree that we must medicate ourselves to sleep, at all. For some folks, avoiding family seems normal, just to keep the peace. National peace almost sounds oxymoronic. World peace is merely wishful thinking for far too many people. Perhaps we are in such a befuddled conundrum because of this reason:

We already possess what we so desperately want.

The search for peace is really the search within. The simplest of observations about Christ’s words is that Jesus has left us his peace. He gave it to us. We have it. Perhaps we have misplaced it? Maybe its lost in that huge stack on the desk?  Most likely, we plain old forgot about it. We need to remember that God’s peace is here with us. Right now. This very minute. We have exactly what we want.

The peace Jesus is talking about is far more than the absence of war, conflict, or infighting. The peace of Christ is the settled and restful calm and confidence of being with God, of an intimate union with the divine.

Jesus has given himself. He himself is our peace. Peace isn’t some happenstance thing, nor did it just magically appear. Peace was bought at a price – the blood of Jesus.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [the Son] and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20, NIV)

The gift of peace needs to be unpacked.

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:3, NIV)

Practices of peace and peacemaking must be acknowledged and engrafted into our lives if we are going to experience it on the daily practical level

The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Romans 14:17-19, NIV

Since Jesus gives in a different way than any other gift, it may have thrown us off. Like the delivery guy who leaves a package in an odd place, we could be searching for the ongoing gift of peace somewhere on our property. It’s there – it just seems so darned elusive.

The authentic peace that is harmony and unity, can neither be found in perfect circumstances nor in idyllic families and faith communities. Divine peace is the security of relationship with God, smack in the middle of life’s crud.

The reason Jesus can exhort his disciples to be untroubled and unafraid is because the life of God is within them. As that life grows within us; as our hearts are healed with that presence; as we receive peace from the gracious hand of God; then, we discover, often by happenstance, that perfect love has driven the fear away.

Fear focuses on the hard situation in front of me, whereas love directs attention on Jesus. As the Father has loved the Son, so the Son loves us – and we have peace – without trying to miraculously conjure it with positive thoughts.

It is the glorious, gracious, and mystical union between Jesus and the believer which is peace. All obstacles have been surmounted and tossed into the trash for the garbage guy to haul away. And no, you did not accidentally throw your peace in the dumpster. There really is no need for any dumpster diving with Jesus around. He has already done that work for you and me through the cross.

Yet, peace still seems a pipe dream for some, even with the understanding of the gift. Like a new product packed so tightly in the plastic, we struggle to open it. Maybe the following thoughts may help to unpack peace for us:

  • Stop and breathe. It is no coincidence that the Holy Spirit of God is likened as wind. Pausing to take deep breaths in through our nose, and full exhales through our mouth can become prayers. The ancient Christian practice of breath-prayers can help us here. Some examples: Inhale saying, “More of you,” and exhale saying, “Less of me.” Inhale, “Holy one,” exhale, “heal me.” Inhale, “Abba Father,” exhale, “let me feel your love.”
  • Listen to peaceful music and words of peace. If we are continually in a state of agitation, it could be that we are inhaling a steady stream of radio, TV, or social media that is anything but peace forming – leaving us perpetually upset. So, pay close attention to who and what you listen to.
  • Identify some trigger words or phrases. Have a go-to word or phrase that brings you back to the peace within. For me, its quoting Psalm 23, Romans 6, John 14, or other Scripture passage from memory. So, the trigger phrase is, “The Lord is my shepherd, I have everything I need, or “Trust in God, trust also in me.”
  • Smell it. I keep candles around with pleasant odors and light them when feeling stressed. I also have found that, for me, burning sage helps to feel unburdened and, thus, peaceful.
  • Forgive. I have observed that many of the behavioral health patients I work with have little to no peace in their lives due to either resentment toward others or the inability to forgive themselves. Forgiveness brings peace, even if the other party does not want it.

May the Holy Spirit’s work abound in your life. And may the peace of Christ be with you always.

Luke 12:29-32 – Be Content

And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (New International Version)

If we’re honest with God, we acknowledge that we often worry a lot about tomorrow and how our needs will be met. 

Every day we send God moribund signals that our heads are not in the moment, and that our hearts are not into today. We fret about the future, leaving us profoundly discontent. So, we do busywork, distract ourselves with social media, and numb ourselves with spirits rather than turn to the Holy Spirit – all in the futile attempt to reduce the racing thoughts in our heads.

Far too many of us fail to enjoy the present moment. Our minds are someplace else. 

Contented people do not find their happiness in far-off places, in someday being able to acquire the things they desire, or in having a laser-like orientation to achieving a future goal. Instead, they find contentment in their present circumstances. 

Those living without fear and eschewing worry have discovered that happiness is not found in a new job, a new car, a new spouse, or a new anything.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

Dorothy, The Wizard of Oz

Focusing on the present does not mean ignoring the past or neglecting the future; it just means we are to put our primary attention on living in the here and now rather than on a romanticized future free of doubt, insecurity, and uncertainty. 

If we are not present to the here and now, we either get stuck in the past or continually worry about the future.  Everything then becomes either about recapturing some bygone era or of dreaming about some idyllic future state – buying into the wrongheaded notion that whenever I get out of school, or get married, or have kids, or get the job I want, or the kids leave home, or I retire, then all will be good, and I shall finally have contentment. 

Planning for the future is wise, good, and necessary; worrying about it and neglecting the present is bad.

Whenever we rush through the present to get to the future, we lose what God wants to do for us now.  It takes flow, mindfulness, and savor to fully engage the present.

“Flow” is a psychological term that means “being in the zone,” that is, to be actively involved in the present situation with focused attention. 

“Mindfulness” means to be aware of your present surroundings, and to especially be aware of your present state of mind and emotions; it is to pay attention to all that is within you and around you. 

To “savor” something is to enjoy it so much that you want it to last forever. It is to be slow, deliberate, and enjoyable. It’s about the journey, not just the destination.

Flow, mindfulness, and savor are what Jesus asked us to do. Christ wants us to stop and smell the roses. He wants us to give focused attention to what is currently in front of us; to be mindful of all the wonder of creation that presently surrounds us; and, to take the time to simply savor and enjoy it all. 

Once I was in a bible study with a group of people and the family’s dog kept licking a particular person to the point of distraction. Finally, I said to the group: “What do you think God is trying to tell us through the dog?”  We ended up having a very enlightening conversation on our own relationships with God and one another.

We are to be present to today. 

This is the day that the Lord has made;
    let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Psalm 118:24, NRSV

When we realize life is short, we will not waste it on worrying about the future. Although we don’t know about tomorrow, we do know about today. And today we are to enjoy God’s good gifts to us in the here and now.

So, teach us to consider our mortality,
so that we might live wisely. (Psalm 90:12, NET)

The wise way to live is one day at a time. That was God’s message through the prophet Jeremiah to the exiled Israelites. The ancient Jews kept spending their time reminiscing about the past and wishing for a better future.  So, God told them what to do in their exile:

“Build homes, and plan to stay. Plant gardens and eat the food they produce. Marry and have children. Then find spouses for them so that you may have many grandchildren. Multiply! Do not dwindle away! And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:5-7, NLT)

Being content means to enjoy today, to savor the present moment God has you in, even if you don’t like where you are right now.

So go eat your food and enjoy it;
    drink your wine and be happy,
because that is what God wants you to do.
Put on nice clothes
    and make yourself look good.

Enjoy life with the wife you love. Enjoy all the useless days of this useless life God has given you here on earth, because it is all you have. So, enjoy the work you do here on earth. Whatever work you do, do your best, because you are going to the grave, where there is no working, no planning, no knowledge, and no wisdom. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-10, NCV)

Appreciate God’s simple gifts

Sometimes we look so hard for a future miracle, and want out from the circumstance we are in, that we fail to experience contentment in the present time. We are to enjoy the simple pleasures of life which God gives to us, even within our adversity.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:12, NIV)

No matter what is going on in our lives, whether good or not, we can still appreciate a beautiful sunset, a good book, a walk on the beach, time with friends, good food, and a host of other simple gifts which God provides for us on a daily basis. Yet, we must stop long enough to experience and enjoy them.

Remember to celebrate

We are meant to celebrate life. The genuineness of Christianity is seen whenever Christians throw the best parties and have the most fun.

Someday we are all going to die. Rather than this being a downer, it is an opportunity to ponder an important question: Will you celebrate the time you have here on this earth and enjoy it? 

It’s not hedonistic (living for pleasure) to enjoy life and have a party. It’s actually a biblical thing to do. A spirit of celebration is a Christian spirit.

Work with enthusiasm

Dive in and enjoy your work. We end up worrying whenever our focus is on the destination. However, the real point of life is to enjoy the journey and the process. Be present to your work now and enjoy a job well done for the day, instead of looking forward to a fatter paycheck and a better job in the future.

My God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19, NIV

Engage in work with joyful abandon, and not with compulsive perfectionism (which is joyless and life-draining). Find ways of enjoyment within the kind of work that may be draining and not very exciting. Every job has mundane repetitive work to it. Yet, how we go about that work is significant.

If the here-and-now is not the best time of your life, then you and I need to be mindful to the words of Jesus because our focus is somehow misplaced. Contented people focus on the present, what is happening now, today, and they do not worry about tomorrow because that future state is the responsibility of God. 

Ever-present God, enlarge my heart to receive more of your grace and contentment. Rescue me from my small thoughts of your love and goodness. Free me from any unbelief and uncover my many fears. May I rest secure in the knowledge that you are good and everything you do is right, just, and fair. Amen. 

Luke 14:12-14 – Abundance and Inclusion For All

The Great Banquet by Hyatt Moore

Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (New International Version)

A lot of people live by the old adage, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.” It’s a phrase referring to reciprocity. In other words, if you give me something I want, I will then respond by giving you something you want.

That old adage works fine, that is, unless you have no ability to give or give back to another. If we only operate by the principle of reciprocity, a large chunk of people automatically get left out. And this situation is untenable and unacceptable to Jesus.

Christ observed that the religious insiders of his day were keeping entire groups of people on the outside through their practice of scratching one another’s backs.

We need to get ahold of the reality that God loves us, as well as everyone else – even the people we may not give the time of day to. God so loved the world that he sent his Son. Jesus has come to feed us. 

The kingdom of God is about food. The food given by Jesus is to feed the hungry by staging a banquet. It is a feast of God’s abundance. Yet, many seem to hoard the resources they have, only thinking about their friends, family, and people just like them. They act as if there is no need to invite outsiders, consumed as they are with their own daily lives.

We have an incredible abundant feast contained in Scripture – in fact, Jesus said that his food and drink was to do the Father’s will, that Scripture was his bread. (Matthew 4:4; John 4:34) 

It’s much too easy to take our blessings of food for granted. After all, when we are well-fed, it’s easy to assume that everyone else is, too. Feeling healthy, it’s easy to forget that others are hurting. Making money, it’s easy to think there are not many poor people around. Living in a community with plenty of churches and more bibles than people, it’s natural to assume that everyone knows the gospel of Jesus – but they don’t!

Then, whenever we get around to acknowledging there are people who need Jesus, we keep devising ways to reach them without having to change or accommodate our own lives to do it.

Christ’s call to faithful discipleship requires people to change from having a narrow focus on our small circle of friends, to including those who have no means to pay us back.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is open to outcasts and failures, to problem people and to unimpressive persons. People with needs and flaws are especially dear to Jesus. It’s the people who outwardly have it all together who are being replaced wholesale with those who admit their need. 

We must not be picky about who we invite to participate in the largess of abundance we possess. We are to avoid the spiritual snobbery of looking down our noses at the needy and less fortunate, who have nothing to offer us in return.

St. John Chrysostom (348-407, C.E.) was a Bishop of Constantinople and arguably one of the greatest preachers in the history of Christianity. John always thought of both the recipient and the giver in his sermons, insisting that both need God’s mercy.

With a concern for the giver’s soul, John insisted that givers provide for all – even the lazy, the fool, and the sinner. By opening our hearts in almsgiving, we open ourselves to Christ, who is present in the least of those among us. Refusing mercy to people deemed as unworthy, givers then actually shut themselves off from the very mercy God desires for them.

There is no reward from God when there is only reward from others.

“If we are going to examine lives, we will never have mercy upon any human being; rather, hindered by this inopportune meddlesomeness, we will remain fruitless and destitute of all help ourselves.”

St. John Chrysostom, On Repentance and Almsgiving

It’s not only the poor who suffer when the rich fail to give. In judging whether or not a particular person is worthy of love and aid, the wealthy person rejects the spiritual fruit that he would have received by giving with humility.

Giving to the poor, simply to relieve our own conscience, is not real charity; it doesn’t consider the other. We attend fully to the other by observing their spiritual and holistic needs for community, purpose, respect, and dignity. Dispassionate giving from a distance, without relationship, refuses to acknowledge the whole person. It exploits the poor for the mental comfort of the rich.

We need to be involved in people’s lives, and that takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. There are too many lost people who need Jesus, and too many Christians who are the walking wounded and need the healing touch of Jesus, for us to pay scant attention to the call of Jesus to invite the needy into our lives. 

Seeing people come into God’s great banquet, and into a joyous and vital relationship with Christ, probably takes about ten times more work than what you are thinking it does right now. Yet, this is the pathway of true blessing – to having God’s stamp of approval on our lives.

Merciful God, thank you for the abundance of life, relationships, health, comfort, and wealth you have provided to so many. Thank you that, even in times of need, despair, and brokenness, you are there. Please, put your arms around children and families in  poverty and disability so that they feel your comfort and hope. Meet their needs both physically and spiritually. And guide me so I can be your hands and feet pursuing justice for the poor and upholding the cause of the needy, in the way of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.