Galatians 3:1-9

            “You stupid Galatians!  I told you exactly how Jesus Christ was nailed to a cross.  Has someone now put an evil spell on you?” (CEV).  So, Paul, what do you really think of the Galatians’ attitude?  The apostle was totally exasperated with this church.  Having embraced the gospel of grace the Galatian churches turned around and started practicing a gospel of works.  This did not just raise the ire of Paul; he went spiritually Rambo on them.  The Christian life, Paul argued, was thoroughly imbibed with grace – so much so that there is no room whatsoever for Christianity to practically exist outside of grace.  If we were saved by grace, we continue to live by grace.
 
            The Galatian heresy, or stupidity, or whatever you want to call it, still exists.  Having been redeemed by the grace of God in Christ, there are “believers” who persist in declaring a gospel of judgment for any and all who are different.  Whereas they were saved by grace, stupid believers set up a system of works for folks like the LGBTQ community.  Somehow they cannot be saved and sustained by grace because they are in a special class of sinner.  In this system, somehow Muslims can only be saved and sustained by proving how bad they are, and not by grace, because they are terrible people who want everyone else dead.  Somehow they need a gospel of judgment….  I see stupid believers everywhere (said in a hushed whisper).
 
            If I seem perturbed, I guess I am.  I would like to think I’m living along the lines of the Apostle Paul, but I know the human heart’s propensity toward thinking better of itself than it really is.  It seems that, without fail, someone inevitably feels the need to remind me that God cares about truth whenever I talk about grace, as if grace isn’t the highest truth that one could hold.  If it isn’t the gospel of grace it is not biblical – it is a perverted gospel – and the evidence of it is folks who downgrade the crucifixion of Christ and living by the Spirit in favor of group-speak and fighting the culture wars.  Lord, have mercy, Christ have mercy.
 

 

            Gracious God, you are merciful and save all who come to you by faith in the name of Jesus.  Help me to see grace for what it is – scandalously free and exorbitantly wonderful – bought with the price of Christ’s blood.  Amen.

Amos 9:8-15


             Doom and hope, judgment and grace, suffering and glory are the movements and rhythm of the Old Testament prophets.  The sins of Israel were not only that they trampled on the poor and needy, but that they saw nothing wrong with their way of life.  Thus, the time was imminent when God would deal with the situation by destroying that way of life and sending the people away to a place where they would have no chance to oppress others.  Death would come to many:  “All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, ‘Disaster shall not overtake or meet us.’”
             But God would not completely destroy forever.  Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come as a result of God’s free grace toward his people.  “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them.”  God acts and demonstrates grace because that is what God does.  We often get the notion in our heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or to make a point.  But God acts out of his holiness and his grace.  He maintains his righteous decrees while showing mercy to the undeserving out of his storehouse of grace.  
             Israel deserved only judgment, not grace.  God would have been completely justified to destroy them and never restore or renew them.  Yet, God’s grace overwhelms human sin.  Try and understand grace and you will be befuddled because grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free.  Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only hell.  
             The height of grace, the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel, came through a baby and a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem.  Jesus came to save the people from their sins.  God acted by entering humanity of his own free love so that there could be new life and fresh hope.  Let grace wash you clean.  Allow mercy to renew your life.  Let worship of the newborn king shape your season and the New Year.
             Gracious God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting.  May the gospel of grace form all of my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, my Lord.  Amen.

Amos 8:4-12


             Four hundred years of silence….  That is the time known as the inter-testament period, that is, the time between the Old and New Testaments.  No word from God.  No prophets.  There was complete silence… until the fullness of time when the incarnation of Jesus changed everything.  Why so long to hear from God?
             The prophet Amos delivered a scathing message to the Israelites about their total disregard for the poor and needy in the land.  The people in positions of authority and power in Israel only looked on the less fortunate as commodities – as pawns to be taken advantage of for the rich merchants.  Because the wealthy never took the time to listen to the poor, God would not listen to them:  “I will send a famine on the land – not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD.  They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it.”
             We live in a day when the poor are often disregarded.  Either they are ignored altogether, or they are given hand-outs and services without ever having any significant human contact.  In other words, very few people take the time to listen and get to know the real face of poverty.  After all, we are busy making money and checking our stocks, and….  Oh, my, perhaps we have the answer as to why there is such a lack of revival in the land.  God shows such solidarity with the poor that to ignore them is to ignore him.  No matter our financial picture and outlook, every one of us can grace the poor with the gift of time and listening to them.  For in doing so we might just be listening to the voice of God himself.
             Gracious God, you are found everywhere – both the halls of power, and the back alleys of slums.  As I seek you more and more, may I see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter, whether rich or poor so that I can share the gift of life with them all in this season of anticipation.  Amen.

Judgment and Grace

 
 
Judgment and grace are two prominent themes within Holy Scripture.  You will not find one without the other so that we cannot ignore one over another.  We all need to struggle with the tension between God’s Word to us, and our words to God; between God’s judgment, which opens our souls on a spiritual operating table; and, God’s grace which jumpstarts our broken hearts.  Our most fundamental need above anything else in this life is the need for God’s mercy in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 4:12-16).
 
            God intends that our outer lives and our inner lives match each other.  It is when the two are out of sync that we come under the judgment of God’s Word.  The early Hebrew Christians had slowly drifted from the truth so that their inner and outer lives did not line up well.  Some of them were still performing the outward duties of being a Christian, but were inwardly despising their hard situation.  A growing vacuum was occurring on their insides as they slowly started letting go of Jesus as their object of devotion.  Their hearts began to harden because of their troubles.  On the other hand, there were other Hebrew Christians who began drifting in a different way.  Inwardly, they tried to maintain their devotion and commitment to Christ, but began compromising their outward life to match the culture around them.  In both cases of hardening inwardly, and of compromising outwardly, they each shared the situation of drifting away from their original commitment to Christ.
 
            Even today, it is a very real temptation to try and avoid suffering, to grow weary of our present circumstances and look for a way to get out from under the pain and find a quick fix.  Whenever we find ourselves in such a situation, the remedy is to be reminded that we must continue to hold firmly to the faith we profess because of who Jesus is.
 
            Jesus is our great and ultimate high priest.  He did not enter the temporary sacrificial system of the Old Testament to deal with sins for only a year.  Jesus not only took on the role of high priest, but became the sacrifice, as well.  As a result, we now have a permanent forgiveness of sins through Christ.  So, any Christian who considers going back to an old outdated system needs to be brought back to his senses and embrace the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. 
 
            Let us then approach Jesus with confidence, with boldness, knowing that with him there is mercy and grace.  Jesus did not just suffer for us; he also suffers with us right now.  Jesus is not detached from us, but is our great high priest, the One whom is intimately involved in every nook and cranny of our lives.  He knows what you are going through, and he is ready to give you grace to help you through whatever it is you are going through right now. 
 
            What is so wonderful about this is that coming to Jesus has nothing to do with being good enough to do so.  Coming to Jesus is all about grace.  Whenever we find that we have drifted from God and are confronted with his Word cutting us to the heart in judgment, the end result is not wrath; the result is mercy.
 

 

            Like the early Hebrew Christians, we all face situations out of our control that wear us down and cause us to become weary.  It is in such times that we can be tempted to let our commitment to Christ slide in some small way.  Over time, the small compromises of faith can snowball into a big slide away from God.  But Jesus is not sitting in heaven frustrated or confounded.  God is not looking for a reason to punish people.  It is just the opposite.  Jesus, the Son of God, our great high priest, is looking for a reason to show grace and help us in our time of need.  He is waiting for us to approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Right now, Jesus is alive.  He is scanning this world, and his church, looking to extend mercy to those who need it.  Thank you, Jesus.