Galatians 5:16-26 – Being Led by the Spirit

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“Be guided by the Spirit and you won’t carry out your selfish desires…. the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against things like this.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the self with its passions and its desires.  If we live by the Spirit, let’s follow the Spirit.  Let’s not become arrogant, make each other angry, or be jealous of each other.” (Common English Bible)

I’m the youngest sibling in my family.  So, I know what it feels like to be a third wheel with things.  When I was a kid, it always seemed as if everyone thought I was too young to do anything or engage any of the real fun stuff, like watching Mannix, Sanford and Son, or Love American Style past my bedtime like everyone else was doing (I was fascinated with TV as a kid).  Now, much older, I have a larger context for understanding all of that stuff.  Yet, the fact remains that I really was a third wheel lots of times.

Sanford-and-Son

Sometimes I think we treat the Holy Spirit of God somewhat like a third wheel.  We pray to Almighty God; we pray in Jesus’ blessed name; and… what of the Holy Spirit?  Sometimes, even many times, the Spirit gets the short end of the stick.  In fact, I’ve been in some churches where I think their understanding of the Trinity is Father, Son, and Holy Bible; the Spirit is nowhere to be found.

Maybe, because we can never predict what in the world the Spirit is going to do, we send Him off to some metaphorical bedtime so that we watch and do whatever we want.  Or, perhaps we really are diligent about the Christian life.  We strive, work, and wrestle to live a good life.  But, somehow, we fall short and feel like a failure far too often.  Why is that?

Could be that we’ve looked at the Holy Spirit as the third wheel.  We believe in Him, have faith that He’s there, but don’t have any idea how to relate to Him.  God is big and sovereign; Jesus has a real body and blood; and, the Spirit… well, He’s really out there, man – like, He’s too cool for school and would be one of the characters on The Mod Squad, or something.  How do you have a relationship with someone (and often we refer to the Spirit as some “thing”), that is, with a person (and the Spirit is fully a person) who is so crazy ethereal and seemingly other than you and me?

the mod squad

The Holy Spirit is the power source of the Christian life.  Without him, we can easily degenerate into all kinds of illicit thinking and behavior – including things like “sexual immorality, moral corruption, doing whatever feels good, idolatry, drug use and casting spells, hate, fighting, obsession, losing your temper, competitive opposition, conflict, selfishness, group rivalry, jealousy, drunkenness, partying, and other things like that” (verses 19-21).

It is the Spirit who helps us, comforts us, provides strength for us, and enables us to replace old habits with new ones and dead practices with solid “Spirit”ual action.  The Christian virtues which flower and produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control occur through a close intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit helps us in our weakness when we pray and act.  The Christian enjoys such a close affectionate association with the Holy Spirit that it is as if we are a building, like a temple, and the person of the Spirit has taken up residence within.  The person of the Spirit is the person of God the Father’s, and the person of God the Son’s gift to the people of God.  By means of the Holy Spirit, God is always with us and continually at-this-moment working within us to make the redemption given in Christ an actual real-live encounter.  In other words, the Spirit gives us feet to walk among this world armed with the implements of God’s love.

fruit of the spirit

I’m going to make a simple observation about the Galatians text for today.  All of the spiritual virtues expressed are the “fruit” of the Spirit, not “fruits.”  The nine ethics are a package deal.  When you have the Spirit and spiritual fruit, you possess all nine Christian values.  If we look at the list and say something like, “Well, Tim, I’m pretty good at kindness and goodness, but I don’t have much peace or patience.”  What that really means is that you are probably doing kindness and goodness from a different place than by means of the Holy Spirit because when the Spirit manifests Himself in us we exhibit the fruit.  You can’t separate the nine spiritual virtues any more than you can separate the Trinity.  They are all one spiritual fruit cultivated and produced inside you by the agency of God’s Spirit.

Maybe it’s time to back up the truck and take a look at the shadow side of our lives.  It could be that we are, for example, far more driven by our anxiety about most things than about genuine altruism and love.  The same result might seem to appear through our words and actions, but it will not last if it is generated from a place of worry – and it is not of the Spirit.

So, what do you do about it?  You must put to death (mortify) the deeds of the sinful nature.  You have been crucified with Christ and you no longer live but Christ lives in you by means of the Spirit He has given to us (Galatians 2:20).  If you have C-clamped your heart so tight that the Spirit can’t get in, then it’s high time to loosen the grip and enable God to do His gracious and merciful work within you.  It is the only way to go about genuine transformation of life.

two wild and crazy guys

Yes, it is scary.  Letting go of control is very hard for many people, including me.  But the results are worth it.  The Spirit knows what He is doing.  He might work in wild and crazy ways.  He might show up on Saturday Night Live where you least expect him to be.  The way we go with God is by going with the Spirit and being led by Him.  Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent” (John 6:29).  The Spirit always points us to Christ, the one who has delivered us from the realm of sin and brought us forgiveness.  This work of Christ sets us up for the work of the Spirit who now makes our deliverance practically and effectively a reality in daily relationships and experiences.

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The Holy Spirit is not a third wheel.  He’s the real deal.  When you open your heart to Him, you expose yourself to the wideness of God’s mercy which results in the wonderful fruit of the Spirit.  And when you experience the Spirit working inside of you, it makes the car chase scenes in The Streets of San Francisco look not so dramatic.

May the Spirit of the living God be with you now, and forever.  Amen.

The Desert

 

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Every one of us must take this journey.  No one is exempt.  It is a pilgrimage that takes us into uncharted territory.  Lack of certainty, the unknown, and mystery are the companions along the way of this nomadic travel.  The harrows of this trip might seem to be the outward troubles and circumstances which surround you, but the real test is the journey within – it is the walk across the desert and the aridity that seems to exist in the soul, as if there are no familiar resources to draw from.  There is only one way, and that way appears so fearful that you and I try and avoid it like the plague.  But we cannot.

When times are tough, and when we find ourselves in the midst of circumstances that we didn’t see coming or have no desire to experience become the desert journeys which both demonstrate and define who we are as people.  The rock hard vicissitudes of this fallen world are no respecter of persons.  They come to all, whether rich or poor, black or white, privileged or underprivileged, introverted or extroverted, hard working or the just-getting-by, as well as the young or the aged.  What truly separates one person from another is how they handle the inevitable desert journey with its dryness of soul and seemingly endless barrage of trouble.

You cannot avoid it.  Eventually, someone you love will die – maybe even several of them in a short amount of time.  If not now, there will come a time when your financial budget will no longer budge and you’ll wonder what in the world you are going to do.  Even if you have never known poverty or want, the prospect of what will happen in the future might occur, with its lost investments and/or the slow erosion of economic resources because of circumstances out of you control.  There will come a time when you will be betrayed, become the victim of a verbal hate crime, or lose your reputation.  If relationships are presently serene, there is coming a day when it will not always be this way.  Strained friendships, difficult relations with co-workers, marriage troubles, and family squabbles aren’t just things that happen to other people.

Perhaps at this point you no longer wish to stick with me on this journey of words.  It’s a downer.  Maybe there isn’t enough positive thinking and you’d like to break off this train of trouble.  That is your prerogative.  But it doesn’t negate the fact that there is either right now something going on under your nose that you’re ignoring or in denial about, or a turn in your life that is coming down the pike.  Then what will you do?  Will you have the inner resources to face it?  Is your soul in a state that can sustain a loss, even a minor one, tomorrow?  Are you ready for adversity?

If you have ever felt alone, lost, hopeless, empty, and in the dark, as if you are sinking in quicksand, I want you to know that this is a journey that we all must undergo.  It is tempting, when going through such a time, to look backward and long for the good ol’ days.  But those days are gone.  They aren’t coming back.  What worked for you back there probably won’t work for you now.  So, here is the thought that I’d like you to think:

The desert is the perfect place for transformation; the wilderness journey is the means to a new and better life.

The ancient Israelites were slaves in Egypt, hard pressed and in agony.  Through a series of miraculous events God redeemed them out of that place and sent them on a journey… into the desert.  Yes, that’s right.  It might have seemed to the Israelites that they were jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.  Here they were out in the middle of nowhere without water, food, and basic necessities.  It’s endemic to the human condition to complain and seek to blame someone for your trouble.  Moses took a lot of crap from the people.  Yet, God had his own purposes and plans for the inner redemption of the people as well as outward freedom.

God put his people squarely in a place where they could not go back, couldn’t go around, and most definitely could not stay put where they were.  Nope.  They had to go through the desert.  There was no other way.  Moses made it through those years of living in the desert by reminding the people that there was a future for them, a better future than Egypt or the desert – a hope of the Promised Land.  God also shaped the way they were to think about the past through an annual rehearsal of the deliverance out of bondage, the Passover.  For the daily and ever present activity of desert living, God enabled Moses to delegate the practical situations of being together in a desert situation by gifting others to help and walk with him.  And this was all formed through the covenant experience of Sinai – the giving of the Law, the Promise that God would always have his loving loyalty upon the people.

Going through your own desert journey will require the same resources of Promised Land, Passover, and the Law of Promise.  That is, viewed through the lens of the Christian, God is forming within us a deep spirituality based in the promises of His Word, the sustenance of the Lord’s Table, and the confident expectation of Christ’s return and the hope of His reign to be manifested in everything from small family structures to large corporate systems, and humungous governments.  In short, the kingdom of God is near – if we have the eyes of faith to see and the ears of belief to hear.

It is imperative that you and I connect with Holy Scripture in a healthy and consistent rhythm of hearing God and responding back to him.  It is most necessary that our perspective of both the past (Christ’s cross and resurrection) and the future (Christ’s return and reign) is formed through regular spiritual practices which remind us of what is most important in life, not to mention how these spiritual resources can sustain us through dark times.

To survive the desert, one must walk through it – not around it, not going backward away from it, and not sticking our spiritual heads in the sand.  To make the trip, we must deliberately walk with others who will remind us of healthy ways of seeing ourselves, our past, and our coming future.  Faith, hope, and love are the practical necessities which need to be in our backpacks as we go forward.  They will be our food and our drink.

Travel well, my friend.  May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with you as the Spirit hurls you into the desert to experience the love of God in new and profound ways.

Maundy Thursday

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Love.  We need it.  Without love, there is nothing to live for; relationships devolve into silent standoffs and destructive triangles; and, the world ceases to spin on its axis.  With love, however, all things are beautiful; personal relations have meaning and joy; and, all seems right and just in the world.

Yet, love comes with a cost.  Because we live in a broken world full of pride and hubris, greed and avarice, hate and envy, we are victims of loveless systems and unjust actions.  We need love to rescue us, to redeem us from the sheer muck of existence.  It’s as if we are constantly walking knee deep through sludge so thick we can barely get anywhere.  We need saving.  We need Jesus.

Christians everywhere around the world are journeying through Holy Week, the most sacred time of the year for followers of Christ.  When we think about Holy Week, we are familiar with Good Friday and certainly Easter; but Maundy Thursday?

On this day the church remembers the last evening that Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his arrest and crucifixion.  The experiences in the upper room were highly significant because this was the last teaching, modeling, and instruction Jesus gave before facing the cross.  Jesus was careful and deliberate to communicate exactly what was important to him: to love one another.

Maundy Thursday marks three important events in Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples:

  • The washing of the disciples’ feet (the action of loving service)
  • The instituting of the Lord’s Supper (the remembrance of loving sacrifice)
  • The giving of a “new” commandment to love one another (the mandate of a loving lifestyle).

Let’s briefly unpack these words and actions from Jesus.

For Jesus, his last night with his disciples was all about love, God’s love.  On that fateful night, having loved his disciples for the past three years, Jesus showed them the full extent of his love by taking the posture of a servant and washing each and every one of the disciples’ feet, including Judas.  After demonstrating for them a totally humble service, Jesus said,

“I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15, NIV). 

This was an incredible act of love.  We need to rightly observe that Jesus Christ loves me just as I am, and not as I should be.  He loves me even with my dirty stinky feet, my herky-jerky commitment to him, and my pre-meditated sin.

Not only did Jesus wash the disciples’ feet, but he lifted the cup of wine and boldly asserted:

“Take this and divide it among you.  For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me.”  In the same way, after the supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:17-20, NIV). 

Because of these words of Jesus, the church everywhere throughout the world, for two millennia, have practiced this communion, this supper so that we might have the redemptive events of Jesus pressed firmly into both our minds and our hearts by means of the visceral and common elements of bread and wine.  We are to not just know about Jesus, but are to experience being united with him.

Having washed the disciples’ feet, and proclaimed to them the meaning of his impending death, Jesus gave them a clear commandment:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35, NIV)

Love one another, insisted Jesus, by imitating his humble service.  We represent Christ on this earth when we carefully, diligently, and persistently practice love.  Although love was by no means a new concept for the disciples, in the form and teaching of Jesus love was shown with four distinctions:

  1. Jesus is the new model of love
  2. A new motive of love, that Christ first loved me
  3. A new motivator to help us love, the Holy Spirit
  4. A new mission, the evangelization of the world using the power of Christ’s love to accomplish it

So, you see, Maundy Thursday is a highly significant day on the Church Calendar – one which deserves to be observed, and an opportunity to remember the important words and actions of Jesus on our behalf.  Through Jesus Christ we are to live always in love, modeling our life and church ministry after him.

In Christ we are to allow love to characterize our life together as we proclaim God’s love in words and deeds.  A watching world will only take notice and desire to be a part of our fellowship if we are deeply and profoundly centered in the love of God in Christ.  This is the reality that Maundy Thursday brings to us.

Own Your Struggle

sisyphus struggle

In this social media driven world, we know all too well the temptation to sanitize our respective life experiences and stories.  Even the cloistered folk who refuse any social media will often not give you a straight answer when asked the sincere question, “How are you doing?”  “Fine” is not an acceptable answer, in my book.  The reason I say we need to be more honest in our responses and presentations to one another is:

Hiding large swaths of our lives and stories from others is not the path to spiritual wellness, emotional healing, and personal peace.  However, owning our internal struggles through embracing weakness, humility, vulnerability, and faith opens to us the way of grace.

Far too often you and I have ongoing struggles within because we don’t own them.  We struggle because we don’t struggle.  I’m the expert on stuffing feelings.  I learned it well early in my life.  Yet, feelings never evaporate just because we ignore them.  Just the opposite, like a forgotten half-carton of cottage cheese in the back of the fridge, our feelings only gather moldy bacteria and crust over with nastiness.  We need to understand that feelings really do have an expiration date to them.  If not openly confronted and dealt with, they’ll fester into bitterness.  It’s much better to get down and dirty with our present struggles instead of living with the wishful thinking that they’ll just go away.

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Holy Scripture and 2,000 years of church history have given us a path to wholeness.  Lent is the season which draws out grand themes of the Christian life from the Bible.  Prominent is our need for confession, repentance, faith, humble prayer, and forgiveness.  Spiritual disciplines exist to put us in a position to confront our deepest struggles – even ones we didn’t know we had.

There are 52 references to “one another” in the Bible.  “Love one another” (John 13:34-35); “Be kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32); “Show hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9); “Forgive one another” (Colossians 3:13); “Encourage one another” (Hebrews 3:13); and “Bear the burdens of one another” (Galatians 6:2); are just a few of the exhortations Scripture gives us to “spur one another on” (Hebrews 10:24) toward spiritual well-being and healthy community relationships.

help one another

Nowhere in Holy Scripture will you find references to hide from one another, pester one another, or put up a false front toward one another.  Some folks live as if the author of Hebrews said, “Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting together for worship and edification, so just let them go, slackers they are.  Forget about that encouragement thing, especially since Jesus is coming soon anyway.”  Here is what the verse says, for real:

“Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that.  We should keep on encouraging each other, especially since you know that the day of the Lord’s coming is getting closer”. (Hebrews 10:25, CEV)

There were confessing believers in the ancient church who drifted away and dropped out.  They had legitimate internal and external struggles with outward persecution and inner doubt.  What they needed most was an infusion of faith and perseverance, which would only come if they owned their struggle through sharing it with others.  Like a charcoal briquette which falls off the pile and loses its fire, so there were individual Christians who separated themselves from the warmth of genuine fellowship and lost their faith.

hot charcoal

The ancient believers had some of the same struggles we had.  They just couldn’t make sense of why things in the world were so bad.  The people had little money, no respect from government authorities, and, most of all, family who were telling them they were crazy for following Jesus.  It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  Rather than embrace the struggle and work through it, they just sat in the back of the fridge, I mean in the back pew of the church, and slowly gathered mold.  Doing nothing is usually a bad idea.  If you try and fail, there is grace.  But if you do nothing, there is only nothing.

Freighted within the definition of biblical faith is risk.  Faith is stepping out and taking a chance on love, encouragement, help, support, comfort, and kindness.  No risk it, no biscuit.

“Keep on being brave! It will bring you great rewards.  Learn to be patient, so that you will please God and be given what he has promised.  As the Scriptures say, ‘God is coming soon!  It won’t be very long.  The people God accepts will live because of their faith. But he isn’t pleased with anyone who turns back.’  We are not like those people who turn back and get destroyed. We will keep on having faith until we are saved.” (Hebrews 10:35-39, CEV)

william penn quote

God desires you and me to take a risk on betting the farm on Jesus.  Embracing Christ involves owning our struggles, to him and to one another.  Yes, you may argue that it isn’t helpful to wear your feelings on your sleeve.  But I’m not talking about emotional diarrhea; I’m talking about something far worse: emotional prostitution, where we sell ourselves to others in a cheap façade of who we really are and how we are really doing.  We want to be liked and we want to be loved, and we mistakenly believe that keeping up false appearances will get us what we long for.

You might fail? Join the club. I’m willing to wager that I’ve been fired or let go from more jobs than you’ve even had in your life.  I’ve some wild ministry successes, and I have had some spectacular failures.  I have been at the lowest of the low in a major depression, and I’ve been at the top of the mountain where every prayer gets answered.  I have had God be silent for months on end, with me having no clue as to why.  I’ve had literally no money to my name, and I’ve had plenty in multiple accounts.

So, here’s the humble observation: It doesn’t matter whether your circumstances are to your liking or not, whether you have all you feel you need, or don’t ever seem to have enough, whether you have well-behaved kids and family, or wayward children and messed up uncles and cousins.  What matters is faith expressing itself through love (Galatians 5:6).  It takes risk to have faith.  It takes two (or more) to have love.

Own your struggle.  Don’t live in denial.  Grab it and face it squarely.  Face it with God.  Face it with others.  If you’re mad as hell at God, tell him so; he’s big enough to take it (please go to the psalms and pray them as your own).  If you need prayer and/or help, ask for it.  Don’t just expect someone to read your mind or your emotions.  If someone asks you to pray, stop what you’re doing and get on your knees with that person and pray like there’s no tomorrow.

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Life is too short to sleepwalk through it with a constellation of emotions that need dealing with.  Being overwhelmed is common to the human condition.  “How are you?” “Busy!” Tell me something I don’t know.  It takes no relational effort to give a pat answer.  Let’s get down to why you feel you constantly need to express how busy you are, even when you’re not really all that busy.

I think you get the idea.  Scripture doesn’t call us to hide, but to love one another enough to both give and receive God’s grace.  Maybe you don’t need to let it all out on social media, but there is a place and a context for you to bring your struggles before God and others.  Take advantage of the privilege and the opportunity which has been provided for you through the cross of Jesus Christ.

The Morality of Caring

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Every individual person I meet is interesting.  Everyone has a story.  Each person has values which are important to them, and you can usually tell what a person treasures.  For example, my wife cares about kids.  Children are a high value to her.  You can tell immediately when meeting her that that’s true.  When engaging a family for the first time, she will inevitably talk to the child before addressing the parents.  Mary cares about any kind of issue in the world which has to do with children.  She has a strong sense of morality for all of them.  She loves kids.

Have you ever thought about what is of most importance to you?  What we care about most is where our sense of morality lies.  Jesus put it this way:

“Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Perhaps you have discovered, like I have, that everyone is moralistic.  That is, each one of us live by a certain code of ethics.  There are morals which we will live and die by.  These are values we esteem above all others.

Although there are hundreds of laws in the Bible, the highest standard of ethics and morality is contained in just a few chapters of Holy Scripture: The Ten Words (Commandments) found in the Old Testament chapter of Exodus 20; and, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount found in the New Testament chapters of Matthew 5-7.  Furthermore, these few chapters can be distilled into a few short ethical phrases: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). In other words:

Every moral teaching found in Holy Scripture comes down to love (Mark 12:30-31)

Throughout the history of the church, the highest ethical values have always had to do with knowing and loving the Creator, Sovereign, triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit – and the majesty of his creatures, humanity, created in his image and likeness.  The imprint of that image is deep within us, even if marred or forgotten.

The movement and trajectory of Holy Scripture is a good and benevolent God making and keeping promises to his creatures.  Even when they fall and try to create small petty worlds of their own, a gracious God is active, wooing lost people back to himself.

The Bible is an unfolding drama of redemption in which a loving God goes far out of his way to bring back straying, hurting, helpless people. (Luke 15)

prodigal son

Which is why, for me, attending to the inner person of the soul, teaching people the words and ways of Jesus, and providing spiritual care to others is a high value.  I love God, and I love people.  It’s easy to understand, then, why I: treasure times of retreat in which there is solitude and silence; connect with God daily in contemplative prayer and meditative Bible reading; pay attention to hurting people and seek to bring them grace, mercy, faith, hope, love, and gentleness; seek to act with civility and respect toward others I disagree with, or just don’t like very well; and, actively engage others who don’t share my values of faith in God, hope for healing and wholeness, and love for the common good of all people, no matter who they are.

I have a deep conviction that the care of the soul is just as important as the care of the body; that attention to exercising the mind with Holy Scripture is just as important to overall health and well-being as cardio workouts and sensible eating; and, that the ultimate hope of the world resides with knowing Jesus Christ, and not with a lesser hope that wishes things will work out in the end if I’m sincere to my personal ethical beliefs.

The rub to all of this is that I have my ideals and ethics, my morals and mores, my values and convictions, yet I don’t consistently live by them. *Sigh* I’m sure you relate.  The Apostle Paul certainly did:

“I don’t know what I’m doing, because I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate…. I don’t do the good that I want to do, but I do the evil that I don’t want to do.  But if I do the very thing that I don’t want to do, then I’m not the one doing it anymore. Instead, it is sin that lives in me that is doing it.” (Romans 7:15-20)

moralvalues

If honesty and being real is of high value to you, then you and I can admit that we blow it, a lot!  But we can come back to the love of God which is there waiting for us to confess our need and receive grace:

“I find that, as a rule, when I want to do what is good, evil is right there with me…. It wages a war against the law of my mind and takes me prisoner with the law of sin that is in my body.  I’m a miserable human being. Who will deliver me from this dead corpse?

“Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:21-23)

It simply isn’t helpful to tell other people to “get over it.”  All people need deliverance from the power and presence of their inner (and outer) brokenness.  A person cannot remove destructive vice and heal their own soul any more than someone could remove their own cancerous tumor and heal themselves.  We all share the common human condition of needing the living healing water of Jesus Christ.

living-water

Which brings me back to God and the care of souls – being with Jesus has led me to grace and faith, hope and love, mercy and encouragement, forgiveness and reconciliation.  These are values for which I embrace and will not deviate from.  Even though I live them imperfectly, there is a perfect God who has my back.  He loves me, and He loves you.  I’m okay if that’s labeled as moralistic.

Galatians 5:2-15 – Faith Expressing Itself Through Love

Faith, expressing itself through love, is the grace others need from us.
            I didn’t grow up committed to learning the Bible or following Christ.  I pretty much went my own way throughout my childhood, and especially my teenage years.  I still remember what it feels like to not be a Christian.
            I think that people who have a past where they didn’t live by grace but only looked out for themselves have a temptation to embrace strict rules when they become Christians.  They know what it feels like to not have Jesus in their lives, so they sometimes can go beyond Scripture and impose standards on themselves, and then others, to keep on the straight and narrow.
            If, and when, that happens, the Apostle Paul has something to say about it.  Embracing certain practices to obtain or maintain righteousness mean nothing in God’s kingdom.  Here is how Paul put it, for the church who went down the path of strict outward rule-keeping:
“You people who are trying to be made righteous by the Law have been estranged from Christ. You have fallen away from grace! We eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness through the Spirit by faith. Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter.” (CEB)
 
            Christianity which ignores God’s grace in favor of controlling one’s own faith through certain rules is no Christianity at all, and Paul would have nothing to do with it.  His position was clear and pointed:
“You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love.” (CEB)
 
Grace is the currency in God’s kingdom, flowing freely through love.  God has your back.  His grace forgives, and never runs out.  His love endures and never withdraws.  When we get a hold of this essential and beautiful truth about God, the only rule we want to keep is the continuing debt to love one another.
            So, are there any practices, rules, beliefs, or doctrines which you hold to that you impose on yourself which are burdensome to you?  Why do you do them?  Do you expect others to do so?  What would change if you threw grace and love in the mix?

 

Gracious God, your love has extended so far as to give your one and only Son on our behalf.  Through Jesus, I embrace the faith and love gifted to me through his redeeming work.  Help me to daily die to myself and my propensity for outward rule-keeping, and to live the gracious life you died to procure for me.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 8

            Consider an issue you care about.  Likely, one of the big reasons you care is that you either see some abuse, neglect, inattention, or lack of love applied toward someone or a group of people.  So, you want to see it be different.  Now, here comes the interesting part: We are motivated by love, but we often end up addressing the problem or issue in the realm of thought and/or belief.  We rely on the political, theoretical, and intellectual to solve the problem.  In other words, our hearts are attuned but we turn to knowledge and rules to achieve a change.
            The Apostle Paul knew that we are primarily lovers – not thinkers or believers.  Thinkers and believers traffic in knowledge and faith in belief systems.  These are of great significance, yet they are not the primary or ultimate ends for Paul.  Instead, Paul took on a divisive issue in the Corinthian church (whether one can eat food which was originally sacrificed to idols, or not) by saying this:
“Knowledge makes us proud of ourselves, while love makes us helpful to others.”
 
Paul begins with love and ends with love.  This issue of certain kinds of food was neither an intellectual nor a faith issue – it was a love issue.  Paul’s answer to the problem dividing them on food was that food is a secondary issue.  To look at it through the lenses of love makes it clear what you ought to or ought not to do.  This doesn’t make thinking and believing irrelevant, it just places it in its proper place and supports love.
            Whenever our opinions and thoughts, and our faith and belief structures are handled without love, then special interest groups begin to form.  Then, division occurs based upon what we think and believe about certain things.  But when love is supreme, knowledge is no longer the tail wagging the dog.
            Love is meant to enlighten us not only to the problems among us; love is also the answer to those issues we care about most.  Let that statement be added to your knowledge so that you encourage and build-up others, and not discourage and tear them down.  It really is all about love.

 

Loving God, you demonstrated your own love for us through sending us your Son, the Lord Jesus, who is the perfect embodiment of love.  May He be so manifested within me that love becomes not only the motivator to change, but also the answer to change; through the power and help of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.