Galatians

Tuesday Devotional: Galatians 4

bibleRead Galatians 4

“It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.” (Galatians 4:18)

 

Christian, what is your passion?  What drives the work of your hands?  What motivates you to work tirelessly, sacrificially, painfully and at times unceremoniously?  What are you zealous for?  Is it for your glory or His?  Is it for the name of Jesus, the beloved son, or yours?  Is your zeal for the Lord dependent on the circumstance or social setting?  Is your zeal for the Lord present when no one else is?  Does your zeal for the Lord need anything other than the Gospel for it to manifest in your life?  Christian, do you know where you were before Christ?  Do you know that you were lost but that by the stripes and wounds of Jesus Christ you have since been found? Do you know what you were saved from?  Without Jesus you were destined to never know love, to never know joy, to never know peace and rest.  You were slaves before Christ, choosing to obey and serve your sinful nature, but in the name of Jesus you are now free!  You are free in Christ never to experience slavery and bondage ever again.  Is that enough for you to be zealous?  Is that the Gospel to you?  Upon knowing this Gospel, why would you ever want to go back?  What does that former life have to offer you?  Have you forgotten the bondage?  Have you forgotten the hopelessness before Christ?  As a Christian, Jesus must become your everything because before him you had nothing.  There was nothing of any enduring worth or value before Jesus.  In Jesus, your Savior, you are now truly alive.  Don’t go back without an honest reflection of your life before Jesus.  Don’t move forward without an honest reflection of your motivation and purpose for serving in the name of Jesus.  The Gospel declares that you are alive because of Jesus and therefore everything you do is so that his name, the only name, can become greater while yours continually becomes less.  There is no other way.  This is the way.

 

 

Tithing: Constructive Giving

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For many people, tithe is simply loose change in a straw basket passed passively from church member to church member, from pew to pew. Giving when faced with the presence of “The Basket,” often stems from guilt, habit or obligation. This type of tithing is not constructive and therefore not tithing at all.

Tithing must be targeted to a purpose, a need. Tithing revolves around God, is from God and thus should always be directed by God. Tithing is not simply something that God said to do, so we follow suit. We followers of  Christ are “called” to tithe. Thus, tithing should look different to different people.   For one person, perhaps tithing should be centered primarily on the financial needs of a church. For a different person, perhaps tithing should be focused primarily on the needs of orphans or poor children in less developed parts of the world. Tithing depends entirely on how God is calling you to reinvest what he has invested in you.

God wants everything we do to highlight what he has already done for us. He wants all of our activities to increase our faith in him so that we become more aware of his presence. Tithing is no different. It should start with searching out the heart. It should lead to prayer which should lead to more prayer and then on to what God has called you to do with your money. The final step in tithing is to invest his money with a full dedication and commitment to wait, trust and watch God heal others with what he first gave you. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul mentions that he was asked by James, Peter and John to continue to remember giving to the poor in Jerusalem.

Galatians 2:9-10

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

The request is not as important as Paul’s response. He stated that this act of giving or tithing was something that he personally had already been moved to do. Paul had clearly sought God for guidance concerning his money and in turn was led to supply aid to the poor in Jerusalem. He then proceeded to organize an expansive relief effort in the Gentile churches, like the church in Corinth, to raise money and assist the church in Jerusalem during the severe famine they were experiencing. This call to tithe led to incredible testimonies Paul saw in the Gentile churches.

2 Corinthians:8-15 

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Tithing is not and must not be reduced to simply an act of giving your money to something else. Tithing requires faith. It requires a dialogue with God and a commitment to follow his guidance on where to reinvest his resources.

 

Tuesday Devotional: 1 Kings 6

 

bibleRead 1 Kings 6

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”

16 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

A Christian’s purpose is not for independent growth and prosperity.  We are by nature designed for fellowship and to be incorporated into a design of life that replaces our attention on ourselves with attention on our relationship to others.  It is in the design of God’s body that we see our purpose in the the greater complexity of the design and structure that we are a part of.  A temple is built to evoke awe and admiration from those that look upon it.  Likewise, the strength of the body of Christ correlates with our understanding of the whole as opposed to the self.  If we claim Christ as our savior we will naturally be drawn to fellowship not merely for our personal satisfaction but because we can see the Father’s glory represented by our lives as the Church, just as the temple’s strength reflected Him.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.” 

[F]or all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (Galatians 3:27 )

The blocks of the temple arrived at the site of the temple dressed, carved, measured and ready to fit into the temple’s design.  Once at the temple, nothing was left to be done to the stones in order to make them fit in the structure.  The stones were prepared and so fit perfectly.   While Christians differ in appearance, background, nationality, age, and countless other characteristics, one uniting factor miraculously allows all of the blocks to fit together perfectly.  The unity of the body of Christ comes by the saving works of Jesus Christ.  If the unity of the body of Christ is anything other than Christ, only sections of the temple will fit, leaving the rest with no place or purpose in the overall structure.  In other words, a Christian is clothed in Christ and then is able to fit perfectly into the temple, revealing the strength of the stones in their unity, and the brilliance of the structure in its size and splendor.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.” 

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

Living in Christian community is not easy and it never will be.  The process of individuals breaking their addiction to themselves alongside others taking on the same challenge will always reveal pain and obstacles.  However, the hope in Christ is that although the challenge is real, with the power of the Holy Spirit, the process can be smooth and does not have to be violent.  Hammers, chisels and iron tools are powerful and can inflict enormous damage on a stone.  However, being made in the image of Christ, while painful to our sinful nature, is a process of peace, joy and love.  Being made in the image of Jesus Christ is a threat to Satan and the work of sin but in the name of Jesus Christ we can find peace, joy and love amidst and throughout the rebuilding process.

7In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.”

 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 2:4-5)

The awareness that we are made to be built into a structure with others, the foundational presence of Christ in us, and the Spirit of Christ guiding us through the building is an ongoing procedure the same way that the building of Solomon’s Temple was ongoing.  The Temple of Solomon was eventually finished, just as we will come to completion.  But our completion is not yet.  The building process is ongoing, and while we know that the end will come, we do not know when.  Until then, we build and we are being built, and the glory of an earthly building such as Solomon’s Temple will pale in comparison to the glory in the Temple of Christ in His Church, revealed in a world that has forgotten its Creator, its Designer, its Architect, its God.

 

Serving the King: Change

Many characteristics may define a Christian life.  Many things may be signs that someone truly lives their faith in correspondence with the Gospel.  In this reflection series, we’ll explore how different Scriptures emphasize service as a defining character trait of the Christian.

Service can be defined as what you do for something or someone.  But in the Gospel context, service is much larger than that.  Service, according to the teaching of Jesus, is a way of life.  More than an aspect Christian character, it IS Christian character.  In these reflections, we’ll discover five elements of service that please God.

Serving with Change (Ephesians 4)

The apostle Paul left behind a lasting legacy in the many letters he wrote to churches and individuals important to the early Church.  While at first glance all of the letters seem to discuss the same topics and ideas, as one devotes more time to them, the diversity within each letter separates them into distinct messages, rather than one massive “Paul Letter” section of the Bible.

The letter to the Ephesian Church expresses sound Christian theology; however, its purpose-driven nature sets the letter apart from the others.  Throughout the letter, Paul not only reminds us of the things that have been and will come as we continue to walk in the light of Jesus Christ, but also devotes significant attention to the idea that falling back into a previous way of life is no acceptable option if the experience of meeting Christ was true and Spirit-led.

The idea of “genuine change” is best expressed in a different letter: Galatians 5.  Paul compares this change in a person’s life and character to a fruit tree. Paul used the idea of “Christian Fruit,” first taught by Jesus throughout his lifetime.  As a person begins to change their life in Christ they witness the emergence and growth of “fruit,” namely love, joy, patience, kindness, faithfulness, self-control, peace, gentleness, and goodness.  It is in the discovery of this fruit that, Paul explains, a follower of Christ will become aware of the change promised by Christ emerging in their character as a Christian.

A theme of Paul’s letters, including the letter to the Ephesian Church, is the notion of a “new life” and an “old life.”  This idea is far from original with Paul as it was first and best explained by Christ himself in the Gospel of John where Jesus talks with the Pharisee, Nicodemus.  According to Jesus there was a clear difference between a person’s old way of living and their new life as his disciple.  Just as a baby, once born, does not return back to the mother’s womb, likewise a new Christian does not return to their “old life.”

However, this desire to stay away from the “old life” does not come through force or insistence by anyone but the person directly involved in the change.  There must be some experience that plants the seed of this desire in the heart of the individual, a seed that continues to grow over time. Awareness of the distinction between the two lives emerges within a person, along with the desire to maintain the newly found direction of this “new life.”

When we are children there are many instances where we are headed straight for a mistake or a bad situation.  Parents may try with all of their might to prevent children from experiencing the predictable outcome that might bring harm.  However, there are also times where the parent knows that to allow the child to experience disaster may be the most effective decision. It may be that allowing the child to fall, so to speak, and allowing the child to experience falling will prompt an experience, not rules, that will encourage a change.

For example, when I was young I loved to play in the sink in our kitchen as my mother cooked or did housework.  My mother would fill up the sink for me and then allow me to play in the water with my favorite toys, clad in a raincoat to protect me from the violent splashing that would ultimately ensue.  However, one day my mother was not around to ask to fill the sink, and I saw an alternative in a large pot of water atop the stove.  Unaware that the pot had been left to boil in preparation for pasta, the only thing I saw was an opportunity for me, along with my toys, to explore new and exciting waters.  Needless to say, what followed was a massive burn that left a sizable scar on my left hand that is still with me.  As a result of this experience, I did not stop my fun water game of splashing, raincoats and toys. What I came away with was a cautious awareness of pots and boiling substances on the stovetop.  That burn gave me enough to know that I never wanted to make the same mistake again.  The scar was a visible reminder of my decision and its consequences.

When Christians, like Paul, discuss the idea of a new life, many people assume that this is just cheap Christian lingo, something we know is in the scripture but don’t know how to experience.  Reading Paul’s desire for the Christians at Ephesus to “put off the old self” makes us aware that there’s something to be done there, but defining the “old self” can seem complicated and discovering the “new self” can be rather ambiguous and hard to comprehend.  What is not difficult to understand is that both Jesus and Paul took this “new life” extremely seriously.

Jesus himself made it perfectly clear that to be a Christian and to represent his name in our new identity means carrying the burden of a cross that accompanies this “new life.”  For some, this cross is heavy, splinter-ridden, and a burden.  This perception of the “new life” can soon make returning to the “old life” without the cross look pretty appealing.  Assuming that the cross means judgment, rules, and impossible expectations makes burning oneself in the boiling water of the “old life” almost desirable.  The difference between the Christian who has not truly encountered the living God and the Christian who has been born of the Spirit, is that the first has not truly understood the dangers of the boiling water, and the second has found that one burn was enough.  The first saw no reason to change; the second saw that change was the only option.

Being changed by God is not something that happens to you but something that happens within you.  The change is supported by the awareness that ahead of you is a well-lit path, and behind you the dark ground already traveled.  Someone who has truly met Christ recognizes that in the darkness exists a world of mistakes already made and desires left unfulfilled.  For this person, walking ahead into the well-lit path of “new life” with Christ is an opportunity to enter into a world of hope and promise.  From this place, the decision to place the hand in the boiling water a second time would seem insane.

At the heart of the Christian’s transformation is an inner acknowledgment that to “go back” is not only counterproductive but counter-intuitive.  Going back is never an option.  Service, bearing the cross in the new life, becomes a part of who you are, and less a list of things you are required to do.  Service becomes more of an instinct and less a choice to be considered.  Serving the king, the suffering servant, the great Teacher, becomes your lifelong desire, the essence of who you are and everything you do.

To know Jesus is to be made like him.  By serving him and serving like him we truly find union with him.  This union establishes us firmly on the rock that is Jesus Christ.  It is then on this rock that we can honestly and confidently refer to ourselves as Christians.

Tuesday Devotional: Galatians 1

bibleRead Galatians 1:6-10

The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is unique and unparalleled.  The power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ not only has the ability to heal the brokenness of a single human life, but can also heal the brokenness of the world.  This Gospel can and will reverse things we believed irreversible.  To those who have experienced this strength of the Gospel, it is a direct encounter with the living God.  However, due to the sin in our lives, this experience can become overpowered by temptations. We are called out of his presence into a life willing to forget the power we were once so overcome by.  The world allows for and often encourages compromise.  In many instances, compromise is not only welcome but necessary to function as loving neighbors and stewards of the peace in Christ by which we live.  However, to compromise the integrity and truth of the life and message of Jesus Christ is to reject it entirely.  If we compromise the truth of the Gospel we alienate ourselves from the truth that saves us. We take up a position of opposition to the message of salvation, and take on the role of opposition to the mission of Christ and his Church.  The power of the Gospel can and will heal, but only if left in its original state.  The moment the message is doctored in even the slightest way, the power of the message of the Gospel is removed.  Jesus lived and spoke truth. Only the truth he spoke will set us free.  There is no power in a half-truth Gospel.  As Jesus taught his disciples, we as Christians are in this world but are not of it.  As we profess our faith in the cross, we do not identify with this world.  The life and sacrifice of Jesus Christ were of a world of righteousness, justice, love and truth.  This is not a truth we contribute to, or respond casually to.  This truth is the bedrock upon which our entire being is built, and that foundation, once compromised, will ultimately result in the collapse and destruction of everything built upon it.

The church must always welcome and embrace all who come to seek the face of God as it has always been, with love and gentleness.  However, the church must reject entirely those who seek to redefine the Gospel as something it never claimed.  To preach the Gospel in truth is to preach the power of God that can and will change and heal what is broken.  To preach the Gospel of half-truth is to remove God from the equation, and to become a proponent for the advancement of sin and its destructive power in this world.

Previews and Promises: Confident Claims

For the rest of this series, go here and here.

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Movie previews are great at making the particular featured movie seem like the best movie ever made, ever. It doesn’t matter if the actors in the movie have a track record of box office busts or if the director has “lost his touch.”  During those two minutes, anyone can look like a genius. I remember a few years ago there was a lot of hype about two movies. The first movie was a science fiction movie, “Cloverfield.” The preview for this movie had a lot of people talking and the hype was impossible to avoid. The other was a movie called, “The Happening.” This movie was from the director M. Knight Shyamalan, of such box office hits as “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.”  Many people were talking about how great this movie looked and how excited they were to see it. However, when both movies were released, audiences were largely disappointed. Moviegoers felt taken by the timeless “preview” illusion.

Throughout our lives we will all experience setbacks, obstacles that try our patience, strength and character. As time progresses, many often resign to the particular belief that, “thus is life.” There is a resignation to a belief that some things just go wrong. People get hurt, things don’t work out and there is ultimately nothing we can do about it. But the Bible says otherwise. In the Bible we read that we all can experience the fruit of the Spirit during our time on Earth, and that in Heaven, suffering, pain, sadness and injustice will be reversed and undone.

Heaven promises a reemergence or renewal of the original state of existence, an existence void of all of the things unwelcome in this life like pain and suffering. There is a reason why, regardless of our differing religious beliefs, we all are so uncomfortable with crimes against the innocent and the breaking of a heart. The Bible explains that this inner distaste for such things lies at the heart of our original state within the original creation. We are troubled because we were not made for this place. We are troubled because this “preview life” is only a preview with foretastes, but not the actual full-length feature. Paul expands on this point in his letter to the Philippians:

20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

In the last book of the Bible, Revelation, the apostle John is given visions of this final recreation and return to the original creation.  The visions of John support the claims of Jesus in regards to the final act of “recreation” and “regeneration.” 

Revelation 5:9-13

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals,
because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,  and they will reign[a] on the earth.” 11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” 13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”

Revelation 21:4

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 Revelation 22:1-5

 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

These scriptures describe a place that, regardless of your religion or spirituality, all of us desire. Death, sickness, heartbreak, tears and pain are universally despised. These Scriptures offer a glimpse of a place that seems far too good to be true. The Word of God makes truly radical, yet confident claims about what awaits those who “die in the Lord.” Heaven, therefore, is the ultimate good, and is a reality to all of us that seek a place where such things cease to exist.

 

ASK: Galatians 1

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This update is from the February 14th meeting of ASK Daegu. Each member contributed something to the message that follows. We pray that our group encourages you in the same way that it encouraged all of us.

Have you ever heard the gospel of Jesus? Do you know the gospel of Jesus? What did you hear? What do you know? Did it affect you? Did it change you?

These questions emerged as we read Galatians 1. For most Christians, the answers to these questions are all instinctively affirming, but are tragically confined to the past tense. Many Christians began with the gospel but eventually saw it as a step to other future steps. We once found the gospel refreshing, but over time felt we exhausted it of all of its information, interest and power. Many Christians will revisit the gospel via a Sunday sermon or a Bible reading plan, but when asked whether they still personally read and enjoy the gospel of Jesus in the same way they did when they first became a Christian, the answer for many would be “no.”

The truth is, there is no other gospel. Being a Christian is grounded in the foundation of Jesus Christ. While the other books of the Bible help us to understand the ministry and purpose of Jesus, the rest of the Bible is incomplete without Jesus. He is the key. He is the purpose for all other chapters in the Bible. By removing Jesus from the Bible one effectively removes all purpose from the Bible. Without Jesus, aside from being a historical resource or reference for the nation of Israel, the Bible is useless.

When we come to Christianity seeking something other than God through Jesus Christ, we fail to understand his gospel and our Christianity is pointless. When we come to Christianity with preformed ideas, assumptions, conditions and theories of our own that we apply to the text, we will never meet God, we will never understand Jesus and becoming a “Christian” from this place is equivalent to being a disciple of Santa Claus. It’s embarrassingly foolish and idiotic.

Many Christians grow bored with the Gospels. Many Christians actually grow bored of Jesus and His words. We must never stop being overwhelmed by Jesus and what he accomplished in the Gospels for us. If we have stopped being overwhelmed in waves of ecstasy and joy by Jesus and his ministry we must ask ourselves why. What gospel do we now prescribe to? The gospel of our own knowledge? The gospel of our own professional success? The gospel of our bank account? The gospel of our physical appearance? The gospel of control? The gospel of popularity? Nothing should ever challenge what we have been given by Jesus in his salvation work on Calvary. In Christ alone is our joy and the gospel is where we are privileged to reread and revisit that joy. Have you ever had that joy? Have you lost that joy?