Tuesday, June 29, 2021
Thursday, June 24, 2021
This has been a whirlwind of a week, and, as a result my schedule has been thrown off, preventing me from my normal early-morning-scheduled times with Jesus.
After just a few days of inconsistent time in God's Word, my spirit feels a bit shriveled...
...and, in fact, I feel somewhat stunted, and as if I've gone in reverse instead of moving forward spiritually...
It's exactly what Paul talks about with the churches in Galatia...
Thirteen years ago, Paramount pictures produced a fantasy romance movie starring Brad Pitt. Entitled, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the film loosely followed a short story written in 1922 by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Basically, the story chronicles the life of Benjamin Button, who was born "old," but regresses as he ages to infancy. He lived his life in complete reverse. While a strange movie, it received thirteen Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. I remember watching it when it was finally released on television, and thought it odd, and, honestly, quite sad.
This week, the movie came to mind as I started reading what I term, Paul's Lament (Galatians 4). In the midst of entreating the churches he planted to stop listening to false teachers, he asks them a heartfelt question (9b):
How can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world...
On first reading, his question seems vague; but, he's really asking them why in the world they would want to regress?
Love means being willing to ask tough questions...
The Galatians have a choice whether to move on to maturity, or not, but they aren't taking the opportunity...
In turning back to law from grace, once they were saved, it's as if they've chosen to take a path back into infancy.
These believers are, in fact, spiritual Benjamin Button's...
And, sadly...this isn't just an issue of the early church.
Many Christians do the same today...
Instead of moving forward in a natural path of spiritual growth, I've frequently observed folks find salvation in Christ, be handed all they need for personal development in faith, and, then.........well, nothing....
I've even seen Jesus-followers, who've found salvation by grace through faith, begin a deepening, solid, growing relationship with their Savior...and, then..........seem to go back to infancy.
For the churches to whom Paul wrote this letter, they took their eyes and ears off of the TRUTH that had been introduced to them, and began listening to others...
They were easily swayed, by false teachers who were leading them astray by tickling their ears.
They preferred the milk of the Word (the "ABC's of Christianity" - which is what the word "elementary principles" actually means) to having to chew on the meat of God's Truth.
It simply seemed "easier."
But "easier" for them meant aging in reverse.
For today's Jesus-Followers, not much has changed.
There are still false teachers, trying to lead others astray by tickling ears.
Milk is still preferable to meat.
We've taken our eyes off of the goal -
The goal of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus (the author and perfecter of our faith - Hebrews 12:2).
We much prefer to let others do all the thinking for us.
It just seems way easier...
But "easier" for us means becoming spiritual Benjamin Buttons....
And, that, as I understood it this week...is simply not natural, and, yes...sad!
Even the writer of Hebrews implored the Jesus-Followers:
Let us stop going over the basic teachings about Christ again and again! Let us go on, instead, and become mature in our understanding. Hebrews 6:1a
Paul goes on to tell the Ephesians...
Let us go on to maturity...so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:13-14)
So this week, my heart felt Paul's lament to the churches he founded in Southern Turkey, as if he wrote them to me.
I recognized how easy it is to regress to infancy, spiritually speaking...
And, once we start on that slippery slope downward, it's hard to reverse.
So, Paul gave me a few words of advice, to stop the downward cycle.
His advice reads a lot like this:
The righteous live by faith, and living by faith looks a lot like keeping in step with the Spirit of God one step at a time.
...And, the Spirit of God will always lead us to creating space in our lives for keeping company with the Lord in order that we might go on to maturity!
Not becoming a Benjamin Button begins with the right attitude of my own heart, and a willingness to keep in step with the Spirit....
Thursday, June 17, 2021
I've always been a rule-follower.
It's just easier.
In fact, I like rules: the structure, the stability, the safety.
I like living in that comfortable zone with good guardrails.
So, this last week, when I decided I needed to work a little harder at eating in a manner that might help fight some inflammation issues I've been having, I looked for a diet that clearly spelled out THE RULES.
Lots of research led me to an anti-Inflammatory program that has good, measurable, doable "laws..."
For one whole week I've adhered to these rules and am beginning to see the rewards.
HOWEVER, I recognize I, also, do this in my Christian life.
I want the "program" all spelled out for me.
The do's and do not's bother me NONE!
BUT, as I study the book of Galatians, I realize Paul's biggest heartbreak is over proclaimed Jesus-followers who put the do's and do nots ahead of faith.
Paul scolds them with no little frustration in his voice; and, as he does, I recognize he's scolding me.
In my desire to "do the program" of Christianity, it's easy to slip across that blurred line of pleasing God with my faith to pleasing God with my good works.
Paul wasn't the only one who addressed this problem, and the writer of Hebrews reminds with an entire chapter (11) on what people who lived by faith looked like, because "without faith, it's impossible to please the Lord.."
When Paul calls the Galatians non-thinking, senseless and brain-dead (ahem! in so doing, he says the same about... "moi!"), he asks them how they became so easily "bewitched," or "fascinated," by law after having found saving grace in Jesus...
Well, perhaps the question is rhetorical, but it also requires some pondering (which I know is exactly what he wanted them/me to do)... We are fascinated, because:
- Good works/law - it's easier! it's measurable! From it, I think I know what a Jesus-follower looks like and how they act (this however leads to judgment...ugh!)
- Good works/law - it's objective. I wake up with a "to do" list already made for me, and all I have to do is check off the boxes.
- Good works/law- gives me some good, reliable guardrails of "safety..."
But...when it becomes the measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord or a means of judging others.... THEN:
Good works/law - leads to pride! When I do "right" my ego is stroked. When I don't do right, ego deflates and I look for more positive pats on the back to rebuild my ego. So, then I have to do more and more and more...
Through this whole ordeal, I compare myself to others - and we all know what comparison does:
It is the chief thief of JOY!
Living by Law will always lead us away from the joy of grace when it becomes our measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord.
AND....Good works/law - leaves no room for the Spirit of God to do His work of maturing me from within.
Living by Law will always keep us from living by the Spirit when it becomes our measuring-stick for pleasing the Lord.
This led Paul to ask another question, which he addresses: WHY, then, do we even have the law?
Reason says, couldn't God have just skipped Sinai? The 10 commandments? The other 400-some tedious rules?
Don't miss the point, Paul says. There's a purpose for the law...and it is GOOD!
(Are you confused, yet? 'Cause my first thought was that Paul couldn't make up his mind... But, WAIT FOR IT...hopefully, this all comes together!)
Here's the good...The Law serves like a school teacher for young children.
OK? (Well, think this progression through and maybe the confusion will clear - it definitely helped me.)
Law teaches me about my sin... I simply can't follow it all. Every day, I break one of God's rules, which is exactly why I needed a Savior. If I try to live by good works to get to heaven, well, I'll never get there!
So then, Law renews in me a greater gratitude and a deeper understanding of God's grace.
This then, leads to a renewal of my commitment to "walk by the Spirit" in order that I might look more like the One in Whom God the Father was well-pleased...
I want to be more like Jesus...the One who saved me by grace.
Now, this deeper understanding of grace gives rise within me a "want-to" to do good works. After all, I was created for good works, just not saved by them....
Here's the difference:
Because of Grace, I don't have to please God by doing good works...
He is already pleased with my faith (even if it is as small as a mustard seed)...
BUT, I GET to do them as an expression of my faith in Him...
And, these "good works" serve the purpose of bringing others into the Kingdom...by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus! Why? Because they see a difference in me...
Just like that anti-inflammatory diet - we will see results....The Lord calls it "fruit."
And this...changes everything!
Thursday, June 10, 2021
I'd not read The Magician's Nephew, by CS Lewis, until about a year ago.
I'd always thought Chronicles began with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
So, I was a wee bit surprised when I dug into the series to re-read.
The story records the adventures of Diggory and his friend, Polly, who are given magic rings by Diggory's wild-looking Uncle Andrew (who dabbles in magic...and, isn't as professionally skilled as he might like to think).
Diggory and Polly find themselves in several strange other-worlds, exploring lands they never knew existed.
All's well until they find themselves in Charn, where the curious Diggory awakens an evil queen, who tricks her way back to England with the children when they try to escape her realm with their magic rings.
Of course, this leads to an uproar in the grand city of London, until the kiddos use the rings, once again, to attempt to take the queen back to Charn, and instead find themselves in Narnia, just as it is being birthed....AND, they come face to face with Aslan, to whom Diggory has to explain the current circumstances.
All this background to say that Diggory, whose mom is very ill, and who is certain Aslan can do something to heal her, finds himself in a position to ask for help.
"Son of Adam," said Aslan, "Are you ready to undo the wrong that you have done to my sweet country of Narnia on the very day of its birth?'
Not knowing what he can really do to assist, Diggory says, "Yes...."
And for a split second he had some wild idea of saying, "I'll help you if you'll promise to help my Mother," but he realized just in time that "the Lion was not at all the sort of person one should try to make bargains with..."
Quite often, without even realizing it, we do this with the Lord.
We may not say it out loud, but we hold certain expectations of Him...
Spoken or unspoken rules we live by that if I do _________________(name the condition), then He, in turn, will do ______________ (name the blessing)...
Author, Larry Crabb, called this "presumptive sin."
Somehow we have this idea that if we do everything just right, the Lord, in turn, will have to bless us with what we want.
And yet, we are forgetting God is not a puppet easily manipulated.
We forget that He is a Sovereign King, and has a plan that can't be thwarted by evil, or controlled by us.
In doing so, we attempt to make Him our own personal "magician."
But!!!! He is not at all the sort of person you should try to make bargains with...
He is God!
I've had several conversations around this thought as of late...and, more...I've watched as dear ones, who "expected God to act a certain way based on their good work," walked away from Him, because in their minds, He didn't live up to His promises.
Another gal commented that in her experience there came a point where she said she entered into what she calls her "I did all the things right and it still didn't matter, so maybe following the rules isn't worth it" phase.
Like many, she questioned her faith.
Fortunately, God not only restored, but increased, her faith as she "reconstructed" it through the truth of His Word.
Our Life Group even discussed this same topic last Sunday as we carried on our study of Galatians.
The topic of God's Grace is such a huge part of this epistle from the Apostle Paul.
Sometimes, as believers, we start taking grace for granted; and, then, we make certain assumptions...
....this whole concept smacks of striking "bargains" with God...
In this we are just as bewitched as the Galatians.
Somehow I begin to think that if I do this Christian life JUST-right, God will bless me in return; and, it is such a lie from the enemy.
Oh, how he tricks us.
Paul says, "Pay attention! Let's think this through..."
Once saved by grace through faith in Christ, live the same way...by faith and not "counting on" what we do for the Lord!
In all things, we trust God with an assurance He does what is best for us (even if it seems HARD in the moment)...
In fact, Paul's saying - The God who supplied the Spirit for you...is "choreographing" your life (that's what the Greek word translated supplied means)... Galatians 3:5!
He is working your life-story in ways you don't even understand.
So, we allow Him room to do so - without manipulation....
Paul wants the Galatians (as well as you and I) to see just how GRAND GRACE is...
He wants us to recognize that we've done nothing to deserve salvation, BUT JESUS...
He, who so loved the world...
He, who willingly died for us...
...will also complete and perfect us as we journey through life (His way! His timing!).
We don't DO anything else.
It's been DONE ✅
And, what's more - we need remember: there is no entitlement in the Kingdom of God.
We simply trust and obey just as the old hymn says...
If along the course of our life, God pours out His blessings upon us, it's just icing on the cake.
I never deserved anything to begin with...
Paul says - in no way, never-ever pick up works again (for any reason), once we've picked up grace.
We can't hold both in the same hands.
Do I trust His grace with each and every step of each ordinary day of my life?
Do I attempt to manipulate Him to work to my advantage?
He is not the kind of person one should try make bargains with....
Thursday, June 3, 2021
Each January, during the years we served at Rift Valley Academy in Kenya, Africa Inland Mission held their annual conference at the school.
During the conference, other missionaries reported on what God was up to in their areas of service, and Bay and I always enjoyed hearing the stories of how our Lord was making His great presence known!
Sometimes, there were crazy stories, almost unbelievable, except for the fact we knew a lot of these folks... They were credible people.
I'll not forget the conference, that friends (with whom we'd been to orientation school before arriving in Africa) spoke of some of their experiences attempting to plant churches in a very remote unreached tribal village.
They told of animism, still actively recognized as a religion in many parts of the Dark Continent.
They spoke of the witch doctors, still greatly respected among the people, men meant to heal and treat ailments brought about by curses. Powerful men. Men, who often held more clout with the people than even the tribal chief.
And, they shared of those who had the ability to give the "evil eye."
(typical evil eye amulet used world-wide to prevent a potential curse)
This is way beyond giving a "stink eye!"
Reports of folks with this ability go back as far as 6th century BC in classical Greek antiquity.
Those who utilize the "evil eye" tend to cast looks with malevolent intent on another, causing misfortune, injury, or harm via some supernatural force of evil.
The report I recall from our missionary friends was coming across the path of a man from their village who had been given the evil eye, gluing him in place, like a living statue.
This villager was so frozen in place he could not move, and had literally stood, unmoving, throughout the entire night.
You can imagine how dangerous this would be in a country like Kenya, where most wild things either bite you, sting you, or eat you...
Obviously, the lesson the missionary expounded on was grounded in 1 John 4:4 - "BUT, greater is He who is in us, than he (our enemy, the devil) who is in the world..."
But today's blog post isn't exactly about this kind of "evil eye"...
In my study of Galatians, I finally reached chapter 3.
As is the case most of the time, when someone presents one view point, there is quite often a push-back from yet another side.
This happened in first century Christianity.
There was definitely push-back by a group of Jews who basically told Paul that he was making Christianity too easy....so easy, in fact, ANYBODY could believe and be saved....even Gentiles (say that with disdain in your voice).
They wanted Jewish law to be added to the gospel...
As soon as Paul planted a church, got it going, put a pastor in place, and set out to start new churches, these Jews would follow behind and "preach another gospel."
The distorted gospel.
It made Paul furious.
We see some of his great frustration in the first verse of Chapter 3.
"O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?"
Remember there is often more to the Greek than what English translates...
So, here's what Paul is really saying:
"Who have you allowed to give you the evil eye, making absolute fools out of you!"
(Bewitched: Greek word transliterated baskaino - to bring evil on one by affecting them with an evil eye.)
"In fact," says Paul, "You are acting as if you haven't any ability to think for yourselves."
"Don't be so dull-minded!"
My first thought on reading this was that Jesus said, "Call no man a fool (Matthew 5:22)!"
So, I had to check out whether or not Paul was contradicting Jesus.
Two totally different Greek words.
Jesus used the term raca, which was an insult.
Paul used a different word, which meant dull-minded, slow to think.
Paul used the word not as an insult, but as a rebuke of those who disregarded God's obvious revelations.
Don't miss this:
The Galatians had fallen under a hypnotic spell of false teachers!
Sometimes, I find myself in the same position of the Galatian churches.
I'd rather let someone else do all my thinking for me.
It's much easier to listen to someone else expound on God's truth, especially from those who are better educated, enthusiastic personalities, passionate teachers.
I'd far rather believe what they say than to check out for myself if what they are preaching is TRUTH.
When I do, I put myself in a position to be bewitched;
...and, this, my friends, is a foolish, and dangerous, place to be!
Like those in the Berean church, which Paul founded, we should examine the Scriptures eagerly to see if the things that are taught are so (Acts 17:11)!
It was so important in first century Christianity...
BUT, it is FAR MORE important in the culture of today.
There are many who would just as readily give us the evil eye, making fools out of us all, rather than give us the TRUTH of the GOSPEL.
These would rather base their truth on what feels right, rather than what is right...
To this Paul says:
"Be on guard!"