The Joy of Christian Living

Satan’s second-biggest lie is telling us sin is fun. His biggest lie? — that he doesn’t exist. Yes, the devil can lure us with the scent of delirious sin. We can feel it, smell it, taste it, and desire it. It seems so good — until its harmful effects bubble up and we see the mess we’re in. By contrast, Jesus offers us a life of harmony with our Creator and the promise of peace and joy that surpasses our understanding.

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And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16 NIV)

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. (Genesis 3:4 NIV)

“The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] have come that [you] may have life and have it to the full. “ (John 10:10 NIV)

You are of your father the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks from his own nature, because he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 CSB)

SHE: I’LL BET MY WEEKEND WILL BE MORE FUN THAN YOURS!

HE: Why’s that?

SHE: John’s in town.

HE: John?54. coffee-shop-mug

SHE: Yeah, Dodo. John. He’s like this really cool guy I knew at State. He’s divorced and all, so he’s, like, free, you know?

HE: Okay. And?

SHE: And? Like, we’ll party with some friends, go to a club, you know; then he’ll  spend the night at my house. Way more fun than what you’ll do.

(SHE nudges him and winks)

HE: I don’t know about that.

SHE: Why, what’ll you do? Hang out with some boring Christian friends and spend the whole time in church?

HE: Oh, I see. I don’t think you understand. Can we talk?

SHE: Sure, but it’ll cost you.

HE: How much?

(SHE points to a coffee shop)

SHE: I want a mocha latte.

(THEY enter coffee shop)

(HE orders a latte for her and dark roast for himself)

(THEY find a quiet corner)

SHE: So, tell me, what’s the mystery?

HE: No mystery.

(HE sips coffee and puts cup down)

HE: I know you think your weekend will be more fun than mine. I’ve got to admit, it sounds really attractive.

SHE: Told ya.

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HE: IN FACT, BECAUSE OF MY SINFUL NATURE, I could imagine spending a weekend like that, too. Not with John, of course, but maybe with his sister. Does he have a sister? Never mind. Oh, sure, I can think of all sorts of pleasures — self-serving, self-gratifying — that sound like fun. Fun until you do them.

SHE: What do you mean, fun until you do them?54. Broken-Heart-Hand

HE: Some of that fun you’re talking about will lead to misery. Okay, there could be an excess of alcohol. That’ll impair your judgment. Or, there could be some hard drugs. Illegal for starters; addictive, if continued. Then, there’s the sex. Sounds great, right!

(SHE smirks)

HE: How many unwanted pregnancies do you think will get started this weekend? How many diseases will get passed around? Not only that, but how many hearts will be broken when hookups end? Any abortions down the road?

SHE: I don’t think you get it.

HE: I get it. I do. You might not get caught — this time — but is your life on track to fulfillment? I mean, you’re, what, 34, 35? Never married. No husband, no kids. Living in a condo listening to the same tunes you rocked to in college. Nothing to show for it.

SHE: You’re a downer.

(HE chuckles)

HE: That church thing you mentioned. Yeah, I’m going to church Sunday, but it’s not the boring gig you think it is. I’m joyful. I’m praising the living God who created me, who loves me so much He sent His Son to die for me, to pay the price for my sins. Not just things I do or even say, but the things I think about or imagine.

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SHE: GET OUTTA HERE! WHAT EVIL STUFF DO YOU THINK ABOUT, DUDE?

HE: Pretty much the same things you think about. Maybe even some of the things you’re hoping will happen this weekend. You see, we’re pretty much the same. Here’s the difference: I took stock of my life three years ago, and I just realized things were not adding up right, you know? I mean, I have these talents, or gifts — everyone does — but I wasn’t using them for anything useful.

SHE: Yeah, I remember you saying something about that.54. Man.Asking.Questions

HE: Do you remember my searching around for something better to hold onto than parties, booze, and girls?

SHE: Yeah, you were a real pain then, asking us all of those questions about why we’re here on earth, and whether there’s any plan for us, and where we’re headed. You seemed to have found an answer — for you, of course — but that Jesus thing just isn’t for everybody.

(HE opens the Holy Bible app on his smart phone)

HE: Yes, it is. He’s for real, and He’s for everybody. Sooner or later, each of us has to answer the one question He asked his disciples. “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” It’s in Matthew, Chapter 16, Verse 15. I’m quoting from the NIV translation.

(SHE scowls)

SHE: And?

(HE flicks through the Bible app)

HE: Well, one of the disciples, it was Peter, said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s in the next verse, in Matthew. That was from the English Standard Version.

SHE: All those versions. You’re a regular smarty pants, aren’t you?

(HE ignores her taunt)

HE: You see, each one of us — you and me, and your friend John, for that matter — will have to answer that question some day.

(SHE sips coffee nervously)

HE: So, who do you say He is?

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(SHE DOESN’T ANSWER. CONTINUES SIPPING COFFEE)

HE: Let me guess, the Great Cosmic Killjoy. The Big Meanie. SuperCop. Something like that, right? Someone who’ll steal your vibe, knock the fun right out of your weekend, and the next thing you’ll be doing is dishing out slop in a soup kitchen to a homeless vagrant with fleas in his hair. And to top it off, you’ll sport a Happy Face with a big grin and sparkling eyes.

SHE: Something like that.

HE: You know, the Bible says something about that.

(HE consults his Bible app)

HE: It’s in 1 Corinthians 1:18. One translation, the New Century Version,  quotes it this way: “The teaching about the cross is foolishness to those who are being lost, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

(HE looks directly at her)

54. Jesus-Said-I-AmHE: What that means is that without the Holy Spirit in your heart, everything Jesus had to say sounds like gibberish, but once you accept  the truth of who He is, everything falls into place.

SHE: Okay, I’ll bite. Tell me more.

HE: CS Lewis put it like this in his book Mere Christianity. Let’s see if I can remember this right: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance; the only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”

(HE pauses)

HE: Put another way, Jesus told us He’s God. He could be lying or He could be delusional. In either case, we could ignore Him. But if Jesus is Who He says He is, then He is God. Then, we had better look at what He tells us. He says He came into this world to give us life and to give us a life that’s robust and full of grace.

(SHE frowns)

HE: See, the Bible tells us that God loves us so much that He didn’t even spare the life of His own Son, giving Him to death to pay for our transgressions. So, with that being said, how will He not also give us all good things?

SHE: You mean, like that church thing?

HE: No, I don’t mean going to church. I mean worshipping the living God! I mean giving praise and thanks and blessing to the One who makes all of this worthwhile.

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SHE: I FEEL SICK.

HE: What’s the matter?

SHE: Suddenly, this weekend with John doesn’t sound like so much fun, after all.

HE: Okay, so what are you going to do about it?

SHE: I don’t know. Probably still go through with it. I mean, our plans are made already, you know? It’s way more easier to go through with the plans than to change them, right?

54. Woman-Walking-AwayHE: Easier, right.

(SHE drains her coffee)

HE: Maybe not smarter.

(SHE looks at him. Discards her cup. Returns to table)

SHE: Are you done with your coffee?

(HE looks at her sadly)

HE: Yeah, I’m done.

(HE stands up and discards his cup, pouring out the remaining coffee)

(THEY leave silently after a quick hug)

HE: Would you like me to pray for you?

(SHE shrugs)

SHE: Okay

HE: Jesus loves you. Satan doesn’t.

(SHE nods)

(THEY depart in opposite directions)

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PRAYER: Heavenly Father, Creator of the the universe and all of life. Help us see the benevolence of Your grace and mercy. Help us see Your love as You reach out to us. Help us see the gift of Jesus Christ, who bore our punishment. Help us live our lives in gratitude for Your saving grace. In Jesus we pray. Amen

 

Galatians 6: “Doing Good to All”

Those who are faithful in their pursuit of God’s will should not give up or become discouraged if all of their prayers are not answered immediately, but they should remain faithful in continuing their prayers. So much of God’s Word, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, shows that God most of all wants us to trust Him, to pursue Him, and to count on Him for our blessings and the wellbeing of ourselves and others. He is less interested in answering our prayers for immediate needs than He is in building our characters for an eternity with Him.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7 NIV)

“And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t get discouraged and give up.” (Galatians 6:9 TLB)

This meditation is Part 6 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is here. Part 3, “Law and Promise,” is here. Part 4, “Born of the Free Woman,” is herePart 5, “Freedom in Christ,” is here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

PICTURE A MAN ON HIS KNEES, HANDS FOLDED, ELBOWS RESTING ON HIS BIBLE.

53. man-power-of-prayerPicture a woman clutching a photograph or child’s drawing, her hands resting in her lap as she sits in a quiet room, her eyes shut tight, her lips moving slightly as she mouths words of petition.

Both are bringing adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and petition (ACTS) to the Lord in prayer.

Both are opening their hearts — and their souls — to the Creator of the universe, the One who purposed their lives before the world began, asking, begging, praying that the Great Healer will intervene in the lives of a loved one.

There is nothing more powerful than the prayer of a righteous man or woman (James 5:16) in petitioning the Throne to heal the body or save the soul of another person.

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THERE IS NO PRAYER MORE MEANINGFUL than the penitent’s open confession of sin and repentance, mixed with thanksgiving and praise, for the Savior’s sacrifice to reclaim our lives for God’s purpose.

When Jesus prayed to the Father before He was arrested, He prayed for us, for those who53. woman_prayer_sunrise
would believe in Him without having seen Him in bodily form.

“I have given these people the glory that you gave me,” Jesus prayed, “so that they [us] can be one, just as you and I are one.” (John 17:22 NCV)

Yet, Paul, in a powerful teaching to close his letter to the Galatians, reminds us not to “become tired” or “lose heart” or “grow weary” or “become discouraged” or “get discouraged” (as translated in the NCV, NASB, ESV, AMP, and TLB versions) in our prayers. That is because we are not promised immediate and full responses to our prayers.

The reason is because the Lord wants to build character and perseverance in our lives. It is through character development that God develops His disciples who will then make disciples who make disciples. (Romans 5:4)

Yes, He has the power to snap His divine fingers and heal everything and everyone, but He will not do that. He could, if He chose, give us the clarity of vision we so desperately desire, yet He prefers to help us build faith in  Him and trust in His provision. (Hebrews 11:1)

Man’s sinful behavior ruptured the good universe the Lord created, and what we have now is a mild glimpse of the divine, a distortion of the perfect. 

Fortunately for us, God, in His mercy, has given us an escape from the eternal consequences of our sin, through the shed blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, on the Cross.

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JESUS, IN HIS EARTHLY MINISTRY, taught us that we may petition the Father in His name, and the Father will hear us. Jesus also taught us that we must be persistent in our prayers.

In Luke 11, the Lord tells of a man who asks a friend to give him some bread to feed a guest who has just arrived from a journey.

53. Jesus-teaching-apostles-friends“Open the door, friend, and help me,” the first man says. “I have a friend who has journeyed and he just arrived at my house, but I have nothing to offer him.”

“Don’t bother me,” the homeowner responds. “The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can’t get up and give you anything.” (Luke 11:7 NIV)

Jesus says that the first man’s persistence eventually pays off, and the homeowner, reluctantly, gets out of his warm bed, finds some bread, opens the door, and gives it to the first man.

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THE LESSON THAT JESUS DRAWS is that if sinful man can grumble and  still give good gifts to others, then how much more will a loving and gracious Heavenly Father give to those who ask?

In John 16, Jesus tells us that we can ask anything of the Father in His name, and the Father will grant it.

Those prayers that the Father will answer are the ones that meet His plan for our lives. Paul tells us in Philippians 2:13 (ESV) that the Father “is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.”

The psalmist said nearly the same thing in Psalms 37:4 (ESV)— “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”53. Man_Woman_praying

That is, God builds the desire in your heart to please Him, then when you desire to please the Lord, ask Him, and He will help you do that.

As our imaginary man and woman are giving their hearts to the Lord in prayer, the Father is working in their hearts — hearts that believe in His Son — giving them the desire to obey Him.

Then, as they — and we — pray, the Lord will strengthen us to do those very things.

Since this is a process, designed to prepare our hearts for eternity, the Father has little interest in instantaneously acceding to our requests. God is no Genie-in-a-Bottle. He is not Santa Claus. He is the Great Shaper. He has “begun a good work in [us] until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6 NIV), meaning when Jesus returns.

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WHAT AN INTERESTING MESSAGE Jesus was telling us. One one hand, He says we can pray to the Father in His name and be heard, yet we shouldn’t expect a complete answer right away. We need to be brought along, to be trained to obey as He obeyed, to be 47.Open_Biblefaithful and trust in the  Father.

He wants to teach us the lesson of Hebrews 11:1 (NASB), that “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” We should pray with full confidence that we will receive — “you must have faith and not doubt.” (James 1:6 CEV)

There’s a final point to be made.

We need to keep going back to our imaginary man and woman of faith, deep in prayer, bringing their hopes and dreams, sorrows and pains, and faithfulness to Almighty God.

Paul reminds us in Galatians 6:7 there is an accounting for our lives. Not only should we not give up in “doing good,” he says, but we should also realize that we will “reap” (“harvest”) what we “sow” (“plant”). That is, the rewards that are ours in eternity will bea direct result of how we live our lives now.

Those who are faithful in their pursuit of God’s will should not give up or become discouraged if all of their prayers are not answered immediately, but they should remain faithful in continuing their prayers.

So much of God’s Word, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament, shows that God most of all wants us to trust Him, to pursue Him, and to count on Him for our blessings and the wellbeing of ourselves and others.

We cannot fool Him, for He will judge us fairly. That’s in His nature. Paul also tells us in Romans 2:16 (NLT): “And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.”

It’s all in His hands.

Praise God!

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PRAYER: O Heavenly and most gracious Father, we ask You to search our hearts and find what angers You and then help us to turn from those sins and be reconciled to You. Please forgive us. Train us to turn to You in all our circumstances, from seeking forgiveness, to asking for help, for giving praise and for giving thanks. Help us to keep being faithful until You return or call us home, not doubting in Your goodness. Reclaim us, O Lord, and makes us Your sons and daughters and heirs. In Christ Jesus we pray. Amen

Galatians 5: “Fruit of the Spirit”

In Galatians, Chapter 5, the apostle Paul reminds us that two spirits are at war within us — the spirit of darkness, which rules this world, and the Spirit of Light, which is God’s eternal Spirit. Through Christ’s work on the cross, we no longer are slaves to our sinful natures; however, we need to choose to live by the Spirit. Moral impurity, idolatry, and jealousy are some manifestations of the spirit of the flesh.  But the fruit of God’s Spirit include love, joy, peace, and patience. The contrast is startling. Through Christ, we, indeed, are new beings.

“Live your life as your spiritual nature directs you. Then you will never follow through on what your corrupt nature wants. … They are opposed to each other. (Galatians 5:16-17 GW)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 ESV)

This meditation is Part 5 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is here. Part 3, “Law and Promise,” is here. Part 4, “Born of the Free Woman,” is here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

I AM FREE!

WOW! YES, I AM!

Free to be me, free to laugh, free to dance, free to say whatever I want. No  chains to bind 45. Children_Ignoring_Parentsme, no tasks to complete, no master to please.

I am my own man (or woman) …

… and who are you to say any differently?

How does “my thing” (whatever it might be) in any way harm you, keep you from being you, doing your own thing, get in your way.

I’m not hurting anyone. So. Leave. Me. Alone!

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WOW, INDEED.

Does that litany strike home? It does for me.

I can remember those youthful collegiate and graduate school days spent pouring over books, writing term papers, making new friends, dreaming big dreams, and just thoroughly enjoying being a young adult.

Except that I wasn’t really free at all, not by a long shot.

52.SinI was a slave to my sinful nature, but I was unaware of it. I had no clue. I imagine that put me in some pretty stellar company. There are a lot of people who have no clue how beholden they are to the pull of their sinful nature. Sadly, many of them are Christians … or, at least, church-goers … let’s call them “church-ers.”

Because of God’s grace, that would change. The voice of Jesus Christ would penetrate the surrounding fog: “The thief [Satan] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I [Jesus] came that they [men and women] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NASB, emph. mine)

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THE APOSTLE PAUL writes to us in Galatians, Chapter 5, to live our lives not according to the will of the flesh, but of the Spirit of God. He reminds us that those two spirits — that of God and that of the flesh — exist in tension within us. They compete against one another. 

One spirit leads us into darkness, lies, and slavery, while the other frees us from bondage and leads us into the light — the only place where we truly can be free.52. Sinful-nature-at-war-with-God

It’s easy to tell the two spirits apart, Paul reminds us; in fact, He tells us “the acts of the flesh are obvious” (Galatians 5:19 NIV): among them are sexual immorality, impurity, debauchery, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, and so many others.

Then, he warns us that “those who live like this,” that is, those men and women who are unrepentant in their hearts, who have not come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, who persist in living in the bondage of their sin, those people, he says, “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21 NIV).

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WE DON’T HAVE TO LIVE like that.

Jesus told us in His earthly ministry that He had a better message: “Come to Me, all of you  who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 CSB)

He told us if we listen to His words and build our lives on solid ground, His grace and mercy would help us withstand the storms of life, and, yes, those storms surely would come. (Matthew 7:24-25)

“Then you will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32 BSB)


LOS FRUTOS DEL ESPIRITU

Amor, Gozo, Paz, Paciencia, Benignidad, Bondad,

Fidelidad,  Mansedumbre, Dominio Propio.

Contra tales no hay ley. — Gálatas 5:22-23


Those who, in Paul’s words, “belong to Christ Jesus,” are set free from the bondage of sin. “They have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24 ESV)

Of course, remaining sinful beings, we will continue to commit sins, but we no longer will live in sin or be attached to or enslaved by sin (1 John 3:6 ESV).

And what are the signs of that Spirit, the Spirit of God’s holy grace? Paul says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, [and] self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23 ESV)

52. fruit-of-the-spirit

Against that Spirit, he says, “there is no law,” that is, the Old Testament law does not apply, but the new covenant, the covenant of God’s grace DOES apply.

Paul’s parting shot in this chapter are words we need to claim for our own and write them in our hearts, much like the ancient Israelites were instructed by God through Moses to obey the law (Deuteronomy 6:6).

Our obedience to God hasn’t changed through the millennia; only the covenant has changed because God has replaced obedience to the law with obedience out of love to His grace.

Paul says: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” (Galatians 5:25 ESV)

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PRAYER: O LORD, our majestic Savior and King, we humbly come to You, unworthy of prayer except as You grant us through the life blood of Your Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Place within our hearts a love for the Lord, a desire to be holy, a willingness to serve. Let us focus each moment on the spiritual gifts that You require of us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, because against such virtues, O LORD, there is no law. In His Name be all the glory and honor. Amen.