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.

 

Galatians 4: “Born of the Free Woman”

The story of Sarah and Hagar is so symbolic of the promises of God that the apostle Paul uses it to explain how we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are children of the free woman, not the slave woman — that we are saved by grace as a free gift from God, not bound as slaves to the law to be judged by our failure to obey. Why, Paul asks the Galatians, would you want to rebind yourselves to the law when God through His Son has freed you by His grace! Why would we, as His followers today, want to bind our souls to the misery of being slaves to our works, our fears, our doubts — our guilt. Jesus has freed us from all of that!

“So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (Galatians 4:7 NIV)

“There is a Scripture that tells us what to do: ‘Expel the slave mother with her son, for the slave son will not inherit with the free son.’ Isn’t that conclusive? We are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.” (Galatians 4:31 MSG)

This meditation is Part 4 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.

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

THERE WAS A FAMILY THAT HAD A YOUNG SON AND ALSO OWNED A  SLAVE.

51. adam-eve-teaching-children-82611-galleryAt first, when the boy was young, the slave, who was an adult and trusted by the child’s father, watched over the boy and guided his steps. You might say, the slave “ruled over” the child.

As time went on, however, their roles changed. The child grew to be a man, while the slave remained … well, a slave.

As the child became a man, he was entitled to an inheritance from the father. Not so the slave, whose term of service never changed.

Enter a benevolent outside force that scrambled the picture in a way the world had never seen before. This external force said it could do for the slave what the law was unable to do.

This external force could graft the slave onto the family tree, giving him the same rights as the natural child; in fact, freeing him from his servitude, making him a co-equal son with the natural son, and granting him an equal inheritance from the father.

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THAT’S ONE WAY OF LOOKING at Paul’s letter to the Galatians. In what our Bibles call 51. Envelope-to-the-Galatians“Chapter 4,” (the chapter headings were not in the original text of the letter), the apostle explains the migration that God the Holy Spirit provides everyone of us who progresses from our natural state — that of “unbelief” — to a new, born-again, state, that of “belief.”

In Paul’s terms, we are all slaves from birth by virtue of Adam’s and Eve’s rebellion against God, which ushered in our sinful state. To correct our behavior, God issued the Law, which started with the Ten Commandments. Paul tells us that the Law could not make us virtuous because we could never obey it entirely and consistently.

It’s main function, Paul said, was to show us our inequities, our imperfections, our sins, so that we would realize our need for the saving power of God the Son.

Once we accept the saving power of the Son, the Holy Spirit floods our hearts and takes up residence, creating within us a new person. Paul explains, “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT)

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TO EXPLAIN HOW THIS SLAVE-SON-HEIR transition takes place, Paul took the Galatians (and us) back to the days of Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, and his wife, Sarah.

51. abraham-and-sarah-bible-storyGod had promised Abraham and Sarah that He would provide them with a son and that through that son, Abraham’s descendants would populate many nations and would become as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Speaking of Sarah, God said to Abraham, “I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Genesis 17:16 ESV)

As time went on, Abraham and Sarah, by this time 90 to 100 years old, felt that God had not provided the son He had promised them, so they wanted to help Him out, without asking His consent. So Sarah “gave” Abraham her maidservant, Hagar, to bear a son for her.

They named this son “Ismael.” Ismael was beloved by Abraham, but God said Ismael was not the child of God’s promise to Abraham. There would be a second son, this one born of Sarah. They would name him “Isaac,” and Isaac would be the son of God’s promise. The covenant would pass through Isaac, not Ismael.

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PAUL WALKS US THROUGH the story by recounting the tension that developed in Abraham’s house between the two son-bearing women—Hagar, the maidservant who provided a son (Ismael) for Sarah when Sarah remained barren, and Sarah, who later provided a son (Isaac) when the Lord opened her womb.

The Bible tells us that when Isaac was weaned, Abraham threw a great feast for him, but Sarah pleaded with him to discard Hagar and her son, saying Ismael’s continued presence could jeopardize Isaac’s inheritance. (“That slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac,” Sarah told Abraham. Genesis 21:10 NIV)

When Abraham asked God what he should do, God told Abraham to obey his wife, Sarah, reaffirming for Abraham that the covenant that God declared would pass through Isaac, not Ismael.

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THAT BRINGS US BACK to the beginning of our account where there are two sons — one son born of a slave woman into slavery and one son born of a free woman into the rights 51. Hagar & Ishmael Augo4of inheritance.

Here’s where Paul wants us to take special note. As he continues his letter from the points made in Galatians 1-3, that it is God’s grace that provides us with salvation, not our good works, Paul reinforces this amazing truth: that the Lord transforms us, we who are born with sinful natures as slaves of sin, into sons of the Father and, as sons, then as heirs of his good fortune (Galatians 4:7).

Paul tells us that the Law, expressed in the Old Testament, was meant “to lead us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24 NIV) so that He could save us through our faith and His grace (Ephesians 2:8 NIV).

Once the we have been led to God the Son through God’s grace, we become sons of God the Father. Because we are sons, along with the Son, God the Father then sends God the Holy Spirit into our hearts.

Through that transition, done entirely by God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we are transformed from slavery into sonship and, as sons, “God has made [us] also an heir” (Galatians 4:7 NIV).

51. Holy-Spirit-descendingIn effect, we who once were born of the slave woman now are children of the free woman and, thus, of God’s promise.

Born into sin; reborn into salvation!

All because of God’s grace.

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PRAYER: O LORD, our Heavenly Father, it is only by Your grace and mercy that we can enjoy life and have it abundantly, as Your Son assured us. We give You all the glory for the blessings You have given us. Help us understand, or at least appreciate, the transition You have provided for us from our birth into sin and slavery under the Law to sonship with the Eternal Son and, with Him, being heirs of the promise. We thank You, we praise You, we honor You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

 

Galatians 3: “Law and Promise”

Trying to make it on our own instead of relying on God’s grace is as human as sin, which, of course, is why we try to make it on our own — we suffer the sin of pride. God knows us and has told us that we are better off living our lives His way, which includes accepting the grace of salvation by believing in His Son. The apostle Paul wrestled with this same issue when he told the church in Galatia to stop relying on their own efforts to earn salvation and rely on God’s promise of grace.

This meditation is Part 3 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is available here.

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

“How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT)

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:24-25 NIV)

I KNOW I CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.

I can’t believe what I just said; what I just did. That just isn’t me. I mean, I’m more even-50. Backslidingtempered than that. I don’t know what came over me. I’m tired, hungry even, certainly  stressed by work, family. You know, the usual things.

I can do better than this. I just need to try harder.

Becoming perfect by our individual human effort is the ultimate New Year’s resolution, and, besides, the idea of taking charge is so American, isn’t it? No way are we going to sit back and wish things were different! No, siree! We’re going to do something about it!

Buck up … and try harder.

Despite our best intentions, the outcome of our self-help promises are just as predictable as the rest of our resolutions. After a few tries, with diminishing enthusiasm, we give up.

Maybe we’ll try later, give it another go over the summer or maybe just wait until the following year. We aren’t really quitting, we tell ourselves. We’re delaying our effort. The timing just wasn’t right.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL must have felt the same way with the church in Galatia.

We can see his frustration when he saw those new Christians backsliding. One massive New Year’s resolution fail, but this time a slipping away from God’s saving grace.

No, this is not a discussion of whether a person can lose his or her salvation, but  Man goes on concrete pier in the sunrisewhether once saved, a person can miss the closeness and love for the Father that comes from a growing and continuing relationship with Him.

Jesus referenced this slipping away in Revelation 2:4 (MSG), when He told the church in Ephesus, “You walked away from your first love.”

That is, a person can remain saved but not progress in his/her spiritual walk with the Lord by remaining in place at the very point where they started their walk, like a newborn who never outgrows diapers or starts crawling.

Paul admonished the church in Corinth along those same lines, when he accused them of not growing in their faith. “I fed you with milk, not solid food,” Paul wrote, “for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2 ESV).

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HOW COULD WE MISS the unmistakeable promise that our Lord and Savior has given us? The great gift of grace! We don’t have to do life on our own. When we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, God pours His grace into us and relieves us of the burden and responsibility.

“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:28 MEV).

Okay, so there’s a catch, right? Once we surrender our lives to God, we are “owned” by  someone else, required to live up to someone else’s agenda and match their standards. 

50. Making_DecisionsYes, absolutely true! The Bible is very clear about that. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV, Paul states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

But, wait!

According to the Bible, God’s revealed testimony, you always were owned by someone else.

Listen to what Jesus says about that. Here He is in John 8:34 GW: “Jesus answered them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whoever lives a sinful life is a slave to sin.’”

Here’s Paul again: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16 NLT)

So, either way, you’re owned, right? Either you’re owned by sin, which leads to death, or you’re owned by righteousness, which leads to life.

You pick. Your choice. God’s gift of free will.

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SOMEWHERE, THERE’S THAT VOICE of doubt that whispers, “Maybe not everyone. This cops-and-robbers stuff might affect those people, but surely not me.”50. Open_Bible

Yes, you and me. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:22a NIV that we’re all engulfed in this sin mess, everyone of us. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”

Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Instead, he goes on to tell us that God has provided an escape for us, if we would just trust Him. What is that escape? Well, verse 22 continues with the answer: “so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”

What was promised?

The promise, as the following verses (23-25) explain, is that we are no longer prisoners under the law but justified (considered righteous) through Jesus Christ. “Now that faith has come,” Paul writes, “we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

The law was about works, doing the right things and trying to earn God’s favor by our actions. Replacing the law with grace, through Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross, and resurrection means we are recipients of God’s free gift of grace (Romans 3:24).

That was the point Paul was trying to drive home to the struggling Galatians. God, through His mercy, has given you the kingdom through your faith in His Son. Why are you falling back on old habits of trying to merit salvation through your own efforts, when Scripture tells us you are destined to fail … every time?

Better to accept God’s gift of grace through His Son. God reconciles us to Himself and grants us an eternity in His rest.

As we reflect on that gift, we are moved to join Paul in his prayer of praise: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV).

Amazing.

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PRAYER: O Heavenly Father, Creator of the Universe, Who made us in Your image, we confess we have failed You in our willfulness, striving to earn salvation on our own merits despite the sinful natures of our hearts. Forgive us, O Lord, and change our hearts from hearts filled with anger and lust and pride and sloth and covetousness and treachery and guile, and give us hearts that love the Lord and want to serve only Him. In Jesus’ precious Name we lift this prayer. Amen

 

 

Galatians 2: “Crucified With Christ”

Grace is God’s free gift to mankind. It is a gift that was bought with the lifeblood of Jesus Christ, a man without sin who bore God’s wrath against all of our sins so the Father could reclaim us — those who believe in Him — to share an eternity in Paradise. We cannot earn salvation through our own efforts, but we are given the gift of salvation from God’s grace when we believe. It’s that simple; yet, for most of mankind, it’s that difficult.

This is Part 2 of a 6-part meditation on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available at Galatians 1.

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

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20a ESV)

“Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ … because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16 ESV)

49.ChristCrucifiedForMeGRACE IS GOD’S FREE GIFT TO MANKIND.

It is a gift that was not chiefly bought nor casually given. In fact, the apostle Paul says our very bodies are temples in which the Holy Spirit lives. “You are not your own,” he writes. “You were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20 BSB).

What boggles the mind is this: Considering the stakes at hand — our eternal, everlasting, without-end destiny — you might think mankind would rush into the open arms of Jesus Christ, thanking Him profusely with tears and hugs for providing God’s grace through His sacrifice on the Cross for us.

You would be wrong.

Most people appear to be stuck on the words “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” and that’s where they stop. They don’t want any part of it, no shifting of controls from me to Him. It’s my life, and I’ll live it the way I want to. Stay back, Jesus.

Unless I need Your help, then I’ll let You know.

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DOES THAT BOTHER YOU?

It bothers me.

Aren’t you totally bummed to realize that most of the smiling faces you’ll encounter today are not remotely interested in receiving the grace offered by their Savior, nor are they willing to let Him take the controls of their earthly lives, even though the payoff is eternal life instead of eternal punishment.

Even the introductory clause of having been “crucified with Christ” is a meaningless  49.ChristDiedForMemess of words for most people, who have no idea what that means.

Really, for most people who have ever lived, the Cross was just a tragic end a long time ago in a primitive culture for a man who might well have been a gifted teacher and, possibly, an extraordinary healer, but it was nothing more than that.

Those who lived before the Cross ignored the law and the prophets.

For those of us who believe, however, it is the most incredible act of love and self-sacrifice the world has ever witnessed — at least, that part of the world that’s paying attention.

Paul, again, tells us that “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NET). The apostle Peter called the crucifixion the shedding of “the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:19 NLT).

But what is that to an unbelieving world?

Paul, again, states it this way: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV).

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SO, WE’VE SEEN THAT MOST PEOPLE do not want to cede control over their lives to the One who can give them life, and life abundantly (John 10:10), but what about that second part, about being “justified” by works or by faith? What’s up with that?

“Justification” is just a big word that means a person has been made “righteous in the sight of God.”

49.ImputationDiagramPaul says it this way: “not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness (Philippians 3:9 NET, emphasis mine).

In other words, Jesus lived a sinless life, and God credits His righteousness to my account — blotting out my sin-stained life — the moment I accept His Son as my Lord and Savior.

That transfer of Christ’s righteousness for my unrighteousness is my Ticket to Paradise!

The really big deal with that is that the alternative way to earn God’s favor is for me to live a sinless life — and I lost that one a long time ago.

“There is none righteous, no, not one,” Paul writes. “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. … There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12 NKJV).

The prophet Isaiah was just as blunt, saying that in God’s eyes, “All of us [that includes you and me] have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV).

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Most of us probably figure we’re on the good side of the Bell Curve. We haven’t killed anyone, or cheated on our spouse, or stolen our neighbor’s car, so we’re good.

Not so fast. Not in God’s eyes.

See, God is perfect; we are sinful.

James, the half-brother of Jesus (they shared a mother), tells us this: “If someone obeys all of God’s laws except one, that person is guilty of breaking all of them” (James 2:10 GW).

49.FocusOnJesusAll of them. Murder. Rape. Adultery. Theft. Slander. Lying.

Lest we think somehow God only keeps a record of what we do, no, He also keeps a record of what we say and what we think, as well.

Try this from Jesus’ own lips: “But what comes out of the mouth [our words] comes from the heart, and this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:18 HCSB).

And what about thoughts? “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’” (Matthew 9:4 NIV).

How about this one from Jesus: “You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged. But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged’” (Matthew 5:21-22a NCV, emphasis mine).

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THERE’S JUST NO WAY AROUND IT.

What we do, God sees as “filthy rags”; what we say, God sees as “defiling” us; and what we think, God sees as “evil.”

So, we are totally dependent for our salvation on Jesus Christ.

Considering how we don’t measure up in God’s eyes, those words from Scripture that we quoted earlier now sound beautiful and reassuring. I have been crucified with Jesus Christ. Christ lives in me. We are justified not by our good works but through faith in the Christ.

Paul said it clearly in Ephesians 2:8 NLT: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”

Amen, brother.

Now, that’s Grace!

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PRAYER: Holy Father, Lord God Almighty, we are so unworthy to approach the throne with our petitions except through the blood of Jesus Christ. Would You forgive us for our lack of faith? Would You soften the hearts of our family members, friends, and neighbors who do not know You or care to learn about You? Would You just grab us in Your loving arms and never let go, even when we act, talk, and think viciously evil, self-defiling filth? God be praised with all power, honor, and glory forever. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your amazing sacrifice for us. Thank You, eternally, Lord Jesus, for claiming us as Your own. Amen

Galatians 1: “No Other Gospel”

Sadly, many so-called Christians today — operating under the rubric of “progressive Christianity” — are busy revising the Gospel to “update” it according to contemporary society’s “reason” and “experiences.” They base their doctoring on a perverted sense of God’s loving nature, while conveniently ignoring His role as humanity’s judge. Paul’s letter to the Galatians written 2,000 years ago urges those Christians to avoid being misled by a false Gospel. There is only one Gospel, Paul wrote, and that truth is good for everyone for all time.

This article is the first of six articles on the Book of Galatians, each one highlighting a central theme in each of the six chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.

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

Really, there is no other Good News. But some people are confusing you; they want to change the Good News of Christ. (Galatians 1:7 NCV)

Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 NLT)

THE APOSTLE PAUL COULD HAVE WRITTEN GALATIANS TODAY.

Two thousand years ago, he felt the strong need to admonish new Christians in the various churches throughout the area of Galatia — both in the agrarian northern region and in the urbane, commercialized southern region — that they must not change the central truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

48.UnpardonableSinSadly, many so-called Christians today — operating under the rubric of “progressive Christianity” — are busy revising the Gospel to “update” it according to contemporary society’s “reason” and “experiences.” They base their doctoring on a perverted sense of God’s loving nature, while conveniently ignoring His role as humanity’s judge.

Paul told the Galatians that no such doctoring of God’s eternal truth was needed and that the faithful should abstain immediately from believing anyone who would teach a variance of what Paul, himself, had taught on his missionary trips to the region.

“I am astonished,” he wrote; “that you are so quickly deserting  him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (v. 6 ESV).

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PAUL CLEARLY STATED that this was not a matter of pastoral jealousy. The issue was the distortion of the central message of the man “who gave himself for our sins [that means, 36. JESUS is the TruthHe died for us] to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (v. 4 ESV).

In Paul’s time, the central question facing the early church focused on the Jewish nature of Jesus and His disciples and whether converts from the Gentile world — considered pagans and outcasts throughout Jewish history — had to convert to Judaism and be subject to Mosaic law before becoming followers of Jesus.

Today, the central question facing many of the churches is how to minister to a rapidly changing secular culture without becoming corrupted by its immorality or rendered useless for failing to acknowledge it.

Many well-educated and well-read Christians have fallen into the trap of embracing the culture’s progressive mantra of “inclusivity” and “tolerance” by promoting a watered-down gospel filled with empty platitudes of God’s forgiving grace that — to be applicable to today’s reality — must also push aside as archaic God’s instructions for proper living.

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THE HOT-BUTTON ISSUES TODAY focus on the culture’s new-found support for homosexual marriage as well as more established assaults on biblical teaching concerning the sanctity of life — abortion, euthanasia, and government-run health care [scarcity of resources need to be apportioned by governing boards, which will determine the value of an individual life].

The writings of pastors and theologians in support of the “progressive Christian” belief is filled with well-reasoned human arguments designed to fit God’s timeless laws into a space built on a holistic interpretation of Holy Writ devoid of biblical reference.

No more “cherry-picking” of biblical admonitions against homosexual unions (especially Leviticus 18, 20, and Romans 1), for example. Instead, they are thrown aside as being part of an archaic legal system that, somehow over time, has morphed into an acceptance, with the acerbic addendum that failure to see the wisdom of such heresy labels the critic a “homophobe” or a “bigot.”

Seriously.

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BACK TO PAUL.

Still astonished at the backsliding he’s witnessing, he declares that the gospel he preached “is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, 48.GodsGracebut I received it through a revelation of Jesus  Christ” (vv. 11b-12 ESV).

Anyone who teaches a gospel contrary to that spread by Jesus and His followers, Paul says, “let him be accursed” (v. 9 ESV).

So, what do we do with the schism rendering our established churches, at best, impotent and, at worst, a laughing stock to the entire non-Christian world?

Just as the Episcopal church split a dozen years ago over the role of avowed homosexuals in the priesthood, so now the United Methodist Church is facing the same debacle, with the venerated John Wesley being used to prop up both sides, regardless of what he might have taught.

One side — now labeled “conservative,” not to indicate they are energized by God’s Word but that they are throwbacks to days long gone — points to clear biblical passages warning us about homosexual practices. Those passages include God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sexual sin.

The other side, which fancies itself “progressive” — as if it has flung aside the shackles of God’s outdated commandments to become hip and modern — claims God simply could not have foreseen the “romantic love relationships” that today’s same-sex couples enjoy.

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SO, THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, who exists outside space and time, could not have foreseen the wonderful discovery His rebellious creation, within a brief flicker of a human’s lifespan, wants to represent as God’s will, to include those homosexual acts that God calls “disgraceful” and “unnatural” and to say they are nothing more than an expression of true soul-mate love by people whom God made “that way.”

Oh, please.

Is that excuse — God made me this way, so it’s okay — any more believable than the “dog ate my homework”?

Look, we all sin and are born with sinful natures. That’s what Genesis Chapter 3 is all about. The rest of the Bible is about how to undo Adam’s rebellion, a resolution that required God to step in, in the person of His Son, Jesus, to take the bullet for us to get the job done right.

The question is not whether we were born with a predilection for a particular sin, it’s what do we do with that predilection — do we embrace it  and codify it into respectability, or do we fall to our knees and implore the One who made us to help us through this trial?

The book of James, written by the half-brother of Jesus, exhorts us to “count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3 ESV).

Living with a sin pattern is not godly. Embracing a sin pattern in the name of 48.FamilyBibleStudy“inclusivity” and “tolerance” and “love” is not godly.

What is a godly response?

Recognizing as Paul told his disciple Timothy, that “[a]ll Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

What is godly is to stay with God’s teaching in His Word, not with rewriting it to suit our “present wisdom.”

Franklin Graham, the son of acclaimed evangelist Billy Graham, said it this way: “God’s Word is the truth and the standard we will be held accountable to, whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, and whether it’s politically correct or not.”

He also said, as Christians, we should love people enough to “tell them the truth and warn them about the dangers and consequences of sin.”

The apostle Paul minced no words in his teaching of God’s truth in Galatians 1: “As I have already said, so now I say it again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

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PRAYER: O Lord, it saddens us, and it must sadden You even more so, to see so many friends and colleagues leaving the Truth of Your Word for a false gospel preached by the secular culture and embraced by religious leaders who are failing their flock. Lord, be merciful to those who mistakenly believe their interpretation of Scripture is true to You, but please weaken their influence and impede their efforts to redefine Your church. In response, Lord, we ask that You raise strong Christian voices that will speak boldly, and with authority, the Gospel’s eternal message, including both Your promises and Your commandments. We also ask for Your mercy on us. In the Name of Jesus we lift this prayer. Amen

Changed Hearts or Do-It-Yourself?

The Lord is clear with us that our human hearts are deceitful and sinful and that only a remake by Him can change us into the loving, tender, joyful creatures we would like to be. Even though God has made it clear that His Son has paid the price for our disobedience, our stubbornness, our selfishness, and our pride, too many people resist His call. Too often, even those of us who have joyfully accepted His salvation, let our deceitful hearts reign. It takes the Master’s healing hand to transform us from the inside out, starting with that “stony, stubborn heart” … and turning it into a “tender, responsive heart.”

 

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

“It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean [Jesus said]. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.” (Matthew 15:11 NCV)

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT)

WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A SPRING CLEANING OF YOUR HEART, WHERE DO YOU GO FOR HELP?

Do you dust off an old do-it-yourself manual or buy the latest self-help paperback that 47.Changed Heartspromises you that, basically, you’re OK, but you need some tinkering around the edges, and we have a 30-day plan that will do just that?

Or do you look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and admit that the root of your problem is contained in the image staring back at you?

If you’re like me and probably millions of other folks, you’d feel much more comfortable finding a quick-fix solution that comes in a box or magically remakes your life after you slap some reminder notes on the refrigerator and maybe your bathroom mirror.

The last thing most of us want to admit, let’s face it, is that the problems we face — that internal angst that senses that things just aren’t right with our lives no matter how diligent we are in making adjustments — stems from … us.

Maybe the cartoon strip character Pogo got it right, after all: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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NOT SURPRISINGLY, GOD HAS A FEW THINGS to say about our dilemma.

He points directly to our hearts as the incubator of our troubles. In Jeremiah 17:9, God 47.Fixed_Heart says of the heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV) Other translations quote God saying the heart is “desperately sick” (NASB and ESV), “desperately wicked” (NKJV),” “cunning” and “beyond help” (CEB) and “incurable” (HCSB).

A disciple quotes Jesus giving this description in Matthew 15:11 (NCV): “It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.”

Not a pretty picture, for sure.

God also has some things to say about our efforts at self-improvement. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man,” He says in Jeremiah 17:5 (NKJV) and “Cursed is the man who trusts in and relies on mankind” (AMP).

The cure, according to the Creator of the universe, the One who made us and fashioned us in His image, is to turn to Him, instead, and let Him heal us.

Listen to the Lord in Jeremiah 17:7 (NCV): “But the person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed. The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.”

Big difference.

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SO, ON THE ONE HAND, mankind can rely on its own wisdom and understanding, all of which God notes come from an evil heart, or, on the other hand, men and women can fall on their knees and trust the One who made them, who understands them, who knows “how they tick.”

Should be an easy choice. One way works; the other way doesn’t.

Yet part of the legacy of that evil heart is that humans don’t want the remedy when it’s attached to the need for obedience.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” 47.New_Heart

Continuing in Proverbs 3, we read in verses 11 and 12 (NCV): “My child, do not reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t get angry when he corrects you. The LORD corrects those he loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in.”

Even when the Lord lays His hand on us, it is with the tap of correction, lovingly applied, to scoot us away from evil and back toward the pathway that leads to God’s good graces.

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INCREASINGLY, IT BECOMES CLEAR that we need to listen to what God has to say about our human condition and less on what Dr. So-and-So on TV has to say, no matter how many books he has sold.

God not only says He has the diagnosis for our problem, He also has the cure.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:26-27a NLT).

In the New Testament, we learn from God that His plan for conducting this needed heart transplant is through His own surgeon, Jesus Christ. Peter, the apostle, says in Acts 4:12 (ESV): “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Jesus, naturally, said the same thing during His earthly ministry: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn  the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17 NKJV).

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WHAT’S OBVIOUS HERE?

God wants to change our hearts, not our outward appearance, not our public persona, not our facade, not our public face.

47.Open_Bible1Anyone can strive to “get real” on their own — maybe slap some “great sayings” on the refrigerator; determine to increase personal motivation to stay positive or smile more or say “please” and “thank you” to a stranger, even when they probably don’t deserve it; and maybe stick a toe into a non-profit service center now and then.

It won’t last. It never does. Once the euphoria of the initial gung-ho speech we give ourselves wears off, we’ll be back to the pit, where our depression, distrust, bitterness, and insecurities run rampant.

There’s that “desperately sick” thing the Bible says about the human heart to consider.

No, the resolution to our ills does not rest within our power to change. It must be a complete make-over by the Master and Creator, and that requires our recognition that we are sinners, that He died to release us from sin’s bondage, and that He needs to take up residence in our hearts.

It takes a “new heart,” as the Bible says. It requires letting the Lord give us “a tender, responsive heart.”

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PRAYER: Dear Father God, the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe. We come to You in humility, confessing our great need for Your healing hand, Your forgiveness for our pride and stubbornness, and Your guidance for our path. Please, LORD, change our “hearts of stone” into “tender, responsive hearts,” hearts that yearn after the LORD, that love His majesty, and that give Him all praise, honor, and glory. In Jesus’ Name we lift this prayer. Amen

God Calls Us To ‘Choose Life’!

No falsehood leveled by unbelievers against the God of the Bible is more nonsensical and mistaken than the notion that He sends unbelievers to an eternity in hell. In fact, God goes to extraordinary means to ensure that all of His creation can enjoy eternity with Him, even to the point of sacrificing His one and only Son on the Cross to atone for our sins. However, He will not force us to accept Him, allowing us the choice. Those who reject the Creator have assigned themselves to eternal banishment. He calls us — in fact, begs us — to choose life! To choose to be with Him.

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“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT)

This is good and pleases God our Savior. He wants all people to be saved and to learn the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4 GW)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)

GOD WANTS US TO CHOOSE LIFE!

How different this statement is from what most of the world believes, yet how basic God’s love is for those who have been bathed by the Holy Spirit.

46. Choose_LifeMention a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and many, if not, most non-believers quickly claim that God, the creator of the universe, is a “cosmic killjoy,” who “cramps their style.”

They’ll say He offers little or nothing for their lives. By the way, wasn’t He that “old dude” from the Bronze Age that gave us a bunch of rules and regulations, like waiting until marriage for sex (like, that’s going to happen!), and you can’t get drunk or party hearty, and He doesn’t much like gambling, either.

Add to that He’s not politically correct. He hates gays and lesbians, is very judgmental, and, worst of all, His followers are bigoted hypocrites and judgmental do-gooders, who insist on imposing their beliefs on everybody else. They’re like ISIS without the face wrap.

Well, really?

That’s a 180-degree misstatement of the Bible, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV, that “[T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of  God.”

Add to that the words of the prophet Isaiah regarding the world’s rebellion against
God: “They have refused his teaching and have said to his messengers and prophets: Don’t tell us what God has shown you and don’t preach the truth. Just say what we want to hear, even if it’s false” (Isaiah 30:9-11 CEV).

In other words, those who are steeped in the world’s wisdom will not understand 46. Rebellion_Against_GodGod’s message of salvation nor will they respond to it.

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THAT’S WHERE WE COME IN.

Our job is to share the testimony of Jesus’ life-changing work in our lives. The ultimate “proof” of His love for us is how He reworks us from the inside out to conform us more to the life and character of Jesus.

As the apostle Paul explained, “I am certain that God, who began the good work with you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). The apostle John said: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it, but that offer — and our acceptance of that offer — must be on His terms, not ours. S. Michael Houdmann, founder of Got Questions Ministries, said it this way: “We must come the way He has provided. We cannot create our own paths or come to a holy God based on our own efforts.” 

The Lord has provided one way, and one way only, to reach Him. It is through belief in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior. No other way. Not through Muhammad, not through Buddha, not through Moses or Elijah, not through Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva, and not through Joseph Smith’s Mormons.

Not through our good works and charity, not through incense and crystals, and not through our “inner spiritual selves in oneness with the universe.”

46. Jesus_Shephed_SheepThrough Jesus Christ and Him only.

Jesus made it clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 GW). Later, the apostle Peter, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, added this: “Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone” (Acts 4:12 CEV).

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WE ARE AMBASSADORS for the Gospel.

We read in 1 Peter 3:15 CSB: “[B]ut in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

My friends, how can we be the ambassadors for Christ — “salt and light” to the world — if we who have heard the Good News barely register its meaning in our hearts? When God tells us to choose life over death, He wants us to jump full in for the Gospel, just as He has given all to reach us.

God has given us free will — which includes the freedom to make bad choices, harmful decisions, destructive pathways — that includes the freedom to choose Him and His  offer of eternal life with Him! In Genesis 2, right at the beginning of the Bible, God announced to Adam when Adam was the only human around that he could eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden save one.

“Your choice, Adam,” God said. “You may not eat from that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; but if you do eat from that tree, on that day you will certainly die, and the special relationship you and I enjoy today will be destroyed” (Genesis 2:16-17, author’s adaptation).

46. Sin-Separates-From-GODIn a pivotal scene in the Bible, known as The Fall, we see Adam and his wife, Eve, standing by that same tree that God told Adam to avoid. What were they doing? Talking to a serpent (Satan), who was encouraging them to disobey God. How? By casting doubt on whether God really said they would die (Genesis 3:1).

Yet, exercising the free will their Creator gave them, Adam and Eve joined together to believe the serpent over God. What a terrible choice, but they exercised the free will God had granted them.

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GOD PURSUES US STILL, encouraging us to make a wiser choice; in fact, to make the only choice that will reconcile us to Himself.

In his book, Knowing God, British-Canadian theologian J.I. Packer writes that God, in setting his love on human beings “has voluntarily bound up His own final happiness with theirs”; that is, that God has purposed to bind His complete happiness with our happiness, which can happen only when we are reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.46. Sin_JesusChrist_God

Jesus, the Christ of God, who came into the world to die for our sins, told us the Father did not send Him into the world to condemn the world but to save it through Him. That truth is the exact opposite of the falsehood the world believes.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” Jesus said, “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-17 NIV)

The choice is ours to make for our own lives, but God has made it clear that He wants us — longs for us — to choose a relationship with Him.

To choose life. L’chai-im!

TO LIFE!

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PRAYER: O LORD, our Heavenly Father, how we have sinned against You in our rebellion and faithlessness. How patient You have been with us and still are. How loving and merciful You are. Yet, LORD, we know You also are just and will judge us with a righteous hand according to our deeds and misdeeds. On Your mercy we come, confessing our sins and praising Your holy name. Thank You, Father, for giving us Your Son to die for our sins, so that we, believing in Him, can be reconciled to You. Thank you, merciful Father, eternally. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Dear Skeptics—A Love Letter to My Family

Sadly, the people we care the most about — usually our families, both our family of origin and the family we form with our spouse — are the ones who are the least likely to listen to anything we tell them about matters of faith. Jesus faced the same dilemma, at one point exclaiming, “No prophet is welcome in his hometown.” Knowing that phenomenon is common does little to eradicate our pain of feeling helpless. Once again, our solution lies not in our efforts but in our faith and our prayers. There is One who can solve the puzzle. Fortunately, He can do more than we could ask or imagine.

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[Jesus] said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24 NASB)

So Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You should leave here and go to Judea so your followers there can see the miracles you do. Anyone who wants to be well known does not hide what he does. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Even Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him.) (John 7:3-5 NCV)

Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside. They want to see you.” (Luke 8:20 GW)

IF YOU COULD ASK JUST ONE QUESTION OF SOMEONE YOU LOVE, WHAT  WOULD IT BE?

This would have to be a humdinger of a question, wouldn’t it? Something really 45. Life's_Big_Qsspecial, more important than a lame, “How are you?” or “What are you planning for the rest of your life?”

Something that cuts through the noise of life. You know, a question that stops them in their tracks, makes them put down their mobile phone, or mute the TV, or drop a book. Something that makes them turn around and look straight at you, intent on their face, an ear cocked, their hands stilled.

What would that question be that would be your last outreach to a loved one? This would be a close family member probably. Most likely a spouse or a child, even an adult child. It could be a sibling or a longtime friend.

Maybe it would be someone who had wounded you years ago with a sharp remark, or someone who was by your side no matter what the situation, good or bad. Maybe you’re looking at a child who looks just like you, only younger than you and more vibrant. Maybe you’re staring into the eyes of the person whose body has warmed yours for decades and with whom you’ve raised a family.

An important person — an important question.

What would it be?

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MINE WOULD BE some form of this: [Name of loved one inserted here], do you know Jesus? I probably would explain the question this way: I mean, really know Him? Have you invited Him into your heart to be your Lord and Savior? Have you Men Sharing Gospelconfessed your  sins to Him (He knows what they are, anyway), and asked Him to blot them out, just forget about them, and give you a clean slate?

If you haven’t, what keeps you from reaching out to the One who’s reaching out to you? Do you think it’s pride, a feeling that you can handle life’s adventures, even the emergencies, on your own; or maybe it’s fear that He’ll demand something of you that you’re not ready to give?

If you have come to know the Lord, how did that go? Did you weep? Did you sing? Did you leap for joy? Did you just feel an unimaginable peace wash over you as He lifted the weight of worry from your shoulders? Or, was it just another moment, and you’re not sure what happened, if anything, but your life has changed?

Why would I ask that question of all questions? If I  knew the person well, and the person had come to what many call “a saving knowledge” of Jesus Christ, wouldn’t I know already if they knew Jesus?

Maybe, but maybe not.turn_away3

There probably are three categories people fall into in regards to matters of faith: those who know the Lord and proudly witness for their faith, those who have no personal connection with the Lord but think their good works or church attendance or wonderful intentions will merit divine favor, and those who could care less.

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THE TROUBLING POINT is that those we care most about, the ones we pray for and long to see in eternity, are the ones who won’t listen to our voice of encouragement. They’ll listen to a stranger first (someone whose own family won’t listen to them!).

Beginning a conversation around the topic is difficult.

Not everyone who truly knows the Lord will share that information with others, even though the Bible clearly commands us to do that. For whatever reason, some folks never get over their personal discomfort.

Those in the other two categories aren’t likely to bring up the subject, either. The church attenders who are not personally connected with the Lord are content with appearances — simply showing up is enough; while those who disdain faith have no reason to discuss the matter, unless it’s to detract from it.

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SO, WITHIN OUR THREE CATEGORIES, nearly everyone finds a way to avoid discussing the one question that, above all other questions, needs an answer.

Jesus put it this way to His disciples: “But what about you,” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NIV).

Pastor John Piper of Desiring God ministries, poses the following questions to skeptics, and they’re ones I would present to my loved ones: “If God exists, would it 45. Children_Ignoring_Parentsbe  important for you to get your life right with Him?” and “Do you put Jesus in the same category as other religious leaders?”

Usually, there’s flak that comes back. “The Christians I know are a bunch of hypocrites,” or “Jesus was a really fine moral man and a great teacher, but He wasn’t God,” or maybe “Bible stories sound nice, but they’re just designed to make us feel good.”

While those responses can be tossed aside easily as mere fluff, what they expose is an emptiness of soul that is painful for a loved one to see. Especially when we have come to accept the Lord’s promise of life as a result of His grace, and we want desperately to share that blessing with our closest family and friends … only to realize … they won’t listen to us.

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WHEN CONFRONTED BY His earthly family to curtail His ministry, Jesus asked rhetorically, who His mother and brothers and sisters were and answered His own question this way: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50 NIV).

The way we have resolved the dilemma is to continue praying for our loved ones, that the Lord will change their hearts from skeptical to open and that He will bring Christ-focused people into their lives.

In turn, we believe the Lord has called us to make a difference in someone else’s life, to be the Christ-focused people for them to hear, especially those people who are deaf to the questions posed from their own loved ones.

We’re called to serve and share our faith, keeping others in prayer. The rest is out of our hands.

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PRAYER: O gracious and merciful Father, we know too often we turn deaf ears to Your Word and ignore Your voice, often uncertain of how to act. We know You did not give us timid hearts but bold hearts. We pray, then, for boldness in reaching out to our loved ones with the message of Love and Truth, and we pray for softened hearts on their part to hear our plea. Come, Lord Jesus, into the hearts and lives of our loved ones, both family and friends. Reconcile them to the Father and to the Truth. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen