Today’s Meditation … Grace And Sin

Without a guiding light, man is left to his own devices. The Bible tells us … and our experience proves it … that without direction, our actions are base, selfish, and cruel. When God intervenes to show us a better way, too often we reject Him, preferring still our sinful desires. For those who do believe, however, He promises Paradise.

Find blog posts at LoveAndGrace … tweets at TwitterComments welcomed. Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion. Why not forward this blog post to a relative, friend, or neighbor who might be blessed by it?

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“In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” Judges 21:25 (NLT)

“This is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 (NKJV)

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EVIL. PURE EVIL.

There is evil in the world. There are evil people in the world. There are evil deedscommitted every day in the worl46. Rebellion_Against_Godd.

Much of the evil is unspeakable: torture of political prisoners, rape of women and girls as an act of war, abandonment of born children and abortion of those unborn, acts of terrorism against unsuspecting innocents — all of those in addition to acts of nature that cruelly take human lives.

We yell and scream, “Why? “Why, O Lord, is there such evil in the world?”

Some cry out without naming the Lord because they don’t believe He exists; or, if He exists, that He’s relevant or cares about us.

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THE ANSWER SURROUNDS US.

52.SinGod created a perfect world and allowed his prized possession — men and women — the freedom to choose to obey Him and be blessed or to disobey Him and be cursed. We chose to disobey Him. Evil is the result.

Yet, the Bible tells us that God so loved us that He sent His only Son into the world to live as a sinless human being among us and then, being found without blemish, slaughtered for our sakes, to pay the debt for our sins and to restore fallen mankind to Him. (see John 3:16)

The Bible says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” — John 3:17 (NIV)

Men still rejected Him, loving the darkness and their own sin more than the grace, love, mercy, and forgiveness offered by their Creator. (see John 3:19) By rejecting the Creator, men also reject a guiding light; and, without a guiding light — be it a king or priest or prophet — men still do what is right in their own eyes. (see Judges 21:25)

For those who do believe, who are called by His name and seek forgiveness, repenting of their evil deeds and their sinful heart, God promises everything — Paradise with Him forever. The Bible says, “Everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16b (NLT)

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PRAYER: Our Father God, how could we  repeatedly reject Your loving and merciful overtures of support? How could we be so blind to the life-giving promises You make, 68. Holy_Bible_Crosspreferring, instead, to live out the sinful desires of our hearts? You have been so gracious and forgiving, so quick to love us and so slow to condemn us. Thank You for being a God of mercy as well as a God of judgment. Lord, hear our prayer of repentance, forgive our sins, and restore us to a right relationship with You — and keep us on the straight path that You have laid out for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen

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QUESTIONS:

  1. Is the God of the Bible real for you? Do you believe He created you and the world around you and that He has a plan for your life? If not, what keeps you from taking the step of faith necessary to claim your inheritance as a child of God?
  2. Do you use the excuse of pointing out the sins of others, ignoring the clear fact that God will hold you accountable for your actions?
  3. If you were to die today, do you know (or can you guess) where you will spend eternity — be it with God, without God — or do you maintain there is no after-life? If you were willing to open your heart to God’s saving message, do you know what you should do about it or whom to consult?
  4. Can we at LoveAndGrace pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

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Doctrine Vs. Unity: A False Choice?

The evangelical brand of Christianity is splitting, perhaps beyond repair, into rival camps. While the fabric was being torn for decades, the rip is more noticeable as a large voting bloc supported the presidential election of Donald Trump over rival candidates. Only Trump selected an evangelical running mate and promised to support policies the bloc supports. Other candidates actively opposed those policies. Recently, the anti-Trump evangelicals held a conference bemoaning their minority status. Where does this brand of Christianity go … and will there be a healing balm?

“But as for you, speak the things that are consistent with sound doctrine.” (Titus 2:1 BSB)

“I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22 NLT)

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Comments welcomed. Let’s share what God says to His saints.

Please join us for Prayer and Questions at the end of the devotion.

ARE CHRISTIANS TODAY TO CHOOSE between sound doctrine or a unified church?

Is that a real question or is it a false choice? Can we have both? Have we ever had either?

Where do you stand?

67.Conference_LectureRecently, some 50 evangelical leaders gathered at Wheaton College in Illinois to discuss the fate of the evangelical religious movement.

The impetus for the meeting, according to organizers quoted in various media accounts, was to assess the spiritual health of the evangelical community after the 2016 election of Donald Trump as president, especially in light of polling that shows 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him.

(The definition of “evangelical” was not mentioned in most media accounts, but generally it encompasses four basic beliefs: inerrancy of the Holy Bible, Jesus’ redeeming work on the Cross, salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus, and a call to evangelize.

(Also, there is an apparent discrepancy in the poll survey in which news organizations that commissioned the poll were more interested in the subset of “white evangelical” than in “non-white evangelical.” Finally, the term “evangelical” was not defined in the survey.)

Therefore, 20 percent of white evangelicals did not vote for Trump. Of that number, some voted for one of his opponents, while others declined to vote at all.

Conference organizers — let’s call them “the 20 percenters” — expressed dismay and frustration with the vast majority of their fellow believers — let’s call them “the 80 percenters” — who voted for Trump.

They drew the conclusion that the 80 percenters were destroying the brand, that evangelicalism had reached a “crisis,” and that something must be done to restore its tarnished image.

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ATTENDANCE WAS INVITATION-ONLY. So if your name wasn’t on the invite list, the organizers did not want to hear from you. 

67.SocialMedia_globeProminent names that were not invited included Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress, both supporters of the Trump presidency, although not necessarily of the man. Their writings and public utterances have been supportive of Trump’s policies when they line up with traditional evangelical values.

Prominent names that were invited included New York City megachurch pastors Tim Keller and A.R. Bernard. At one point in the proceedings, Keller characterized the divide among evangelicals this way: “We are being driven apart because there’s now a Red and a Blue evangelicalism,” thus imitating the political divide within the secular world.

What, then, about the 20 percenters? What values does their testimony support, especially since the winning candidate not only selected an evangelical running mate but not one other presidential candidate even sought the evangelical vote or promised to meet the voting bloc’s social policy goals.

Evangelicals have been strong supporters of religious liberty, marriage between one man and one woman for life, sanctity of life from pre-born through physical death, and support for Israel’s right to exist, among other concerns, but how do the 20 percenters defend their vote for another  candidate either lukewarm toward those values or outright opposed to them?67.MyWay_MyWay

Not said.

It didn’t come up.

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WHAT IS THE STATE TODAY of the body of Christ? As of now, more than one month since the two-day conference ended, no “statement” has emerged summarizing its findings, leaving the public without a sense of how conference organizers would respond.

Members of the president’s faith advisory council noted that the conferees held more “progressive” views on social issues than does the president and his evangelical supporters.

Some evangelical organizations, such as Focus on the Family, are dialing back their political involvement, believing it can interfere with the Gospel message they want to promote, while other groups are ramping up their efforts to preach the Bible to a world in darkness.

But those nagging questions just won’t go away: Should Christians — in particular, evangelicals — promote the values they believe God has laid out in the Holy Bible regardless of secular world pushback … and now pushback from within the body of Christ?

How does the secular world, eager to discredit God’s Word, view the apparent split within the evangelical community?

You know those complaints:

  • 55.Holy-Spirit-Descends-BibleYou claim to love the sinner but not the sin, but do you really love the sinner?
  • Can words written 2,000 to 3,000 years ago really be valid universally for all time?
  • How can you claim to know the ultimate truth? Who made you the arbiter of what’s right and wrong?

Should the evangelical movement split into rival factions, each representing its version of truth, or should the various factions find a unifying message to heal those divisions?

Belief over unity? Unity over doctrine? Engage in the world; retreat from it?

Are evangelicals becoming the religious-based arm of the secular fight between “conservatives” and “progressives,” between Republicans and Democrats?

For those of us who believe the Holy Word of God is the Almighty’s love letter to us, that He is perfect and unchanging, our conviction rests in His eternal truths. We believe that He has told us clearly what He expects of us, and the expected criticisms from non-believers lack impact.

Fair enough, but now it’s reached a new level: much of the invective comes from within the body of Christ.

Witness the meeting at Wheaton College.

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THERE ARE TWO SIDES to this story, as there are to so many stories.

Those who organized the conference downplayed any anti-Trump messaging, 67.Agree-Disagreeemphasizing the discussions, the prayers, and the “painful conversations” that took place, according to one religion writer for a secular newspaper.

Yet those “painful conversations” were how the evangelical movement  could continue
unstained when 80 percent of their fellow believers voted for  a candidate they all conceded was flawed morally, but who was the only candidate who pledged to honor biblical values in his policies.

On the other hand, news reports showed that several attendees left the conference when it became clear to them the proceeding was not just to express dismay with the election results but, more alarmingly, a roasting of the 80 percenters who voted for him.

Those defectors said the conference by its very nature was political and was not an attempt to unify the faithful.

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AS THE SUMMIT ENDED, one of its the organizers reportedly said that in future meetings, evangelical leaders will “fan out in all kinds of directions,” as Christians recognize diversity within their movement.

However, the non-invited Franklin Graham said on FaceBook that he is “not interested in fanning out in all kinds of directions” but wants to focus on one direction only: “reaching lost souls” and “calling people to cross the line from death to life, in Him [Jesus Christ].”

He further said the word “evangelical” should not be used in a secular political context but only in promoting the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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67.Jesus_Welcomes_All

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

Apparently, there is a deep split within the evangelical body of Christ, just as there are fissures growing within Christendom’s denominations. Each faction claims to be following Jesus Christ while questioning the faith commitment of the other side.

The Bible tells us what to expect in the future … and it isn’t pretty.

Listen to the apostle Paul counsel his young friend, Timothy:

You may as well know this too, Timothy, that in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian.  (2 Timothy 3:1 TLB)

Yes, and those who decide to please Christ Jesus by living godly lives will suffer at the hands of those who hate him. In fact, evil men and false teachers will become worse and worse, deceiving many, they themselves having been deceived by Satan.  (2 Timothy 3:12-13 TLB)

Is everyone in the evangelical community looking to the Bible for guidance … is only one side … if so, which one?

Paul, again:

For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 TLB)

Are those 20 percenters — the ones who supported a candidate opposed to biblical values, as well as those who declined to vote — are they substituting their own values for the ones laid down in Scripture?

The prophet Isaiah:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 NASB)

God warned us through Paul what He will do if we disobey Him:

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

Whether the evangelical movement is irrevocably split or can reconcile in Christian unity may be less important than where we are in our individual walks with Christ.

In the end, He will call us to account for our words and deeds, not hold us responsible for the larger church movement.

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PRAYER: O merciful and mighty Father God, our hearts break for the failure of our witness. You called us to be light to a fallen world so that men  and women would see our 44. Cross_on_Biblegood works and give You the glory, but we’re stumbling about in the dark ourselves. Lord, speak into our hearts with Your words of wisdom. Forgive us our pride and self-importance and recast our gaze to the road You light for us, to that straightened path You’’ll make for us, through the narrow gate You told us to find. Lord, you’ve given us a choice: help us choose life. In Jesus name. Amen

QUESTIONS:

  1. Do you see doctrinal splits within the various Christian denominations (Catholic and Protestant) and even within the ranks of evangelicalism? Do they matter to you? Does this matter to you, or do you toss it off as “inside baseball,” just the stuff for the full-time paid Christians? Has this event stayed under your radar?
  2. What effect do you think conferences and forums, such as the one held at Wheaton College, have on the body of Christ and its internal connections? What effect do you think they have on the external world when their deliberations are covered extensively by secular media?
  3. Do you think discussions about the divisions within Christendom (whether among evangelicals or within denominations) weakens our fellowship? Do you believe the body of Christ should refrain from such discussions and focus solely on the spiritual matters that bring us together?
  4. Jesus Christ prayed for unity in His church. He also said His mission was to proclaim the Truth. Has His church remained unified, and does it proclaim the Truth? If you could pick one quality or the other — “unity” or “truth” — which would you value more? Why? Can you understand why your neighbor might disagree with you?

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.

 

God to Me: Let My Son Out of Your Wagon!

Kingdom work is serving Jesus fueled by the power of Jesus; it is not about getting ahead of Jesus and doing the job as we see it on our own. The beauty of God’s grace is that He knew in advance when He made us and gave us independent wills we would misuse the privilege and rebel against His authority. Yet with love so supreme, He sent His Son to bear our punishment, so that, believing in Him, we would become right with God again.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”  (John 15:3 NASB)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)

TODAY, GOD TOLD ME TO LET HIS SON OUT OF MY WAGON.

I’m serious. I was deep in thought, walking some pain out of my back, when the Holy Spirit painted a very clear picture for me. 

Here I was, laboring along, feel stressed under the load of “Kingdom work,” when the  image suddenly flashed before me that I was laboring under my own power for, probably, my own glory, while I was straining to pull a wagon, you know, the kind little kids ride in, and there sitting in the wagon was34. Red Wagon.gif Jesus Christ!

The Second Person of the Trinity was right there with me, as He said He would be, but somehow, I had managed to shift Him from a leadership role into a support position, and the strain of it all was harming me.

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THE SHIFT IN HIS POSITION was odd, for sure, because I am one of those fairly new Christians who grabbed ahold of Jesus when He told us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

So, what happened?

How come I was now pulling the wagon, and He was riding in it?

Let’s get to that in a minute. Here’s what God told me to do: He said to let His Son out of the wagon where I had put Him and let Him lead me, encourage me, and prop me up.

You see, Jesus should be walking in front of me, leading me as a light along the 34. ManCarriesHeavyLoadstraight path (Proverbs 3:5-7; Psalm 119:105). He should be walking alongside of me, to encourage me (1 Thessalonians 5:11). He should be walking behind me to pick me up when I stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

Yes, He can be in all four positions — in front of me, flanking me, and behind me — at once. He just can’t be in the wagon, riding along as I drag Him, my back hurting from the strain, my legs buckling, my heart pounding.

Kingdom work is serving Jesus fueled by the power of Jesus; it is not about getting ahead of Jesus and doing the job as we see it on our own.

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BACK TO OUR QUESTION: WHAT HAPPENED?

Simply this: human pride, my own arrogance, my own desire to control and to make the world around me conform to my image. It’s safer that way, really. Didn’t the Christian singer/songwriter Matthew West recognize that fact in his song, “My Own Little World,” with these words, “population — me”?

This resistance to Divine authority is nothing new to mankind. It started in the Garden of Eden when the original man and woman, Adam and Eve, decided it would be okay to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil — even though God specifically told Adam it would not be okay to eat from that tree.

In fact, God told Adam, eating from that tree would cause death.

Still, even with that threat hanging over their heads, our forefath34. ManRefusesToListener and foremother thought they knew better. So, they disobeyed. God was true to His Word. He banished them from the Garden; their work, once glorified, now became a burden; and they were under a death sentence.

Many of us who follow Jesus recognize too often we lay our burdens down at the foot of the Cross, where every book in the New Testament tells us to take them, and then we … kind of … hold on to them … or, if we let go, we mark the spot and then … rush back to pick up our burdens … and carry them off as though we have stolen plunder.

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JESUS TOLD US HE CAME TO GIVE US LIFE.

In John 10:10 ESV, He said “The thief [Satan or the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Then Jesus contrasted that reality with the new reality that He offers: “I came that they [us, mankind, you and me] may have life and have it abundantly.”

That looks more like the deal I wanted when I heard the Master implore me to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

So, I know that His promises are true. I believe every word He says. Why, then, do I act as though I haven’t heart a word He says, a promise He makes, an offer I can’t refuse.

Back in Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV, our Heavenly Father speaks to the Israelites through Moses, where He issues the famous commandment to “choose life!”


“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Yet, we read time and again, the Jews in the Old Testament and then the Christians in the New Testament, failed to keep that Commandment.

The same failure that befell Adam and Eve.

The same failure that I make, and — maybe — even you make?

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THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S GRACE is that He knew in advance when He made us and gave us independent wills we would misuse the privilege and rebel against His authority. Yet with love so supreme, He sent His Son to bear our punishment, so that, believing in Him, we would become right with God again.

34. JesusEmbracingMan.pngNow, about that back pain.

He has that one covered, too.

See, in Proverbs 3:8 NIV, right after that verse that tells us to lean on God and not on our own understanding is another one of those grace notes, another promise God offers, if we’ll only listen and obey Him.

“This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

It’s time for me to stop pulling the wagon so I can let God’s Son hop out and take His rightful places — all four of them — in front of me, alongside me, and behind me.

Thank you, Lord!

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, Abba, Daddy, we are so blessed to be so loved by You. Thank You for Your promises, and thank You for your admonishments when we disobey. Thank You for Your love and mercy. We praise You, we thank You, we love You. In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name. Amen

Trusting in the Lord’s Promises

The Lord holds out His promise of eternal life for those who believe in His Son and who hold on until the end, even though our earthly pathway may be rocky. He tells us to focus on the heavenly (that which is “unseen”) instead of the earthly (which is what we “see”). The “unseen” is eternal, but the “seen” is temporary.

So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18 NIV)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23 NIV)

THIS MEDITATION HITS HOME.

Like many people who reach adulthood before accepting Jesus’ love and grace into their hearts, I responded to the Master’s promise of what He could do for me — that He would provide rest for my troubled soul and  eternal life with Him in Paradise.

FlowerSproutingInWood.jpegI did not “sign up” for the rest of it — spiritual warfare, condemnation from loved ones, or conviction for sinful thoughts and behavior. In other words, I wanted what Jesus could do for me, without thinking I would be called on to do anything in return.

Oh, yes, I assumed I would be made more aware of other people’s hurts and needs and maybe asked to do something about it, you know, from time to time. Nothing really inconvenient and probably nothing right away.

I had no idea. Continue reading “Trusting in the Lord’s Promises”

Failing to See the Truth; Do We Miss Seeing Jesus?

Our broken world seeks answers to troubling questions, yet when God reaches into our lives with grace, too many people miss it or reject it. Let us pray that, in our lives, we will accept His redeeming offer.

He (man formerly blind) replied, ‘The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.’” John 9:11 (NIV)

“The man (formerly blind) answered, ‘Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.’” John 9:30-31 (NIV)

HOW COULD THIS POSSIBLY BE?

Jesus passes by a man who we learn is blind from birth, takes pity on him, and without asking if the man wants to see, makes some mud from dirt in the ground, rubs it  on the man’s eyes, and tells him to “go” wash the mud off in the Pool of Siloam. The man does as he’s told and, lo, he can see!

Jesus Heals Blind ManIncredible for several reasons: one, unlike most of the Bible stories where Jesus applies His healing touch, there is no record in the Scriptures that the man asked anything of Jesus; and, two, there is no record in the Scriptures as to what would happen to the man if he obeyed Jesus.

In fact, John’s account of the encounter tells us the man didn’t even know who Jesus was!

Jesus was telling His disciples several truths here, two of which we’ll cover: one is that, as God, He could give the man sight, not merely restore the man’s sight, for the man was born blind and, therefore, had never seen; and two, that as God, He was Lord of the Sabbath and the Sabbath was made for man, not the other way around.

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OH, THAT SABBATH THING AGAIN.

How is that significant?

Well, this where the story, which begins as a really nice story of Jesus healing a blind man and everyone lives happily ever after, turns ugly. Really ugly. (It ends well, but we have to go through the ugly part first.)

John tells us in v. 13 that “they” brought to the Pharisees the man who had been born blind and now could see. The Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day and, basically, busybodies who had arrogated to themselves the job of putting everyone else down to puff themselves up.

 

Rest Area SabbathIn this case, they actually find fault with Jesus—who, let’s remember, had just given the gift of sight to a man who had never, ever, from Day One, been able to see—simply because He healed the man on the Sabbath, the Day of Rest.

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THE PHARISEES COULDN’T GET OVER THAT FACT.

Yes, Jesus healed on the Day of Rest, which violated the Pharisee’s law. True, the Pharisees based their regulations on God’s commandment to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy, but Jesus tells us the purpose of the Sabbath was to give men a day of rest, not to set on men a whole new set of burdens that made that rest difficult.

Jesus routinely challenged the Pharisees, telling them in Matthew 12:8 (NIV) that “the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” In other words, He was saying it is MY  commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, so listen to me when I tell you you’re not honoring it the way I intended.

So, the Pharisees went to work doing what they did best — making things difficult for the flock.

First, they called the formerly blind man to the Temple to tell them who had healed him and how. Were they thrilled that the man could see? No, they were angry that he was healed on the Sabbath. By the way, they, like many in their day, thought the man’s congenital blindness was caused either by his prenatal sin or their parents sin, whatever that might have been, so, in their minds, he had no business being healed in the first place.

Then, because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, they concluded that Jesus, the Son of God, could not have been sent from God.

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NEXT, THEY CALLED THE MAN’S PARENTS IN.

They questioned them as to whether this man, now able to see, was actually their son and had been born blind.

Did the parents express gratitude to Jesus for His healing grace? No, they were more afraid of the Jewish leaders and being thrown out of the Temple than they were of the God they claimed to serve. They said they didn’t know how their son was healed nor who healed him. They didn’t seem all that interested in finding out, either.

So, the Pharisees calledBlind Man Thrown Out the man back in after his parents had left and again asked him how it was he could see. The man, exasperated at this point, asked if their interest  meant they, also, wanted to believe in the man who had healed him.

Instead of saying “Yes,” which seems the reasonable thing to have done, they insulted the man for daring to suggest they were in need of the Lord’s healing grace and threw him out of the Temple, effectively cutting him off from polite society.

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THE STORY ENDS ON A HIGH NOTE.

When Jesus heard the man had been thrown out of the Temple, He found the man and asked him, “‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’”

The man replied that he was not sure who the Son of Man was, but he certainly was willing to believe. When Jesus then said, “‘You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you,’” the man replied in the way we would have hoped the Pharisees and the man’s mother and father would have replied, “‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshipped him.” (vv 35-38).

We need to pause here. Let’s count up the number of people who have touched this story. There’s Jesus and the man born blind, his two parents, maybe 30-50 Pharisees, probably a dozen or two neighbors and townsfolk who saw Jesus apply JesusTruth Sabbathmud to the man’s eyes and later saw him with restored sight (plus those who heard the story and those who heard the story from them), and we count up at least 50 people, maybe 100, excluding the disciples, who already believed in Jesus.

Yet only one of them — the man healed, the man ostracized from community, the man virtually disowned by his parents — only that man saw Truth when Truth stood in front of  him.

The rest of the cast missed it completely.

Jesus concluded this vignette by rebuking the Pharisees in front of the townspeople, humbling them in front of those who, themselves, could not see, and reassuring those of us who do believe in Him that He came into the world to give sight to us when we were blind in our sin.

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THIS IS A STORY OF REMARKABLE GRACE on Jesus’ part, yet it captures so painfully the broken state of today’s world.

Even when Truth — God’s remarkable Grace offered to us with no strings — is offered to us and standing right in front of us, most people don’t even see it. Even when they get a glimpse of it, they don’t want it.

Sadly, John was right when he told us (John 3:19 NIV) that Jesus, the Light, had come into the world, but His own creation rejected him because “[they] loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

As sad as that is, sadder still is the world’s continuing failure to see the Truth, the Light of the world. Are we failing to see Jesus in our own lives? Do we miss him when He is standing right in front of us?

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PRAYER: O LORD, Our Heavenly and Gracious Father, we are in desperate need of Your healing grace, your loving arms, your comforting smile. We know our sin keeps us from complete fellowship with You, so we would ask You to expose our sin, lead us to repentance, and restore us to a right relationship with You. In Jesus’ Holy Name.  Amen