Meditation–CRISIS IN AMERICAN CHURCHES

God’s church in America is in crisis. Various Protestant denominations have splintered over doctrinal issues, while the Roman church faces increased scrutiny and legal challenges resulting from failure to protect congregants from unfaithful clergy. What does this mean for us as faithful members? Who is to blame? All of us? Whose responsibility is it to work through the mess, ours or just the paid leaders? What do non-believers see when they see the church in disarray? Let’s take a quick look at what’s happening within one church — the United Methodist Church — as it struggles to minister to its membership about the homosexual community in light of the Bible’s teaching.

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Comments 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?

“Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” John 3:19 (NASB)

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. … They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” — 2 Timothy 4:3a, 4 NIV)


THE AMERICAN CHURCH IS IN CRISIS TODAY.

J.Meditation.ChurchInCrisisThis is not the first time, and the Bible tells us it won’t be the last, but this is now, and whatever happens, it will be our legacy — the legacy of those of us who are alive now.

Just check the headlines of our national media, and you’ll see scandals in the Roman church, fractious debate among Methodists, soul-searching within the Southern Baptist Convention.

Look back a short while, and you’ll see divisions within the Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Episcopal churches.

While the specific issues differ within each denomination, the core issues are similar: in some way, they revolve around sex and gender, human relationships, faithfulness, and expected gender roles. (A quick Google search will pick up relevant articles in addition to the above links.)

The issues can be specified further with pinpoint accuracy: the result of man’s sin nature and constant rebellion against God.

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THE PRESBYTERIANS, Lutherans, and Episcopalians have drifted from the headlines for the time being, while the Roman Catholic Church and United Methodist Church have filled the gap.

The Roman church is paying a heavy price for its institutional failure to confront sexual abuse of children — boys and girls, but mostly boys — and of women, called to serve alongside ordained priests. Legal battles and court settlements will burden the institution for years to come, but the greater damage will be its tainted witness to a world in need of answers.

Right now, I want to focus on division within the Methodist church.

The Methodist church is exposing its inner divisions to the world at large over the issue of homosexuality — both its active practice among congregants and the calling of active homosexuals to the clergy and  bishops.

views2As an international body, the Methodist church is split further between the more liberal church in America, which teaches tolerance and acceptance of homosexuality, and the more traditional branch in Central Europe and especially in Africa, which strives to follow the Bible’s authority.

A recent vote by delegates to the General Conference exposed the rift as Americans largely voted to adopt a more inclusive church discipline, while the Africans voted to stay with a stricter interpretation of Scripture.

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THAT DECISION did not sit well with many American Methodists, some two-thirds of whom preferred a less restrictive plan that would have permitted each congregation, and its pastor, to determine its acceptance or rejection of homosexual clergy and members.

Unfortunately, the public dialogue from disaffected Methodists has served only to exacerbate the division.

Most of the commentary has been to lament those who want to maintain Biblical purity as being “intolerant” or “judgmental,” as people who claim a “moral superiority” and “smug rightness of viewpoint” and who, of course, are “legalistic.”

Words matter, and the terms we use frame the debate. While the reformers term the debate between “traditionalists” and “grace-filled,” the debate might better be termed as between the “faithful” and the “revisionists.”

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AT THE HEART of the Methodists’ quandary is the role of Holy Writ; specifically,  whether the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God or whether it is merely inspired text written by men, who were flawed (as we all are) and wrote against a 64. Church_Doctrinehistorical and geographic backdrop far different from our own.

The distinction, then, is whether the 21st century American believer should read God’s Word as being eternal and universal because God is perfect and never changes, or if the Bible should be read in some “holistic” manner, in which the reader inhales the overall “sense” of the Bible and then fills in the details according to the current culture’s understanding.

The rift is huge, and the debate rages on. We are left to wonder how much prayer goes into the argument, especially among those who declare that “God didn’t write the Bible.” We can rest assured that those who quote Scripture telling us God did write the Bible are on their knees in prayer for direction.

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WHERE DOES THIS GO?

Jesus established His church to proclaim His message to the world and to provide love and support for those drawn to it. He vowed that “all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). He said His church will prevail.

In the end, Jesus wins.

But what does it do for a weary, broken world now, when those who claim to love their Lord and have access to His Holy Word are so unfaithful in the conduct not just in their personal lives but in their witness through the various church bodies?

While we are all “treated” to the current discord within the Methodist and Baptist churches, and difficult legal issues confronting the Roman church, let’s not forget the Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopal churches, whose divisions continue to simmer.

We need a heart change.

Forgive us, Lord Jesus.


PRAYER

O FATHER GOD, we have fouled up Your church so badly. We have  scandals in one J9. OPEN BIBLE w IMAGEbody, discord in another. We fight over important matters with members who don’t hold to the Bible’s eternal and universal truths, and we quarrel with others about trivial items that have no impact on our witness. Lord, You told us Your church will prevail, despite our arrogance, greed, and pride. Lord, we ask You to forgive us as we lay down our sins at the foot of the Cross. Lord, we repent of our selfishness. Lord, forgive us and supernaturally make Your church a strong voice for Truth. In the mighty name of Jesus, we pray. Amen


Questions for Personal Meditation and Group Discussion:

1. How impacted are you personally by the rancor, faithlessness, and discord within the various church denominations specifically and across the board in Christendom? Does the issue affect your worship experience or is it, for you, just a matter for church leaders to handle?

2. To what do you attribute the divisions that exist within the various denominations? Do you believe in any way you have contributed to the problem, and do you believe you can make a difference to bring healing?

3. Have you (or your family) switched church denominations or congregations within a denomination within the last 10 years as a result of divisions within your church? Have you (or your family) prayed for church healing? Where do you see the various church denominations going over the next generation?

Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

Meditation–GOD CALLS US TO WITNESS

As believers in the Word of God, we are called by Him to witness for Him in the way we conduct ourselves and how we speak. There is no wiggle room, nor should we look for any. Instead, we should pray for opportunities to witness, praise God when they come, and then speak in gentleness and love. Before speaking, however, we are called to live lives that glorify God. Why? Because our testimony is hallow if our lives are no different from the world’s and because our witness is faithful only if we are transformed–truly converted. The Holy Spirit will change the way we live and give us the words to say. Hallelujah!

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Comments 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?


“Abraham was only one man when I called him. But when I blessed him, he became a great nation.” Isaiah 51:2b (NLT)


IN MY NEW LIFE as a born-again Christian, one of the loneliest moments I feel is when I sense an opportunity to witness verbally for the Lord. No, I’m not proud of that, because I long for and pray for those opportunities.Men Sharing Gospel

The problem is, I often feel totally inadequate.

I am never certain of whether the moment actually is the right time, or if the person before me is a willing recipient.

I don’t know if I’ll sound like a self-righteous Bible-spouter filled with judgment and condemnation … 

Or — and this is my hope — I’ll sound like the committed believer I really am, eager to share the Good News of my salvation and to extend an invitation to the other person.

In other words, in my mind, it’s all about me! Of course, I realize that’s not what the Bible teaches us. Jesus reminds us to “abide” in Him and He promises to “abide” or “remain” in us (John 15:4-7).

We are given assurance throughout Scripture of God’s faithfulness. The Bible tells us, “Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.” — Psalm 37:5 (CSB)

Still, I know that, in that moment, all the other person will see is me standing or sitting in front of him or her while I feel very much like the weight of their eternity rests on my shoulders.

It does not, and I know it does not, but I still feel it does.

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GOD IS FAITHFUL despite my inadequacies. If there is any failure to communicate the message of salvation, that fault rests with me. God has given me the gift of speech, the knowledge of Scripture, the heart to share, and I have prayed fervently for this opportunity.

Why then am I struck dumb with fear?

If I could write the script, I would place the encounter within a congenial conversation, with both of us sitting and sharing our observations of life.Woman Sharing With Woman

Then, the conversation naturally would lend itself to giving a personal testimony. I don’t shrink from that situation, nor do I shrink from those  conversations were the other person either asks me about my faith or even chides me about my faith.

Where I am fearful is when there is no obvious entry point to the conversation, when we’re rushing to go about our day, or when there is a palpable discomfort between the other person and me.

Is this the right moment? Perhaps so, perhaps not.

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IF THE SITUATION involves a family member, then I am in greater anguish because I feel a greater responsibility, even though I know that if my listener rejects me or my message of hope, he or she actually is not rejecting me but really is rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 10:16).

Our Lord instructs us as parents to teach His ways to our children (Deuteronomy 11:19), so my failure to teach my daughters about the Lord when they were young weighs heavily on me, especially when I contemplate their eternal fate, if they don’t accept God’s offer of salvation.

Our Lord says the world’s sin is that it has rejected Him (John 16:9; Jeremiah 2:13), but Paul reminds us that they cannot accept what they have not been taught (Romans 10:14).

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IN THE END, I need to trust in the Lord and His faithfulness, knowing that His love for my children and family members, my friends and neighbors, my co-workers and even total strangers who come into my life for a moment or two far outweighs the love I ever could have for them.

At the right time, He will tug at their heart, and then they will decide whether to accept the blessings He offers or continue to stumble in darkness (Rev. 3:20; John 6:44).

My job is to remain faithful to my Lord’s promptings, knowing that He remains with me forever (Matthew 28:19-20).


PRAYER

50. Open_BibleO Lord, merciful and mighty, come into our hearts in a big way, overwhelming us with love, forgiveness, grace, and compassion, so that we might share those blessings with all You call us to serve. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen


Questions for Personal Meditation and Discussion:

1. How do you feel when you are in conversation with someone and you sense God is giving you an opportunity to witness for your faith? Do you feel energized (you should!) or fearful (understandable). Afterward, how do you assess your obedience? Did you witness or let the opportunity pass?

2. Does God’s calling on your life seem real to you? Can you take in the idea that God calls you as a believer to minister to others, that it’s not just the job of professional church staff, missionaries, and those “specially called” but that He loves to use the simple, the humble, and the contrite of heart?

3. Can you imagine the thrill of meeting someone in Heaven who is there because you’ve lived your life as a model of grace and compassion or because you offered encouragement from the Lord that led them to conviction? Can you meditate on how amazing that would be?

Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.

Meditation — LIVING BY FAITH, NOT REASON

God’s promises to mankind are based on His good provision but require our acceptance. Why? Because He graciously gave us the gift of free will. That means we can accept — or reject — life. We cannot reason our way into salvation, where we take control, connect the dots, and conclude that salvation is possible and that we possess the means to attain it. It is a matter of faith, where we place our total confidence in the Lord to provide for our needs. Because we cannot attain salvation on our own, we also cannot lose it on our own. God keeps us for His glory.

Find blog posts at LoveAndGrace … tweets at Twitter.

Comments 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?

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 (CSB)

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, being convinced of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 (NET)

WE COME TO GOD T56. Prayer-Partners-menHROUGH FAITH, NOT THROUGH REASON.

Our sinful natures and finite minds cannot combine to produce within us a saving power apart from the grace of God. It is His will that we may be reconciled to Him. It is not of our own doing, that we might boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

LET’S SEE HOW THIS WORKS.

A man (or woman, if you’re a woman) comes into your life and asks for some help. He (or she) is struggling with life and thinks you might be able to help. Why? Well, because you’re a bit older, more mature, more settled in your life, which is a good indicator that you may have experienced whatever it is that he (or she) is going through now and lived to tell about it.

So you set up shop, share a cup of coffee and a Danish, and sit back to listen to this person’s tales of woe.

You say: “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”

Other person says: “?”

He (or she) is stumped.

He (or she) mumbles something about going to church or having spent a couple of weeks one summer at church camp and, then 20 years ago, memorized a few verses before his (or her) grandmother got sick … and, basically, that’s it.

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NO MATTER HOW HARD YOU TRY, you’re unable to get this person to acknowledge, beyond some lame comment, that he (or she) even has a need for such a personal relationship, assuming that such a thing actually exists.

72.Family_Bible_StudyThe Bible is clear that such a thing actually does exist and that we are ~commanded~ by God to seek it. He promises this: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” — Jeremiah 29:13 (ESV)

Yes, God draws us to Him first (John 6:44), but we have the privilege — and responsibility — to respond through faith (Ephesians 2:8).

Jesus said to store up for ourselves “treasures in heaven” (Matt. 6:20), not in this world, because our heavenly treasures are under God’s faithful keeping and will not be tarnished or broken or lost. They will be ours forever.

We then pray with our young charge and exhort him (or her) to begin praying to Jesus Christ to ask that He would intervene in their lives and show them where they have 15 minutes a day they weren’t aware of to spend in prayer and Bible reading. You say that if he (or she) is sincere in that prayer, Jesus will deliver.

You remind them of what the Bible says: “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).

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AS YOU PART FOR THE DAY and watch this child of God drift away, you raise a silent prayer on their behalf, asking God to give them eyes to see and ears to hear. You know that if he (or she) does not turn to the Heavenly Father, whatever difficulty they may be facing will not end well.

If, however, this person does turn to the Lord, then he (or she) can lay claim to God’s promises to be with them and protect them through the storms of life (John 10:10).


PRAYER

O LORD, our merciful and majestic Redeemer, our Creator and Sustainer,  our Savior, we 44. Cross_on_Biblethank You for the opportunities You give us to reach out to others when they are in need, when they come to us for help. Lord, may we always point them to You, to Your sustaining grace, to Your everlasting love, to Your merciful justice. We pray also, O Lord, that as they ask You in prayer for time in their day to spend personally and intimately with You, that You will shower them with time and desire and so change their lives. In Jesus’ powerful name we pray. AMEN


QUESTIONS:

1. Do you find it difficult, if not impossible, to find a regular time each day for prayer and Bible reading? Do you think it’s even necessary to spend time alone with God every day? Would you feel comfortable asking God to find the time for you, or do you think He’s way too busy with more important stuff?

2. Why do you think it might be a good idea to hear from God’s Word each day and enter into prayer with Him regularly? Do you believe He intervenes in human affairs and longs to intervene in your life?

3. Are you uncomfortable with the idea that our response to God’s gift of salvation is a matter of faith and not of reason? Do you see that faith means we’re placing all of the burden on God, whereas reason means we are the ones who have earned salvation?


Would you like us at LoveAndGrace to pray for you? Just send a prayer request via the Comments section.


 

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