Category Archives: Life With God

Galatians [1:13-24]

 Galatians 1:13-24

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion–how I violently persecuted the Christians. I did my best to get rid of them. I was one of the most religious Jews of my own age, and I tried as hard as possible to follow all the old traditions of my religion.

I think it’s pretty cool how we can so easily forget this. Paul was the epitome of what Jesus was not. He destroyed the lives of people who disagreed with his religion. He worked with all of his might to appear spotless on the outside, and even perhaps try to feel spotless on the inside. He was Pharisee of Pharisees, and he was a Christian killer. And he wrote half of the new testament. He changed the course of history. God used him to spread the news of His kingdom across the earth. He is the Apostle Paul. Hero of the faith!

But he wasn’t. He didn’t used to be. Somehow he was able to transcend his old life and be embraced in the new. I think a big key to his success there is that he was not trying to accomplish that. He was whacked hard upside the head – a big-time reality check – and his focus became solely fixed on knowing Jesus (Philippians 4). When his focus changed from doing to being, his life did a complete 180.

And now his is remembered as the great apostle Paul. Not for his accomplishments in holiness. Not for his religious zeal. Partly for his writings and missionary work. But mostly for his relationship with Jesus. For the way he understood life as it was meant to be, and lived it with all his heart. He was not a middle of the road kind of guy, eh? And when he finally got his zeal pointed in the right direction, his legacy is the work that God did through him, rather than the work HE was trying to do “for God.”

But then something happened! For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born! What undeserved mercy! Then he revealed his Son to me so that I could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When all this happened to me, I did not rush out to consult with anyone else; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. No, I went away into Arabia and later returned to the city of Damascus. It was not until three years later that I finally went to Jerusalem for a visit with Peter and stayed there with him for fifteen days. And the only other apostle I met at that time was James, our Lord’s brother. You must believe what I am saying, for I declare before God that I am not lying.

Paul seems to think that those he is writing to will not believe his story. Perhaps they, like us, think you must have some sort of training to know what Paul knows. To speak as he does, and teach as he does… he must have had years of teaching. He must have studied under the apostles for a good deal of time and been their best pupil. But Paul assures them, “No!” His insight, his understanding is not from man. God revealed it to him directly. And, coincidentally, it matched precisely what the other apostles had learned in person from Jesus some years back. How about that? 🙂

Then after this visit, I went north into the provinces of Syria and Cilicia. And still the Christians in the churches in Judea didn’t know me personally. All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us now preaches the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they gave glory to God because of me.

The power of a changed life is phenomenal. When you can point to someone and say, “Isn’t that the girl who…” or, “Didn’t he used to…” and then see them living the life God meant for them to live, you can’t help but give God the glory. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” He didn’t mean work hard to do good stuff so that God will get the credit. He meant, love the light God has placed in you – share it. Spread it around. As people see the love in you, the kindness you show toward them and others, they will know something has happened in you. Something you could not have done on your own. And they will give credit where credit is due. They will praise your Father in heaven.

For what was filthy has been made clean. The broken has been restored. The useless has become useful. The trash that was merely discarded has been recycled into a cheaper and more environmentally friendly product. (I put that one in there for my EPA friends…) 🙂

When you see the effects of this relationship with the living Jesus you can not help but be amazed. No amount of trying can hold a candle to the reality of a grace-filled life found in the reality of knowing and being known by him. Not a set of rules or practices, but a true understanding of your calling to be his adopted son or daughter. A true understanding of the love that never quits, and unmerited favor with the King of the universe… who wants us to call him Dad.

When people see that in you, they will give God the glory as well. The old is gone, the new has come… praise be to God.


For further study: Visit StudyLight.org

Galatians [1:11-12]

 Galatians 1:11-12

Dear brothers and sisters, I solemnly assure you that the Good News of salvation which I preach is not based on mere human reasoning or logic.

Well, yeah! That is one thing that God’s plan could never be accused of being… LOGICAL! 🙂 It seems so unbelievable, really. A being who has no beginning and end creates all that exists, and before he did that he already planned to put on skin and hang out with us for a time, until just the right time when he could die a horrendous death at our hands. For our guilt. Taking our penalty for our deviancy. THEN, that same God got up again 3 days later and as he left us, gave us a piece of him to live inside us. He lives every moment not just by our side, but INSIDE us. As close as we can be. And all of this was planned before the beginning of time.

Jesus said that most people wouldn’t die for a good man (translation: “a cool dude”) but that some might die for a very good man (translation: “a SUPER cool dude”). That is just insane. If someone else did something wrong, and the punishment was death – even if it wasn’t their fault… wasn’t malicious – would you step up and say, “Oh wait! Pick me! Pick me!!!” No. Probably not. What if it was your Mom? She counts as a “SUPER cool dude”, doesn’t she? OK… you’d definitely have to think about it if it was your MOM! But, how about your neighbor? Or a friend from college?

What about your worst enemy? The person whom everything they do seems aimed at hurting you. Would you… could you volunteer to take their just punishment?

No, Paul… we don’t think you concocted that from human reason or logic.

For my message came by a direct revelation from Jesus Christ himself. No one else taught me.

I think Paul is suggesting here that his training was quite special. No doubt, it most certainly was. He was on his way to kill some more Christians and a light knocks him off his high horse. Light. Usually, light doesn’t do that. He hears a voice, and Jesus in no uncertain terms let him know that he was wrong. So, the man then called Saul becomes the incredible apostle Paul. Changing the course of history by his now well-aimed zeal. And all of that was through a personal encounter with Jesus. Not a Christianity 101 class, or even a series of mentoring sessions with a wise aged brother in the faith. Just a little talk with Jesus. (I think that’s a song…) 🙂

Now that doesn’t happen today, right? Jesus has delegated the teaching to us, right? To those we put in leadership over ourselves?

We heard a talk on an interesting verse a while back. In 1 John 2:27 it says:

But you have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you all things, and what he teaches is true–it is not a lie. So continue in what he has taught you, and continue to live in Christ.

This was only a small point of that talk we were listening to, but it stood out to me. We live in a culture of experts. There are specialists in every field. “Leave it to the Pros!” After all, the pros have been to school for 180 years and have 5 degrees in each field of expertise. They have been trained by the best, and know WAY better than you do! (And maybe better than you ever could!) We even pay people to listen to us. Psychologists and Psychiatrists are a fascinating lot to me. How can you pay someone to listen to you? 🙂

Think about it. If you have a problem or a question, who do you go to? Some of you may live next door to Mr. Fix It, like me. Matt is the first person I go to. 🙂 But mostly, we talk to an expert, right? (Maybe Matt is an expert…) If something is broken, we take it to an expert to repair it. If we are broken, we go to a doctor, at least for advice. (For which we shell out $75 or so) If we have a serious spiritual question, we talk to a pastor. Right? Isn’t that what we do?

But God has offered us so much more! He has offered us HIS expert advice. There certainly is nothing wrong with seeking wisdom from others. The Bible says as much. In Proverbs we are told that it is wise to seek counsel. But we often seek it in the wrong places. We look for help from so-called experts who know nothing about us. We seek help from those we feel are authorities. John tells us that we have received the Holy Spirit. We don’t need anyone to teach us what is true. Why? Because HE does. Holy Spirit. In you.

Now that’s a crazy thought, isn’t it? In our culture of management we don’t like that idea very much. Some might say, “If you tell people that, they’re going to believe whatever they want to! ‘Well, God told me…’ You can’t tell them they don’t need to be taught! We are the experts! We have studied! We know the Scriptures! Listen to US!”

There could not have been anything worse for us than when we decided we need to take control of the church. We are brothers and sisters in God’s family. We are the body parts… he is the Head. None of us leads any part of the church. Pastors and teachers are not superior to others, they only care for and teach the other believers, who in return offer their gifts to everyone else. We all have gifts, but somehow we have either offered to our up front people the role of authority, or we have allowed those hungry for it to take it. Elders are not above the other brothers. They are to be imitated (like Paul said to Timothy, “Follow my example as I follow Christ.”) but not revered or elevated to some status outside of the body. That is not only an errant understanding of the church, but a disservice to them. They were not meant to bear such a burden. They are merely children of God like you, and me.

We want so much to do right, that we take control to make it happen. What we might do is allow God to do his work. Allow Jesus to lead his church. Not be so bent on controlling the way people think, but perhaps teach them to know and hear and listen to Holy Spirit who is IN them.

I am not thinking Paul meant all of this in the simple statement that started this, but it triggered a stream of thought. We don’t like to think that people can learn directly from God. Paul is an example. John says we all are.


For further study: Visit StudyLight.org

Galatians [1:6-10]

 Galatians 1:6-10

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who in his love and mercy called you to share the eternal life he gives through Christ. You are already following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who twist and change the truth concerning Christ.

Paul just reminded us yesterday that the plan from the beginning was for God, through Jesus, to rescue us from this evil world. That we have freedom – salvation – in him. That is the Good News. God has made it possible to “share the eternal life he gives through Christ”. But apparently, even so soon after Jesus was walking amongst us, some people were twisting the truth. Presenting untruth as the Good News.

Paul said he was shocked… and I suppose I’m with him to a degree. But, I have seen too much of this in my life. We are presented with the grace of God, completely unearned favor with him, and then we proceed within a very short time to attempt to “keep” that which we never earned. We know we “got in” for free… but we need to work hard to keep our place here, or we might lose it. We try our best to “live the Christian life” for the benefit of others, perhaps to keep up our reputation if we are long-standing members of the church, or even to impress God? Sometimes we feel it’s our duty, since he has “paid so great a price”.

But is that really grace? Are we living out the Good News? Is it Good News that Jesus came to get us into this party for free, but once you’re in you have to work really hard to meet all of the expectations he and everyone else has or else you might not just get kicked out, but be thrown into hell as a result?

That doesn’t sound so good to me.

I much prefer the real Good News. “He died for our sins just as God our Father had planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world… [and] to share the eternal life he gives through Christ.”

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including myself, who preaches any other message than the one we told you about. Even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message, let him be forever cursed. I will say it again: If anyone preaches any other gospel than the one you welcomed, let God’s curse fall upon that person.

We live in Palmyra, NY. If you don’t know your church history (or general US history, I suppose) you might not be familiar with that tiny town in central NY. It was the home of Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (aka Mormonism). It all started one day when Joe was trying to figure out which church to join (Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, etc) and was asking God accordingly. Then, BLAMMO! He was overpowered by a vision in which God the Father and Jesus told him that in fact all of the various churches were wrong. An abomination to him. They had a form of godliness but denied its power. (This is taken from Joseph Smith – History, Chapter 1.)

After the vision, he was persecuted for his views. But God was with him (so he says) and he later was shown the ancient Scriptures inscribed on Gold Plates by Mormon and Moroni (historians in early America – before it was America), who appeared to him as a gloried, resurrected being and helped him translate them to English. (That was kind of him…) You can read about this here.

What arose from all of this is a rigidly structured institution where there is nearly zero freedom. There is such a hierarchy as would rival any religious institution ever. There are holy temples, prophets, mandatory missionary service… all sorts of things. And, have you ever met a “bad” mormon? NO! They’re squeaky clean because you have to be! They’re some of the nicest, most polite, law-abiding people around… cause that’s part of their code. That’s their version of the Good News. Be really, really good and maybe God will graduate you to the next level when you die.

Is that the Good News?

Paul said “even if an angel comes from heaven and preaches any other message”. Moroni appeared, though not an angel, as a glorified being and helped present a “different” message. That all the others were wrong. And… thus was born an entirely new religion. (They say they are Christians, but as they feel they are the only right Christians, well… I’d say that’s an entirely new religion.)

How do we get so caught up in this sort of stuff? So led astray? Why must we work so hard to create these systems and structures to neatly and with great tidiness house our faith lived out for God?

It is our way, I suppose. It is our way.

Obviously, I’m not trying to be a people pleaser! No, I am trying to please God. If I were still trying to please people, I would not be Christ’s servant.

“Dont’ wanna be a man pleaser… just wanna be a God pleaser!” – Petra (circa 1989)

He is most certainly not a man pleaser. Paul definitely told it like it is, and that nearly got him killed many times! 🙂 But I think I lean towards that too. I speak truth, even when nothing need be spoken. God is teaching me to be wise and discerning in my spoken offerings. (Jen is helping him do that!) 🙂

Paul touched on one more thing I wanted to comment on. Two words, “Christ’s servant.”

I have had some discussions with other brothers about this recently. The idea of being a servant, and he our Master. It is quite biblical. But what I have seen us do with it is to religious-cize it and create another level of separation between man and God that may not be intended (by Him). God speaks so much of us as his children, of his love for us, and even calls us friends… I just wonder what he thinks when we refer to him as master?

Not that he shouldn’t be. To the contrary… look at his response to Job. He claimed all of his God-ness and put Job “in his place”. He is most certainly God. The King of kings. To be sure.

But he specifically says, “I no longer call you servants… Now you are my friends…” (John 15:15)

I will be interested to see what else Paul says about that in this book. Stay tuned.


For further study: Visit StudyLight.org

Galatians [1:1-5]

I have been wanting to read through Galatians for a while, and I thought it would be fun to read through it here, and comment as I go. This will not be a scholarly, in-depth, research-style commentary… just my thoughts as I read. Feel free to post yours as well.

 Galatians 1:1-5

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group or by human authority. My call is from Jesus Christ himself and from God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

This reminds me of me. People always want pointers on how I made our “ministry” succeed, but without exception I must tell them, “It wasn’t me.” God called, God led, and God provided any level of “success” that anyone observed in us. It wasn’t my own idea, or anyone elses (save perhaps my Dad… he’s probably thinking, “Waaaaaaait a minute! I had something to do with this!” But, I actually stopped after he started us, then God called us back to it.

Point is, this is the coolest way to do life. To follow the voice, the call, of God for you. Not his call for someone else that looks like fun for you. 🙂 Not something someone else thinks you should do. Listen for His voice.

All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending greetings to the churches of Galatia.

May grace and peace be yours from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. That is why all glory belongs to God through all the ages of eternity. Amen.

That is why? That sounded funny to me. That is why all glory belongs to God. Immediately preceeding that, was the cross. He died – in order to rescue us. That is why all Glory belongs to him.

There must be more than that, you might think. I do! Isn’t he deserving because of His creation? From the vast universe to the tiny atom… the intricacies of just the human eye. The power of the oceans and grandeur of the mountains. The softness of a tiny newborn baby. Isn’t he due some glory for that? What about Him??? He is forever, without end. He is all powerful, all knowing, all everything. He is infinitely large, yet lives inside me. He is Judge over all, yet chose to love me.

That’s it right there, isn’t it. His supreme power was willingly laid down in favor of His supreme love. Not that He lost any power, just chose (in His supreme power) to not excersize it for the benefit of me. And you. And… Him.

It says, “He died for our sins, just as God our Father planned…” From the beginning of time, God had decided, had planned to step in on our behalf. To forego his right to judge in order to repair the relationship with us. Consider Romans 5:10…

“…we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son…”

There is something else important in this line to the Galatians that Paul was talking about in Romans. The reason Jesus died on the cross. It’s not just to pay for our sins. That is spoken of in Romans 3, but not mentioned here. It’s not just to give us a way into eternal life. Those are well and good… but not the focus here. The reason given here mirrors the Romans 5 idea: restoration. “He died in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live.” Plain and simple. Jesus came to give us life – to save us from this messed up one. Not in the “hereafter”, but in the here. Life to the full, as friends of God… here. And forever.

And in all of that, we know his grace (we don’t deserve that sort of treatment) and we know his peace (when someone loves you like that, what can go wrong?) Paul offers us that right off the bat. Not the forget-all-the-bad-stuff-and-slap-on-a-smile sort of peace. No, this is based in the all-powerful, timeless God planning long ago to demonstrate his love by giving his own life so that we could be restored to a full relationship with him… forever.

That wipes away guilt. That brings deep pools of grace. That peace washes over us, refreshing and calming and cleansing every piece of us.

That gives us life.

Grace and Peace to you today. He loves us.


For further study: Visit StudyLight.org

Loss

“I came naked from my mother’s womb,
and I will be stripped of everything when I die.
The LORD gave me everything I had,
and the LORD has taken it away.
Praise the name of the LORD!”

Those were the first words – words of worship – immediately following Job’s hearing the news that his children had been killed in a horrible accident. And just before that he had lost much of the wealth that God had blessed him with. An amazing reaction to an extraordinary circumstance. His first thought was to worship the God who had given him life, even in the midst of the demise of the life he had known.

There is a song by songwriter Matt Redman called Blessed Be Your Name. It echoes those lines Job spoke so many years ago,

“You give and take away, you give and take away,
my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name!”

Those words reverberated loudly – even confidently – through my head as we learned that the child we had been eagerly preparing a space for in our family, had stopped developing inside mom’s womb.

“You give and take away… You give and take away…
My heart will choose to say… Lord, blessed be Your name.”

The first moments were just hard. Shocking. Deep sadness. Life hoped for, now lost. And this was not the first time we faced this.

About one week into our tour, there was such a shocking occurence that we thought we had lost the baby. That was on our anniversary. Not the way we wanted to end the day. The drive to the hospital was a little over an hour. Of silence. Of doubting. Of wondering. Of self-pummeling. I felt completely culpable for the loss of this baby’s life. Our lifestyle, my missed chances at reminding Jen to rest, my busyness keeping me from helping Jen with the three kids on the outside. All things were pointing to me being the reason we had lost the baby.

But God was beyond gracious.

When we arrived at the hospital, we were greeted by a friendly nurse who was fairly convinced that the baby was doing just fine. The doctor who followed happened to be at the church we had led in worship the morning prior, and he echoed those sentiments, but they needed to do an ultrasound to make sure.

My heart skipped a beat or two in astonished joy. My soul gasped for air! I can’t describe the feeling of life from death. How the Father must have felt when his son was given breath again! Even knowing the plan ahead of time, his heart must have exploded with joy knowing that not only his son, but all of us who trust in him were given back to him that day!

We went from that place, with images of a dancing baby in our head, and the hope that through a rough 6 or 7 months ahead we would emerge with a miracle baby from God.

“You give and take away…”

Yesterday, following the weekend of God giving wildly to us through his people, we experienced the pain of loss again.

Jen had been experiencing signs of trouble again (we thought) and so we went to the doctor, who put the monitor on Jen’s belly to listen for the heart beat. After about 10 awkward seconds, she said, “Sometimes it’s difficult to find the heartbeat with that machine.”

That had not been our experience, and so we were already thinking the worst.

She turned on the ultrasound equipment, and we began looking at the baby inside. It had grown since the first time, but it was lifeless. No movement. No heartbeat. No life.

No words were said for a time, until the doctor broke the silence, “I’m afraid I have some very bad news…”

My heart sank. It was quite final. The baby was gone. Again.

But this time, the words to that song kept replaying in my head. “You give and take away… my heart will choose to say, Lord, blessed be your name…”

And I meant it. Though I was not necessarily comforted by it just yet.

We discussed the next steps and headed out to the van to go home. The song continued in my head.

When we got to the van, we just sat there in silence. We were both attempting to understand what was happening. To process it. Why would God want to give us a baby for 12 weeks, and then take it home?

There were tears. There was silence. We prayed together. We talked. But the most amazing thing was happening inside my head and heart.

Instead of sadness, there was supreme confidence in God’s love for me. More than just confidence, there was palpable reality. Almost like his hands on my shoulders.

And the song would not leave.

I knew the scripture was from Job, so I looked it up on the computer we had brought with us.

The first thing that stuck out to me was in the NIV translation: “Job got up, tore his robe and shaved his head, then he fell to the group in worship.” His first response was a brief moment of agony and mourning, and then he worshipped. Instead of blaming God for letting this happen, he was compelled to worship him.

That’s where I lost it.

I was too! That’s what I had been feeling the whole time in silence. Strong images and feelings of God’s love and provision for me, for us, were present in my head. I was not conciously thinking of them… they were just there. I was not dwelling on the loss, but rather on things gained from the Giver of all good things.

And that’s exactly what Job experienced.

God’s bigness, his caring, his inividual attention to my life, his unfathomable love — all of that had never been so near to me, so palpable, so REAL.

Words do not do the experience justice, but I really wanted to try. I was astounded by the love God has for, and was showing to ME. I was crying, not out of sadness at our loss as much as out of overwhelming joy and gladness at my Father who loves me.

In a moment, literally less than a second, God also gave me a strong series of images that reminded me of his goodness.

There were three sets of two images. First was the hopsital back in Arkansas. Image one was the deep sadness of losing the baby, and image two was the unspeakable joy of getting that life back! Second was from the weekend just past, where image one was the empty bank account and actually having zero cash being 3000 miles from home with many big bills to pay, and me asking God in a parking lot, “God, what are you going to do??”. The second image connected to that was of the generosity of our Father through his people this weekend, we were given nearly $2000 by people and places that wouldn’t normally be a source of such abundance. The third image was our present circumstance, the final loss of our baby, and attached to that image was a future provision from God that would blow us away with greatness as much as this loss had brought us low.

I had a very specific image, but as I am not claiming to be a prophet, I will guard that image in my heart and will let you know if that does indeed come to fruition. I don’t think God gave me those images for you… but I KNOW he gave them for me.

In less than a second, all of that imagery of God’s attention to our lives came into focus, and I was full-on reminded of his incredible provision and love.

And again, I was brought to tears… not of sadness, but pure, unthinkable joy!

Our God is so good. So, so good.

We are sad, and still dealing with loss. Loss costs us. We won’t know this member of our family until heaven. I see images of families with kids, or even our kids, and I miss the face of the baby we lost. We are definitely hurting.

But there is over all of that, a far greater peace and hope. God made me SO aware of his presence and love in my life today, right now. He is so good that way. And I am not alone in that experience. Which makes it even cooler. Friends today have shared a similar experience, and I believe the reason Job reacted when he did was that God was as overwhelmingly present for him that day as he was for me. And Jobs loss exceeds mine by such a volume as I can’t imagine.

He is so good. Today, yesterday, forever.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Praise the name of the Lord.