Posted in Galatians, Genesis

Heaven’s Laugh

“Sarah said, ‘God has brought me laughter, and everyone who hears about this will laugh with me.’ And she added, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have borne him a son in his old age.’” Genesis 21:6-7

The joy Sarah experienced when she had Isaac (Isaac means “laughter”) would be shared by others when she told them the story. She was barren, Abraham was too old, and she had given up on having children long ago. People would laugh for joy because this child was tangible evidence of three things:

  1. God is alive. Because of the circumstances, this was clearly a miracle that only a living God could do.
  2. God is good. Life can be harsh and frustrating, but this child was a desire fulfilled that gave Sarah, and anyone who would hear about it, a taste of how good God is.
  3. God is gracious. Sarah had tried to have a child her own way through Hagar, and then laughed cynically when she heard God’s promise of her having a child. (Genesis 18:12) When she was asked why she had laughed, she lied because she was afraid. Yet God did the miracle anyway! God does wonderful things, not because of our great faith, but in spite of our imperfect faith.

What does this have to do with us? Everything. “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (Galatians 4:28)  The God who owed us nothing but death, gave us eternal life. The one who was heading to hell is now on the path to heaven.  The life that was degenerating in isolation is now regenerating through adoption into God’s own family, by the Spirit of life.

We are the miracles that should bring heaven’s laugh into this dark, cynical world. God loves us and Jesus died for us!  Don’t forget to laugh today at how wonderful these simple truths are.

Posted in 1Peter, Galatians

Waiting on God

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time, casting all your anxiety upon Him because He cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith…And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” 1Peter 5:6-10

The language of the New Testament has two different words for time. One of them, “chronos,” corresponds to our word for time in definition, but the second, “kairos,” has no one English word to define it. “Kairos” is translated in a number of ways: “the right time;” “the proper time;” “an opportune time;” or as it is in the text above, “in due time.” All of these have the same basic meaning: “in God’s time.”

God has His own time for things. He does plan to lift us up, answer us, promote us, provide for us, and heal us in His time, but there is a time of testing that often comes before which requires us to wait on God. The text above gives us important clues of how to wait.

  1. Wait on God with humility. “Under God’s mighty hand” references God’s power. His face is who He is; His hand refers to His ability to act. God is able to do what you need Him to do. To wait humbly we must cast our anxiety about our situation on Him and leave it there. Let go, and let God!
  2. Wait on God with confidence. God cares for us. He loves us even when in our minds we question why He doesn’t remove the present suffering.  It’s at this point of waiting that the enemy roars in our ears accusations against God to undermine our faith. Remember: the loudest voice in your head is often not the truest one.
  3. Wait on God with perseverance. When we are suffering there is a great temptation to give up on God and take matters into our own hands. If we persevere, God Himself will use the waiting period before the kairos to make us “strong, firm, and steadfast.” “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time (kairos) we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Posted in Galatians, Luke

Missing True Intimacy

“He answered and said to his father, ‘Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends….’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.’” Luke 15:29,31

You can go to church, keep the ten commandments, and have everyone think you’re a good person, yet miss true intimacy with God. The older brother in the story of the prodigal son represents the Pharisees who were also listening to him and grumbling to themselves, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2) The name Pharisee means, “separate one.” These guys kept all of God’s laws outwardly, went to synagogue all the time, and presumed that they were pleasing to God because of their performance. The older brother was angry that the father had received back the prodigal because he felt that his younger brother didn’t deserve forgiveness and the party his father threw for him.

In the text quoted above Jesus  tells of how the older brother had  served the father and kept all of his commandments. The brother then complained that nothing has been done to reward him for all of his performing. He was living more like a slave than a son and was waiting for the father to pay him. The father says, “you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours.” You can’t work for what is already yours. If he wanted to have a party all he needed to do was ask. That is how grace works.

Galatians 4 tells us that Jesus was born under the law so that he might “redeem those under the law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.” It goes on to say that the Father has sent His Spirit into our hearts so that you and I are “no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)  We could never have become God’s children by the law of performance because His holiness demands a perfection we could never obtain. So He sent His own Son who lived perfectly under the law and then died as a sacrifice for all of us who have broken the law. We become His children by receiving His grace.

Sometimes we lose track of grace when we’ve been in the church awhile and begin to think that we are worthy of the place we have in Christ because of all our service. It is important that we keep the “amazing” in grace, remembering that He came to save and love undeserving people just like us.

Posted in Galatians

Redemption!

“But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.” Galatians 4:4-5

To redeem something means to bring it back from its broken or ruined state by restoring it.  After our sin, God could have started over, but He chose instead to redeem.

A few years ago we had our VW Passat fixed from a problem it had with overheating.  The first time I drove it after the “fix” was to a place about an hour away where it promptly broke down.  We had it towed from there to a local mechanic who told me the engine was destroyed, and said  he wouldn’t even work on it.  We then had it towed back to our mechanic in Madison.

After running tests on it, our mechanic explained what had happened, and owned their mistake.  He said that he learned in his analysis that there was a catch underneath this specific engine that collected waste, and at some point it had become too much. When the engine was idling it looked fine, so they thought the problem was solved, but when I drove it away the waste was carried back up into the engine and caused the irreparable damage.

It was a 2003 model, so the book value wasn’t much.  He said something like this to me: “I could give you a check for $2,000, and you could put that toward a different vehicle, or you could buy a new engine (at a much reduced cost) and I would put it in for free.”

It would have been easy to take his check, but I still saw a lot of value in that old car.  I chose redemption instead of starting over.  So did God, and it wasn’t cheap.  At just the right time in history, Jesus was born so He could die on a cross and pay for our redemption.  The Son became a Savior, so we could become the very children of God.

This is the “good news of great joy!”

Posted in 1John, 1Timothy, 2Peter, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, John, Psalms, Romans

The Value of Godliness

“Train yourself to be godly.  Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:7-8

 To train ourselves to be godly is to reorder our lives in a way that makes living close to God our highest priority.  Asaph said, “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28)  In what way is godliness good for us?

 First, Paul says it’s valuable in this present life.  Later in his letter he gives a qualifier: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out.” (6:6-7)  The more we pursue godliness with contentment the more we live defined by God and the more all other definitions fade away.  We are not our financial net worth, or what other people think we are, or even how we define ourselves – we are God’s masterpiece! (Ephesians 2:10)  Only the godly grow away from the traps of this world into their true identity.  Letting the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20) be the One who defines us is tremendously liberating.  His perfect love drives out fear and insecurity (1John 4:18), so that we can simply be ourselves filled with His Holy Spirit.

 Then Paul says godliness has value for the life to come.  Asaph says that those who live “far from You will perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” (Psalm 73:27)  The ungodly will “perish like beasts” (2Peter 2:12) and “be consumed” eventually in the eternal fire (Hebrews 10:27), but the godly will share eternal life with God.  This is the simple gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 Godliness begins by forsaking our own works and by putting our trust in Jesus Christ because salvation is God’s gift to us.  “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (right standing with God!).” (Romans 4:4-5)

Posted in Galatians, Luke

Who Inherits?

“Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Galatians 4:30

You cannot earn as a reward what is yours by inheritance, so when we go back to performing for God, the benefits of grace dry up. The Old Covenant, the slave woman, only blesses those who keep the law. Because no one can keep the law, all of her children become slaves of the fear and guilt which come from never being good enough.

Paul is stunned that the Galatians are allowing anyone to seduce them back into a performance identity because the fruit is so bad. “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you… are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?… Does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:1-4)

In Luke 15 Jesus tells us about the older brother who becomes angry at the Father’s generosity toward the prodigal: “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends.” Listen to the Father’s response, not just to the older brother, but to all His children who are living like slaves in His house: “My son, you are always with me and everything I have is yours.”

Did you know that in Christ you have an abundant inheritance as a favored child of God? “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ (you are always with me) So you are no longer a slave but a son; since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” (and everything I have is yours) (Galatians 4:7)

“So why don’t I feel like an heir?” you may ask. Maybe it’s because you haven’t once and for all put away the performance identity. Maybe you’ve been seduced in your heart and are still trying to perform for God’s approval instead of accepting it by faith. It’s time to take decisive action and “get rid of the slave woman and her son!”

I am so ready to walk in favored son status instead of being a slave to performance. How about you?

Posted in Galatians, Psalms

What Happened?

What has happened to all your joy?” Galatians 3:15

Joy is a good measure of our Christianity because true joy is only found in the presence of God. (Psalm 16:11) Apparently the early joy the Galatian church experienced had faded. In the text above, Paul is bringing this fact to their attention so he can get to the source of the problem.

They were still living; they were still religious; and maybe even still zealous for the faith, but the joy was gone. What happened? Have you ever been there? Still doing what you’re supposed to be doing, but over time, losing the heartfelt energy that comes from the joy of the Lord?

Paul identifies the freedom the gospel brings as the source of releasing God’s joy, and the loss of that freedom as the block to it. Jesus came to free them from the slavery of a performance identity, so they could know what it is to be the beloved children of God. (Galatians 4:6-7)

They knew this joy once but are now being seduced by teachers who are preaching a different gospel. The gospel these teachers are promoting makes more sense because it involves them keeping more rules and “earning their keep” instead of the free gift of grace through faith alone. Paul exposes the deception and calls them to return to the true gospel and to stand firm in it. The central verse of Galatians is chapter five, verse one: “It was for freedom that Christ set you free. Stand firm therefore in your freedom and do not be enslaved again by a yoke of bondage.”

Do you know you’re a beloved child of God with the full rights of an heir of God? (Galatians 4:6) If you understand the gospel correctly it should make you laugh. Paul says that we, like Isaac (whose name means laughter), were born of a promise. (Galatians 4:28) Sinners deserving death were saved, not by any work of their own, but just by believing God’s love and promise to us in Christ!

May God restore to each of us the joy of our salvation and may that joy overflow to all those who are around us every day.

Posted in Galatians

The Glove

“I am crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. The life I live in this body I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

A few years ago at a men’s conference, a speaker told of a Sunday school teacher he had when he was in middle school. This teacher used magician’s tricks to keep the students’ attention, so everyone was intrigued the day he brought in a magic glove and declared that the glove was able to pick up the Bible.

He laid the glove on the Bible and started saying magic words but it didn’t work; the glove did nothing. What’s wrong? He picked up the glove and looked it over, put it back on the Bible, said the magic words, but once again, nothing. What’s wrong with this glove?

Finally, he took the glove, turned it around and put it on, said the magic words and lo and behold, the glove picked up the Bible. One of the kids in the class was not impressed: “Do you think we’re stupid?” he asked. Everyone in the class recognized that even though the glove did pick up the Bible, it wasn’t really the work of the glove. It was all about the hand inside the glove.

Then the teacher read Galatians 2:20 and explained that we are the glove and Jesus is the hand inside the glove. We are powerless to live the Christian life on our own, but if we will identify our lives with Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and then trust Him day by day, He will live in us and make all things possible.

The speaker went on to say we would hear many things during the day about how we could be better Christians, better fathers, and better husbands which would make us feel worse than we already did unless we remember the hand in the glove. The Christian life isn’t about us trying to live like Jesus, it’s about Jesus living His life in and through us.

Posted in 1Peter, Acts, Galatians, John, Mark

God’s Timing

“It is not for you to know the times (chronos) or dates (kairos) which the Father has set by His own authority.” Acts 1:7

Two of the Greek words for time in the New Testament are “chronos” and “kairos.” Chronos is the word for sequential time which is how mankind usually thinks about time. There are twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, and fifty two weeks in a year. We make plans and appointments in sequential time and live our lives trying to fulfill them.

Kairos is a word we don’t have one English word to describe. It is not sequential time, but rather, God’s time for something to happen. 

Vine’s Expository dictionary gives this distinction: “Chronos marks quantity (of time), kairos, marks quality.” (554) So how does recognizing God’s kairos time practically make a difference in our lives? Let me give a number of ways.

  1. Although we live in sequential time our priority should be kairos time. Jesus waited for God’s time to go to the feast while his unbelieving brothers had no such concern. “The right time (kairos) for Me has not yet come; for you any time is right.” (John 7:1-2) 
  2. We should not be frustrated by our present difficulties but can have confidence that if we keep doing what’s right, the time (kairos) will come when we will see God’s deliverance. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God and in due time (kairos) He will exalt you.” (1Peter 5:6) “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time (kairos) we will reap a harvest if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
  3. History has a purpose and a direction way bigger than us, so we should be able to put all of our minor irritations in perspective.  Jesus died at the “right time” (kairos) for us (Romans 5:6); and we can be assured that Jesus will come back in God’s “appointed time” (kairos – Mark 13:33).
  4. As we respond to God’s dealings with us with a spirit of repentance, He desires “times” (kairos) of refreshing to come to us from the presence of the Lord. (Acts 3:19)
Posted in Galatians

Have You Gone Back to Performance?

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain-if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? Galatians 3:1-5

The Galatian Christians started well, but at some point retreated from “grace through faith” living back to, “trying to be good enough for God,” living. Are you there as well? Here are some symptoms:

  1. You find you are no longer focused on what Jesus did for you on the cross. You punish yourself instead of accepting His forgiveness easily, and find it hard to forgive others who have hurt you.
  2. Your focus is more on your discipline than on the Spirit’s power. You are more conscious of what you’re doing for Him than what He is doing in and through you.
  3. The miracles and the sense of the supernatural are gone. There is no awe, no wonder, and no surprise any more. Jesus said there should be rivers flowing from our inmost being, but you feel like you are plugged up, and anything spiritual is hard.
  4. You struggle to believe God loves you; Jesus died for you; and that God wants you to be with Him more than anything else.

If you see yourself in this list let me give you a few practical things to do. First, repent, and ask God to forgive you for going back into performance based religion. Take time to thank Him again for His love, for the cross and for the grace He wants to lavish upon you. Then ask for a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit in simple faith and tell Him you want to be near Jesus. Wait quietly in His presence, stilling every other distraction, and let Him fill you to overflowing. Repeat as necessary.