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.

Posted in Galatians, Matthew

Keeping the Bats Out 

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’: and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.” Matthew 12:43-45

We had a bat problem in our house in Montevideo, MN. There’s nothing creepier than a bat slithering into your house and flying around in your bedroom.   I remember being awakened one night, and then commanded by my wife to “do something” while she left the room and made sure the door was shut. She snuck a broom back into the room a few minutes later, so I wouldn’t be completely defenseless.

The bat was dealt with that night, but the next morning came with a more difficult problem to solve: how did the bat get in? We ended up hiring a company who came out to bat proof our house. A few days later I was sleeping peacefully when I thought I heard something swooshing around the room. My first thought was a bat but I comforted myself that we had already solved that problem. Surely it’s only a dream.

I wasn’t dreaming. The morning after fighting with the second bat, I called the bat proof company and they assured me that they would come back out and that I didn’t need to be alarmed because this sort of thing happens all the time. He told me something like this: “When bats get evicted from a house they circle that home for up to three days trying to find a way back in. We will find the new way they snuck in and plug it and continue to do so until they find a different home.”

If you’re a believer, the enemy can’t possess you, but if you believe a lie he can bring oppression. When you and I grab hold of the word of God in any area he loses his hold temporarily, but he doesn’t give up easily. He will circle and persecute and test the truth we started believing because he wants his place of influence back.

When we actively believe the truth we plug up any holes that would allow the enemy’s influence back into our lives. Paul told us to “stand firm in our freedom and not be enslaved again to any yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1) So stand firm in the truth and don’t let the bats back in!

Posted in Galatians, John, Romans

The Orphan Spirit

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” John 14:18

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’ The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” Romans 8:15-16

As I was preparing a sermon on the prodigal son returning home, I remembered a family in Minnesota who had adopted three siblings from Guatemala. The three came from an orphanage where there was never enough into a family where provision was abundant.

All three children had trouble grasping their new identity. They used to hide food and lie about it when confronted by their new parents. I couldn’t help wondering how long it took for them to be totally free of the orphan spirit, so I found a phone number and had an opportunity to chat with the mom. (She gave me permission to share their story.)

“How long,” I asked her, “did it take for the kids to stop hiding food?”

“Two years,” was her sober response. Think about it.  Adopted into a home, loved and favored by their new parents, abundance surrounding them, yet it took two years to actually believe that they didn’t have to be afraid of not having enough to eat.

“When do you think they were completely free of the orphan spirit?” was my second question.

There was a long pause. Finally she replied, “That spirit’s a bugger. Two of them have been able to find their identity in Christ, but I don’t know if any of them are completely free in all areas of their lives.”

Our heavenly Father has chosen to adopt us and to give us the full inheritance and privileges of the children of God. (Galatians 4:5-7) He has given us the best robe (the righteousness of Christ), put sandals on our feet (removing shame), put a ring on our finger (access to heaven’s resources), and has thrown a party for us (the Father’s joy in having us home).

Only eternity will reveal all this entails, but for now He wants each of us to know we don’t have to live in fear. We’re home, we’re accepted, there’s always going to be enough, and He will never abandon us!

Posted in 1Corinthians, Galatians

Should We Expect Miracles?

“Does God give you His Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you have heard?” Galatians 3:5

The early church was “filled with awe” because of the “many wonders and miraculous signs” done in their midst. (Acts 2:43) From the text above, we can see that miracles continued in the midst of the local church, even in the church at Galatia which was struggling to stay true to the gospel.

A miracle can be defined as an intervention of the immediate presence of God that changes the natural course of things in such a way that transcends human explanation. It is understandable that awe, wonder, and surprise would be the human response to this level of grace. Does God really still want to move in this way today?

If we take the Bible seriously, there’s nothing in it that suggests that somehow the Holy Spirit would stop working in these ways in the future, or would in any way change who He is and how He acts. If this is true, why don’t we see more? I’m reminded of the old song: “Showers of blessing, showers of blessing we need. Mercy drops round us are falling, but for the showers we plead.” God is moving today by His grace in ways which we need to celebrate, but I am convinced we also need to contend for more. The Bible tells us to “pursue love, and desire earnestly spiritual gifts.” (1Corinthians 14:1) Maybe we don’t see more because we haven’t earnestly desired more?

Posted in 1Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Hebrews, Romans

Walking in the Spirit

“But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.” 1Corinthians 2:14-16

Beware of one facet of the carnal nature in you Scripture calls, “the natural man.” The natural man wants to believe and obey only what he understands completely. He won’t do anything until he knows that he won’t look stupid or foolish in front of others, therefore our natural man is incapable of living by faith and cannot please God. (See Hebrews 11:6; Romans 8:8)

It is easy to be born of the Spirit at some point in the past, but not walk in the Spirit today. When that happens we are miserable as Christians, kind of like fish out of water. Our proper habitat is the spirit realm, so when we go back to living like those in the world we become spiritually choked.

Signs of a Christian living in the natural man include anxiety, joylessness, cynicism, discouragement, and feeling spiritually drained all the time.  The answer is not complicated; put off the old man and walk in the Spirit. (Ephesians 4:22-23; Galatians 5:25) Start by asking God to forgive you for trying to live the Christian life by the natural man, then remember that your rightful breath is the Holy Spirit, your proper food is the Word of God, and your sure hope for eternity is heaven no matter what happens down here. You have only God to please, so it doesn’t matter whether others approve of you or not.

The language of the Spirit does not contradict our minds, but it does transcend it. His many ways of whispering to us must be spiritually appraised, so we must stay alert to the spirit realm. God is in charge of planning, protecting, providing, and guiding.  We are in charge of trusting and obeying. It’s a nice arrangement when we do our part and don’t question His!