Monday, June 30, 2008

Romans 6:12-23

I recently read an article in the New York Times about how the phrase “Insha'Allah,” which translates, to the best of my knowledge, as “God willing,” is becoming a trendy phrase in the Egyptian culture. While it has, to some, a deeply religious meaning it is apparently being used almost flippantly by those within the community. This is not, I would argue, just a phenomena within the Egyptian community; but a problem in the Church as well. We use words that we do not consciously associate with any meaning: fellowship, accountability, community, grace.

What does the word grace mean? Miriam-Webster defines it as “unmerited divine assistance;” but what does that mean to us? The most important word, to me, is unmerited. In today’s reading we are told that sin does not have power over us because we received grace from God. We do not deserve it, we cannot earn it; but this does not mean that we should not do everything possible in order to show our appreciation for it— indeed I would argue that the very nature of grace should cause us to act in accordance with the gift we have received.

One of the ways that I think we can be mindful of the grace we have been given is expressed in the definition of grace from one user of Urban Dictionary; who defines it as “beauty, sunrises, singing birds, blossoming flowers. All those things that remind us why life is worth living.” This reminds me that all these things are not only from God, but also unmerited. We see grace in these small things, but also in large.

As St. Matthew’s begins to send people from the community on missions trips I believe that both this definition of grace, and the more official definition, take on a special meaning. It is by His grace that we are able to partake in such endeavors, that we are able to bring his blessings to those who are less privileged than us. But it is not only we who are exemplifying grace; we are shown grace by those in the areas we travel to. They bless us in ways that are hard to describe, but easy to feel; they serve us when we have come to serve them; they bless us when we have come to bless them.

May we all find the grace in our lives.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Romans 5:12-21

Paul is explaining a couple things in this passage. He is telling us how sin entered the world. He is contrasting Adam and Jesus. He points out, to his Jewish audience , that the Law points out our sin; rather than a cure it’s a tool, like an XRay to show us our inner nature. (and the news is not good).

Paul starts out by saying through Adam we have received a sin nature. Because of this, death came to all of us. Recently I read a medical thriller in which one man had engineered a very contagious killer virus and the race was on to prevent the spread of the virus. Because of Adam, Paul is saying, we are infected.

Paul then explains that the Law, when it came, is our diagnostic tool to show us the extent of our problem. He contrasts the deed of Adam and the work of Christ; Adam sinned once and many were condemned, whereas the gift of God (the work of Christ) followed many sins and brought grace to all. Paul says God’s gift is abundant, a cure freely given due to God’s love.

Another contrast which Paul makes is death and life; he begins the passage by saying that through Adam, death came to all men. In the last sentence of the chapter, (verse 21) he wraps up by saying that we have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. This then, is our hope and comfort.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Romans 5: 1-11

Our passage today begins with the word, “Therefore,” pointing backwards to everything Paul has said so far in Romans. Therefore--in light of our sinfulness, the consequences it has for our lives, and our inability to make things right again on our own. Therefore-- in light of the fact that God forgives and redeems us, offering us the free gift of salvation not because we deserve it, earn it, or have worked hard for it, but simply because of the sheer goodness of His grace. Therefore, in light of all this, we enjoy the benefits listed in the following verses from living the life of faith.

One of those benefits is peace with God. And when we have peace with God, we trust Him completely. We are totally free from any fear of or reservations about God we might have. Nothing—nothing!—stands between us, so that we can go to him for anything and everything, and He pours his love into our hearts. That’s a winning combination that let’s us face whatever life throws at us and find a way through it where we come out better than when we went in.

Think about that a moment. Do you believe it?I’m not being simplistic or na├»ve here. Life can be, and sometimes is, incredibly difficult and painful. Some situations are so heart breaking we just can’t imagine anything good about them at all. I don’t see any way around that.But the promise of these verses is that in spite of all that, God will bring us through—scarred, maybe, a bit battered and beat-up perhaps—but not beaten. He will bring us through. Even more than that, God will be at work in us through hard times, using them to develop our character so that we are more like Him. And that, of course, fills us with great hope.

Sometimes the Bible faces us with hard questions and great challenges for living. But today, I think these verses are simply meant to encourage us. As trite as it may sound, whatever you and I are going through, God is still in control, is still at work, and is still achieving His good purpose in your life and in mine.

Take heart, dear friends. Take heart.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Romans 4:13-25

Today's message is a powerful one regarding faith. Remember that Paul is writing this letter to discuss that one is given salvation through grace simply by believing in Jesus Christ - by having faith in God's love and His grace. One does not, and cannot, earn salvation by following the law as written in the first five books of the Bible as no one is flawless enough to follow the law perfectly.

In verse 16 Paul writes, "Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham's offspring..." Paul explains that Abraham had pleased God through his faith alone (and Abraham lived before the law was given to Moses). We, too, are saved by faith. It is not by doing good deeds that we are saved, it is by faith in Christ. Having the faith to trust Jesus Christ to forgive our sins and grant us grace.

Let's take a look at the faith Abraham displayed. Abraham who was childless and almost 100 years old was given a promise by God that he would be the father of many nations. Abraham believed God and believed that God was powerful enough to do what He said. This is true faith. Faith is living in what God has said to you and not living only in what you can see. When God makes you or me a promise, God's word is a certainty. We do not need to get our calculator out or do high order mathematics to try to figure out how God is going to accomplish His promise. When God tells you something or makes you a promise it will be done. Our belief that it will be done, and our willingness to put that belief into practice, is faith.

I will be on a mission trip in Belize next week helping to build a school. Thus, I will not have a post next week, but should resume the week after. God bless.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Romans 4:1-12

Time and time again the Bible emphasizes the importance of faith above all else, and time and time again I find myself forgetting that.

The thing about faith is that it’s easy to forget how much of a gift it is. It’s easy to believe in God without trusting him; it is easy to believe in God without having faith in him. I think it’s actually a lot harder to keep up consistently than most people realize; for me I often feel that yes, since I’m a Christian, of course I have faith! I believe in God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit; I believe that Jesus died for my sins and has saved me from damnation. So of course I have faith.

While this is certainly a part of having faith in God, I believe it is actually much more than that. Having faith in God is not just believing He exists and that He will save us from Hell. It is trusting him innately and wholly with not just our lives, but all the innumerable tiny little things that make up the mess of our lives. All those little things that we hold onto like a vice, those things that we are so afraid to relinquish control of—be they relationships, debt, or grades—these are the things that we must have faith enough in God to take care of. It is hard sometimes to have faith that God ultimately knows best when issues are so dear to our hearts—would it not be easy just to take care of these little things ourselves? We know about our relationships, debts, grades, loves better than anyone—should we not take care of them ourselves? Surely we should not bother God with such things, when He is taking care of our sins and saving our souls.

I would suggest, however, that true faith is trusting God with the little as well as the small. It is a continuous effort to give over everything in our lives into God’s hands, and as life goes on and new things are brought forth we must always remember to give them over to God and trust that He knows the best way for us to live. Faith is a continuous effort, not just a belief tucked away in the back of our hearts.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Romans 3:21-31

It still amazes me how scriptures can “say” different things at different times. When I have read this passage before I have focused on the part that I believe we are all familiar with: all have fallen short. But today I noticed something different, something so simple that I was amazed I had not noticed it before; how this section of verses that we are all so familiar with interacts with Paul’s statements about boasting.

Paul says that faith excludes boating. For me this raises two issues— what constitutes boasting, and why is boasting excluded by faith. The first issue, though easy for me to answer on a mental level, is very convicting. Of course, boasting can be very blatant, it can indeed, be so over-the-top that it is easy to see why boasting is not able to be part of the Christian life. I don’t have a problem accepting that. But then there are the smaller forms of boasting, the ones that seem innocent enough and that, really, we only design to gain enough attention to get a small pat on the back because they make us feel stronger. I didn’t really understand why these small forms of boasting would be excluded from a life of faith, but then again I did in a way. When we try to gain those instances of attention we shift focus away from God, and that is when the second issue comes up; if we are being faithful we want the focus to be on God, and not on ourselves. The issue then becomes how to ensure that we direct attention to God rather than ourselves.

Paul tells us that all have fallen short of the glory of God. Although this might seem to be an obvious statement, and one that we are all acutely aware of, it is also a fact that can help us draw attention to God. If we are conscious of the fact that we are not at the same level as God we cannot be boastful; if we know that everything we do is, in some way, because of Him we will draw others to him.

May we all be able to do so.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Romans 3:9-20

(cartoon courtesy of

it is written:‘There is no one who is righteous, not even one" (Romans 3:10)

Which of these is you? Which is me? Both? Neither?

If I am being honest with myself, I acknowledge that I often give myself credit for being "above the line"--that imaginary line that represents the mid-point of humanity's bell curve of goodness. My life doesn't overflow with good works, but I contribute in my quiet ways, steadily. My public behavior is ethical, respectable, honest. I respect the rights of others and I seek no pride of place.

My inner life is a very different story. Inside myself I hoard all the little pleasures and I resent anyone or anything who would deny them to me. Mostly I want my time, spaces set aside when I can choose to do what I want, and let no one dare disturb me from my agenda! Is that selfish? Is it wrong?
I need--we all need--an occasional, or frequent, maybe daily--reality check. I'm not where I need to be. Ok, no one is, but that doesn't make for an excuse. We're all in need, desperate need.
The answer to that need is Paul's next point. Thank God the story doesn't end here.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Romans 2:25-3:8

Some things never change. Like conflict within any organization, particularly a church. Anytime you put a bunch of imperfect human beings together in one place, someone will get upset over something. But I can't help thinking that those in the Episcopal Church today who are arguing over questions of authority should read today's epistle.

The early church reached out to Jews and Gentiles alike. This was a major shift in what Israel had been brought up believing. They were expecting a saviour who would liberate Israel and bring it back to its halcyon days. There was no mention of Gentiles. So, now there were Christian Jews who believed that the Jewish laws of the Old Testament must be obeyed while also believing that Christ was the Son of God. But, Gentiles did not obey the Jewish laws of the Old Testament. Christian Jews and Gentile Christians were at odds with this, making it difficult for the disciples to keep these early churches on the right path. Paul makes a great point as written in The Message: "It's not the cut of the knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It's the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin that makes a Jew." Couldn't the inverse be said about the Gentile Christian?

What makes us all equal is that we are all sinners - no one more or less than the other. We all go through the same door to salvation - the grace of Jesus. There are lots of ways for us to set ourselves apart from one another - it's human nature to want to be known for our good works. But, it doesn't matter which Bible you read, which Christian band you listen to, which Christian radio program you listen to or whether you are conservative or liberal. As it says in The Message: We are all in the same sinking boat.

This is not to say that you should not take a stand or do what you believe to be right or to go with the mob so as not to be different. Paul explains in these same passages that he is not saying there should be no Jews who follow the rituals of their past. What he is saying is that those rituals are not the point. The point is simple: we are all sinners, we are all equal, and the only way to everlasting life is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You can follow the rituals, just don't lose site of the point of it all.

So, next time I start judging a Christian brother or sister who is following a different path than me, I hope I remember today's reading.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Romans 2:12-24

Some religious people are in big trouble.

That seems to the message of today’s passage, especially verses 17-24. All too often, there is a big difference between the way we think of ourselves and the way we really are. We might think of ourselves as “Christian” when we are anything but. We might say we believe the Bible, but our lives proclaim otherwise. We might believe that our way of believing is the necessary corrective for everyone else, except that it hasn’t really corrected our own lives to begin with. No matter what we think or say or proclaim, when it comes right down to it, lots of religious people aren’t much different than anybody else.

I like how The Message translates this passage. Here is one section: I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God's revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you?

For all our talk of Jesus, in what specific ways is he leading us? What can you and I point to in our life today that we did just because it is what Jesus asks us to do, that we would not have done except for our faithfulness to him, that we would not even have been able to do except for his grace to us?

The point of this passage is that none of us gets life right, even religious folks. We all need God’s grace. We all need forgiveness. We all need Jesus.

But, knowing this, for those who have received God’s grace…those who have been forgiven…those who have asked Jesus to be our Lord and Savior… if there is one thing the New Testament makes abundantly clear in passages just like this one, it is that our lives better show it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Romans 1:28-2:11

I really like Paul's message in chapter 2 of today's reading. It strikes me as particularly pertinent to today and today's lifestyle. Come to think of it, it seems pertinent to every generation. I would call it a universal truth.

I can just image that when Paul's letter to the Roman church was read to the congregation there were many heads nodding up and down in agreement. In this letter Paul condemns idol worshipers, homosexual practices, and violent people. However, what I am sure surprised many of his listeners, and would surprise many of us today, is when he turned on them and said in effect, you have no reason to gloat or feel superior as you are just as much a sinner.

Paul stresses over and over again that no one is good enough to earn a place in heaven for himself or herself. If we want to avoid punishment and live eternally with Christ, all of us, whether we have been murders or thieves or whether we have been honest, hardworking, solid citizens, must depend on God's grace for our entry into heaven. Paul clearly is saying that any sin is enough to make us depend on Jesus Christ for salvation and eternal life. Thus, Paul is also saying that one cannot qualify one sin as worse than another. The unfortunate truth is we have all sinned repeatedly, and thus the way to the Father and heaven is through Jesus Christ.

When one realizes this fact, one realizes what an awesome gift Jesus gave each of us. One realizes what grace truly is. One realizes how lucky we are to have such a loving heavenly Father that would have His son pay the price for our sin. I hope this is inspirational to all of us and makes us want to live a life according to God's will and not our own. I know it inspires me, faults and all, to try to live the next day better than the last.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Romans 1:16-25

My favorite class last semester was my classical mythology class. It was a good class, with great content and a brilliant and witty professor who not only taught us about Greek and Roman society and legends, but also challenged us to think about God’s presence in the world around us.

Although Bible passages such as verse 20 call more immediately to mind the presence of God in nature, I believe it is important to look for God in other less obvious places as well. Nature is an incredibly significant way to see God’s glory, and I do not mean to lessen its worth; however, there are many other less noted ways to see God in the world around us. The ancient Greeks actually believed that the work of God (or the gods) could be seen more clearly in man-made creations than nature itself, since all of creation is made by God and thus, through man creating art (such as sculptures, paintings, or even structures such as the Parthenon) humanity was reenacting that creation impulse and utilizing the good gifts of wisdom and skill that God had given them.

Regardless of whether you hold this view or not, it is hard to look at works of art and not at times be moved by them. No matter the religious affiliation of the painter, God can still work and move in individual’s lives and aspects of God can be (however unwittingly) expressed in the play of colors and contrast, in the flowing lines of brushwork in a painting. God truly is everywhere, because He created us and thus we find it hard to express ourselves without also expressing our comprehension of Him.

My classical mythology teacher suggested to us that even though ancient Greeks were certainly not Christians, they nonetheless saw God’s presence in the world (and in nature) around them. This influenced not only their art but also their perceptions of the world, and thus they could not help but express some aspect of God in their myths, art, and ideas. This suggestion made a lot of sense to me; there has been many a time when I have gleaned truths from works that are otherwise pagan or simply nonsensical. God is present in the most unlikely of places, and it is our duty as Christians to look for him wherever we may find Him. May we keep our eyes open to see His presence, even if it is in places we are not accustomed to looking.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Romans 1:1-15

I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. What a statement to make! When I first read this I thought, of course Paul considers himself in debt to the Greeks and to the wise, this only makes sense, but this verse holds more than that. Paul, an apostle of Christ is claiming to be in debt to barbarians and the foolish as well, which makes one wonder what barbarians are, and who the foolish are.

When I think of barbarians I think of uncivilized people who only communicate through grunts and have no understanding of any complex concepts, it is something entirely wild, which makes me wonder what anyone can learn from someone so purely uncivilized. But then, what is civilization? Granted civilization is necessary; but at the same time there are also boundaries that exist in civilization that do not exist in the wild. When we are in civilization we are obliged to keep our emotions in check, we cannot express certain religious feeling, it is hard to just look around and see the beauty of a flower, and it is truly difficult to marvel at the stars. But in the wild the stars can be seen and flowers studied, and we can feel small and express that feeling.

So it is not hard to see how Paul could be in debt to the barbarians, because, despite initial reactions, they could, indeed, teach him something; but that still leaves the foolish. I know that when I want to learn something I go to those whom I consider to be wise; in college I try to find qualified professors, when I am researching I read things by experts in the field, but I do not go to people I consider foolish. But, when I was considering what makes someone foolish, one thing above all struck me as making someone foolish: unconditional belief in one thing or one person; and that, I believe is something that we could all learn to do a little bit better.

May we come to realize who we are indebted to.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Galatians 5:25-6:10

Sometimes we read something which makes brings to the surface an old, pleasant memory. Now that summer is here many of us return to see family in our hometowns. Last year I was in a class wherein one of our assignments was to draw the neighborhood we grew up in. As you can imagine, as we shared our stories, great memories came to the surface. When I remember the past it gives me a feeling of security; like I have a dock to stand on over a changing world of a sea. One of my earliest school memories is when I was in afternoon kindergarten, being so excited to see my older brother leaving school that I flew off my swing and ran to the schoolyard fence to talk to him. It’s that feeling of joy that I remember. Forty five years later my brother still waits for me whenever I need to talk to him.

In today’s reading Paul talks about something even more permanent than memory; the permanence of the life of the Spirit. He contrasts “sowing to the flesh,”(v.8) with sowing to the Spirit. It’s not hard to think of what sowing to the flesh is, it’s many of the things that occupy our lives. As we go about our day today, may we have the mindset that what we do can have eternal significance. Let us live close to the Spirit so that He may help us to plant something permanent, something that lasts for the kingdom.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Galatians 5:16-24

Today’s passage contrasts life in the Spirit and life in the flesh in very clear and practical ways. It does this by presenting us with a list of behaviors that flow from corrupt desires and then following these with another list consisting of the fruit of the Spirit.

It is a very simple passage, really, and it is this simplicity that drives its point unerringly home: we have to make a choice between the two.

One way to approach this passage might be to make two columns on a piece of paper. At the top of one write, “Works of the flesh”. At the top of the other write, “Fruit of the Spirit”. There are some obvious comparisons.

Is my life characterized by love (fruit of the Spirit) or by enmities, strife, and division (works of the flesh)?

Is my life filled with joy (fruit of the Spirit) or envy (works of the flesh)?

Do I find myself patient (fruit of the Spirit) or angry (works of the flesh)?

Are my relationships marked by peace (fruit of the Spirit) or do I find myself quarrelsome (works of the flesh)?

You get the idea. Next I might pick one and develop it more fully. For example, I might go with “is my life characterized by love or enmities, strife, and division?” What would it look like in my life if I did a better job loving? Do I believe the best of others? Do I have long term intimate relationships? How’s my marriage (if I’m married)? How are my relationships with my kids (if I have any?) Are there any people with whom I spend quality time on a regular basis? In what ways is my life transcending self interest?

Or, if I am honest, do I have trouble with relationships. Do I find that I don’t have any close friends? Do I write people off? Do I have a pattern of leaving or withdrawing from relationships? Do I criticize and complain frequently?

My guess is that if you take some time to reflect on this passage in an exercise like the above, you will hear the Spirit speaking loud and clear.

But will you? Will I? Really?

Because if we don’t, the flesh has spoken even louder. The flesh has won the day.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Galatians 5:1-15

This is an interesting reading today. In verse 1, Paul states that Christian freedom is the right and privilege of every believer. Paul indicates that Christ died to set us free from sin and from a long list of laws and regulations - Christ died to set us free from slavery to the law. Paul urges us not to return to the law - to gain salvation from following the law one would have to follow it perfectly (and of course this is impossible as we are all human and subject to human flaws).

In verses 2 through 12, as I see it, Paul states six negative consequences for those who return to the law for salvation. The first is it invalidates Christ's work on the cross, "Christ will have no value to you."

The second negative consequence is obligation. Once a person submits to one part of the law (e.g., circumcision), that person is, "obligated to obey the whole law."

Third, it removes a person from the sphere of grace. A person trying to obtain salvation by deeds can never be sure if he or she has done enough. The Christian is secure because of the faith he or she has in Christ.

Fourth, it hinders spiritual growth. For this point Paul uses two metaphors - a race and yeast in dough. Both indicating it is easy to be taken off course when one try's to earn salvation.

Fifth, it removes the "offense of the cross". Persecution proved that Paul was preaching the true gospel. If he had taught what false teachers were teaching no one would be offended. Jesus said do not be surprised if the world hates you because it hated Him. Just as Paul continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel, we should continue doing the ministry God has given us to do in spite of obstacles others may put in our way.

The sixth and final consequence of turning to the law is anger. Paul shows his anger in verse 12.

In the final three verses of today's reading, Paul distinguishes between freedom to sin and freedom to serve. Freedom, or license, to sin is no freedom at all because it bonds us to Satan. Christians should not be slaves to sin because we are free to do right and to glorify God through loving service to others.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Galations 4:21-31

Even though America is built on foundations of freedom and is constantly fighting on its behalf, it's interesting to consider how often we find people resisting this freedom and yearning for enslavement. At first this may seem like an odd concept, but we all do it; there are always times when time and creativity is running short, so we just wish someone else would take care of our responsibilities for us. Or perhaps when our time and creativity runs short we simple turn to others’ templates and prescribed rules and tasks, mindlessly completing what needs to be done over and over again. I fall prey to this trap often; oftentimes I feel tired and just wish I could live according to someone else’s rules, and wish that someone else would just tell me step-by-step what to do.

To some extent God does tell us step-by-step what to do: Do not lie. Do not murder. Do not steal. There are also times when His commandments seem to fall resoundingly short (Is stealing justified in any situation? What exactly constitutes as a lie, anyway?). We read that through Jesus, we are now no longer “children of the flesh” or “children of the slave”—we are now “children of the free woman”. So we are free ourselves, just by being in Christ. But what does this mean exactly? What is the nature of this strange freedom?

It is the freedom to act upon our own, to take our lives into our own hands. It is our willingness to take responsibility for our own actions. It is not easy to take the blame when something goes wrong, but sometimes we just happen to get the credit for something that goes right. It is hard to give up the comfort of rules and regulations, or the reassurances of a never changing schedule and routine. The fact is that we no longer need any of these empty reassurances, because God has borne in us something much greater—His love. It sounds simple, but it is the whole basis upon which we are free children. God’s love frees us to love others, and that is what Christianity is all about. It is not about rules or regimes, or always doing what is right every single day. It is about loving others, no matter what the cost or inconvenience. It is making time for others, and making certain to be with the needy and the lonely. It is about being free to give of ourselves to God’s children.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Galatians 4:12-20

There’s an image circulating around the internet in various forms right now that has become quite popular: an apparently homeless man sitting with a sign that says “keep your coins, I want change.” I know that whenever I see a person on the side of the rode with a sign I usually skim right over whatever it is the sign says, in my mind they are either homeless, or scamming people; regardless they are trying to take my money.

But this is exactly the type of attitude that Paul says the Galatians were able to overcome when he preached the gospel to them. He says that despite his personal appearance he was welcomed and the people turned towards God because they could recognize the fact that Paul was relaying Truth. In the same way as Paul’s’ appearance caused the Galatians to force themselves to look past the surface I would suggest that the aforementioned image is a modern-day exercise in the principle of actually paying attention to what another person is saying, and to assess it for truth.

I say that it is an exercise in paying attention to what another is saying because appearances may be anything. For some appearances might be physical, for others appearances might be political parties, income, or even choice of friends. In today’s age when people have so many different non-tangible aspects to their identity I feel it is especially important to “look” beyond appearances and address the person, not the image; and one of these ways is through the church.

Church is, ideally, a time for many to look beyond the differences of the people surrounding them, but so often we either stop doing so as soon as we get to the pavement of the parking lot, or those we associate with church become further insulation against truly seeing the message others from without our usual circles might bring to us. But church does not have to be such a place, church can teach us the Truth to look for when we talk to others, it can teach us how to treat those who are not showing Truth in their statements or actions; if we listen to those around us and if we absorb the Word presented to us we can begin to see the Truth God has put around us, regardless of how it may appear.

May we see His Truth in a place we would not normally look.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Galatians 3:23-4:11

"I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted."

What a disheartening phrase! I hope that Paul's complaint regarding the Galatians is just his human side showing. Surely he cannot believe that, deep down, his work in the name of Jesus among the people of Galatia was all for nought!

But then how often has this thought crossed our mind (and my mind)?

Way back at the turn of the Millennium, I worked for a startup company for four-and-a-half years, and in the spring of 2001, the company filed bankruptcy and laid off the vast majority of the 6,000 employees (including me). Oh, how my work there seemed wasted--but connections I made there and things that I learned prepared me to take on the work I do today. (Not that I don't continue to wonder at times about the abiding worth of the technology business).

In like manner we may see things going on in our country that waste our legacy, waste our resources--in all likelihood we should mourn the waste, but from it can we not find an opportunity to turn a corner?

In our church we have seen conflict, and we have seen the investment of our shared life and love tarry in yielding fruit. Oh, let us not be discouraged now!

Tomorrow a dear friend of mine will embark on a journey of hope, flying across the country to be reunited with an absconded spouse who betrayed trust in many ways but now seeks forgiveness and reconciliation. May that journey not be the latest vain expenditure of resources trying to revive something that began in genuine faith.

Lord, help us to see where you were working through us all the time that we labored, if indeed we were working faithfully in you. Help bring our work to visible fruition. Let us not be discouraged or downfallen on any account. Restore us to your fullness of joy.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Galatians 3:15-22

Sometimes, it is easier to live by rules. Sometimes, it's easier to have a road map of exactly how to get from point a to point b. Wouldn't it be nice to have a specific list of tasks setting out exactly how to get to heaven? Well, in the Old Testament, the Israelites were given many many rules. They failed miserably at following them. They thought they wanted the ultimate prize, but (a) I'm not sure they could all agree on what that prize was (God's favor, perhaps? or maybe wealth and a good life?), and (b) they obviously didn't want it badly enough to follow those rules.

Today's reading talks about the Old Testament rules that had been drilled into the minds of the Jews. Paul is making a distinction between the rules of the Old Testament and the new promise of the New Testament. Remember, God made a covenant with Abraham in Exodus: If Israel obeyed God fully, they would be His chosen people. Throughout the Old Testament, God gives the Israelites chance after chance to make good on this bargain. But, they still failed. As Paul says in today's reading, the whole world is a prisoner to sin.

So, God sent Jesus. Jesus is the new covenant. But, this time, instead of a set of laws and rules, God made it very simple: You can come to God through faith in Christ. Paul is quick to point out that this new covenant does not throw out the old promises made to Abraham. You still must obey God, but now, He has made it much simpler to do so - just believe that Christ died for your sins.

I find that having faith is the easy part. It's living that faith that is hard. You can ask me all day long if I believe that Christ died for my sins and that by believing in Christ I have everlasting life and I will say "Yes". But, how can I truly believe that if, after making such a declaration, I turn around and gossip about a co-worker, or drive like a maniac, or yell at my kids? We must connect our words with our hearts and that's where a road map would be nice. Sure, some of it is pretty obvious, like don't commit murder. But, typically, everyday life isn't that simple to discern.

So, when you find yourself trying to figure out if you are saying you're a Christian or if you truly are a Christian, remember today's reading. God's promise is ours if we have faith.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Galatians 3:1-14

Sometimes I use words that are a little stronger than they need to be. I’m not talking about cursing, but about phrasing things in a way that perhaps overstates my case, that doesn’t leave room for nuance. Generally, I suppose, I do this to discourage discussion and get my own way.

Most the time it doesn’t work. People push back, and I’m glad they do. I rethink not just my words, but often my position and my reasons for pushing it. I feel bad for my impulsiveness, and wish graciousness and humility came more naturally to me. Is that strength or a weakness?

I pose the question because the apostle Paul also uses strong words. I love how The Message translates Galatians 3:1: You crazy Galatians! Did someone put a hex on you? Have you taken leave of your senses?

Even I don’t go that far! Paul goes on to say, Something crazy has happened, for it's obvious that you no longer have the crucified Jesus in clear focus in your lives. And I have to wonder: how clearly are we focused on the crucified Jesus in our lives? How much of our lives rotate around him? How much of our thoughts, our time, our energy, our resources, are used in his service?

My guess is that there is lots of room for improvement. My guess is that Paul might say something very similar to us. Maybe it isn’t working our way to heaven that has bewitched us, but the comfort and complacency of suburbia, all the advantages and activities that are so much a part of our lives here in northern Virginia, the sense of entitlement of our day, the normalcy of having so much and still wanting more.

But I probably won’t ever tell anybody they have been bewitched. I’ll leave that to Paul, who refuses to back down. If anything, he just drives his point all the harder, referring to those who have lost their focus on Christ as “cursed”. Wow.

There is an important word here, but one that I’m often too timid to speak. Thank God Paul is not.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Galatians 2:11-21

In many of his letters, if not all of them, Paul writes about the basis of salvation. Today's passage is no exception. I feel we can learn from Paul's message as well as how he delivered it.

Let me start with how Paul deliverers his message. Paul confronts Peter in public - in front of everyone. Among other things, I feel Paul is telling us that when we have an issue with someone, we should confront it head on. We should not talk behind that person's back, we should not write letters to the editor of a newspaper, we should not criticize that person to others. We need to be forthright with the person with which we have an issue and discuss it with him/her in a love filled manner. Paul is telling us this is the best way to handle such an issue.

Now, let's discuss Paul's message of salvation. The question Paul poses is, does salvation come from Christ and adherence to the law as laid out in the Old Testament, or does salvation come solely from Christ? Of course God has given us a way to salvation and that way is through Jesus Christ. So, then, why should anyone obey the law? I mean what is the point? - if salvation is gained through belief in Jesus Christ, then one can sin as much as one wants to and still be forgiven and saved. Right? Paul answers this by a resounding "No"!

Salvation, given freely by God through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, leads to freedom from sin's slavery not a license to sin. Paul teaches us about the transformation that occurs in believers. Christian life begins when we accept Jesus as our savior. As Christian life develops, we let our own will die and follow God's will. In other words, faith in Jesus demands lifestyle and behavioral changes. When we truly surrender to God's will our lives are transformed. The gift of grace does not abolish the law - it transforms it from an external standard that is impossible to meet to an inner motivation for living a good, pure, God-honoring life.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Galatians 1:18-2:10

Oftentimes after work I go to the gym to work out, and usually I listen to music while I’m exercising to keep my mind off of how much I actually loathe working out and how badly I never ever want to go to the gym again. However, yesterday I couldn’t find my mp3 player and thus found myself idly watching the TV while I ran on the treadmill. I caught the last few minutes of “Dr. Phil”, and interestingly the reading from today reminds me of my brief glimpse of the show. At the end of the program a troubled woman proclaimed that she felt that she had gotten nothing out of the entire program and had found the entire thing useless.

It’s so frighteningly easy to become so embroiled in a situation that it becomes nigh impossible to see it clearly. This is true for ugly cases like arguments and fights, for disagreements and bitter grudges, but the same holds true for sincere attempts at charity and heartfelt desires to do God’s will in the world. Sometimes we get so tightly wound up in ourselves that we forget about the people we’re helping… or hurting. Sometimes we become so blinded by our own failings or achievements that we cannot clearly see anyone else’s. Sometimes we are so convinced of our own rightness that we cannot clearly see the path ahead, and sometimes this conviction binds us fighting tooth and nail to the path we have chosen, no matter how perilous or winding it may be. Of course sometime we are right, and sometimes the path is a good one that leads to godly and great things. However, it is all too often that selfhood creeps innocuously into our blood, that our perceptions are altered, our biases expressed, and crucial matters are overlooked. It is for this reason that no matter what we undertake, may it be a project for work or service, a mission trip, or even a simple disagreement, an outside opinion always helps to put us back into perspective. A learned, outside opinion can help us know what we are doing wrong and what we are doing right.

When the woman on TV voiced her doubt, Dr. Phil agreed with her that right now, she was getting nothing out of the program. He then told her to rewatch the show at least five times, until she felt that she was watching it all from an outsider’s view—then, and only then could she pick up on the things that others could see so clearly that she just simply could not understand at the present moment. As cheesy and ridiculous as Dr. Phil can be, there is some truth in this.

In Galatians 2:2 we find Paul consulting the church leaders to see if his work is being done “in vain”—if he is mistaken in his interpretation of God’s word. The church leaders affirm Paul’s convictions, giving him the strength of their encouragements and blessings. However, even someone as close to Paul needed an outside source to look at his work and tell him if it was good and righteous; he turned to godly men to evaluate him honestly and truthfully, because he knew he himself was too involved to do any such thing. No matter how sure we are of our own rightness and godliness, it is never a mistake to turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and especially to God Himself, for an honest second opinion.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Galatians 1:1-17

Who am I trying to please? For such a seemingly simple question the answer to it holds immense implications. Paul says that if he were still pleasing people he would not be serving Christ. At first this statement confused me, surely one can make decisions that are designed to please both other people and God, indeed, I can think of quite a few. But these are not the situations to which Paul is referring; what Paul is saying is that, when it comes down to it, making decisions that are in accord with Christ’s teachings is one of the marks of a true follower of Christ.

I know that I should probably ask myself this question more often because I am, naturally, a person who tries to please others and this can sometimes lead to messy situations. In my senior year of high school our choir teacher decided that she was unable to put on a musical, I responded, in what I now see as a rash way, by writing an editorial that was quite rude; in my mind my cause was a righteous one, I was in the right, the choir teacher in the wrong, but my actions proved quite hurtful. I was not practicing Christian love through my actions, in fact, reflecting on it, I realize that this impaired my ability live as a light for Christ; I aimed purely to please others with no regard for what the Christian thing to do was.

Acting to please God, though, does not guarantee that choices will be painless; many times convictions go against popular sentiment, but this does not mean they should be abandoned. Recently my parents asked me to live with different people when I return to college next year. They risked a lot to ask me to live somewhere else — that request could have pushed me away, and it did upset me, but they did it because they decided to serve God above all else, they trusted that He would provide a better living situation than the one I had arranged. Now I have a new place to live next year, and this situation has provided an opportunity for dialogue that has strengthened my relationship with my parents.

May we have the courage to ask who we aim our actions to please, and trust Him to take care of the rest.