Friday, March 28, 2014

Galatians 6:6 Do pastors need a union?

Paul has given the Galatians admonitions, corrections, training, and encouragement. In this next verse, he is especially practical!

Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. (Galatians 6:6)

Now, as a teacher, I’ll try to leave my own bias out of this, but please forgive me if my “Norma Rae” voice speaks too loudly here! :) I’m going to just attempt to approach this based on the scriptures and not my own thoughts - but even Paul sometimes had to admit he was giving his own counsel in his letters! Since I’m currently reading through the Bible for 2014 (and have successfully made it through Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, all the way to 1 Samuel so far, thank you LORD), I’m recently familiar with God’s direction on how those who minister in His name should be remunerated.

The LORD clearly set out in the Old Testament that those serving in ministry were to be supported by the congregation. They were to be completely devoted to the LORD’s service, and so needed to receive provision from God’s people. The same theme holds true in the New Testament in Paul’s letters, when he speaks to the need to financially support preachers and teachers:

Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” And in another place, “Those who work deserve their pay!” (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

And Jesus told his disciples, as he sent them out to ministry, to receive what they earned:

“Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say, ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’  If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you.  Don’t move around from home to home. Stay in one place, eating and drinking what they provide. Don’t hesitate to accept hospitality, because those who work deserve their pay. (Luke 10:5-7)

Does this mean the preacher should have his own mansion, and a private jet? Should he live like a televangelist???? Probably not, since Jesus did not have a home. But should he be able to live in the community in which he serves without his wife taking on a job, too? I think so! When I think about the burden placed on the shoulders of a pastor for his congregation, and the fact that he works tirelessly beyond office hours to study, prepare sermons, visit and pray for his sheep, counsel others, oversee staff and programs, deliver the gospel, and be constantly critiqued, they must be dreadfully underpaid! I’m thinking they could use a union! :)

The very least we can do is to pray for, encourage, and financially support those entrusted with our spiritual care. I had a pastor once who said, “If you want a new pastor, pray for the one you’ve got!” I have never forgotten that, because we live in a world of church hoppers, who want to go where their “needs are met” rather than commit themselves to a body and a pastor.

When you finish reading this, pray for your pastor, and send him an email of thanks and encouragement! I’m sure he could use it!  

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Prayers would be appreciated, please! March 25, 2014

Some of you received an email with this request last night, but I wanted to throw this out there to as many as possible, so I’m requesting some prayer. Yesterday we learned that my sister, Jodi, who was diagnosed with multiple myeloma three years ago, has been told she has 4-12 weeks left. That was quite a blow, even though we knew her time was limited as this bone cancer is incurable. She has almost no red blood cells and her chemo treatment is no longer working. She is very weak. Thankfully, my sister, Susie, is visiting her from Florida right now, and was with her when she received this news. I already have my plane ticket for a planned visit during my spring break, April 8-12. That’s two weeks from today... it can’t get here soon enough!

I know my God is a miracle-working God, so I’m asking for one for Jodi. But I also know that He is sovereign, and His plan is better than any I might conceive, so I am trusting Him. Please pray for His will, that He would be glorified through Jodi, that all of us who love her would be good comforters, and ourselves be comforted. Pray that she would be strengthened as she will be getting lots of company in the next few weeks (children and grandchildren descending on Denver from all over the country). 

Pray that God would give us His Words for her and withhold any that aren’t from Him.

Many thanks to all of you who don’t know her but will pray for her anyway just because you love Jesus! I love you all!  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Galatians 6:4-5 Don't look to the left or to the right!

Why is it that we insist on comparing ourselves to others? This is such a futile thing to do! Either we compare favorably and become proud and judgmental, or we compare poorly and feel defeated. Either way we lose! I used to hope, before becoming a Christian, that God would grade on a curve. I wasn’t as good as some, but I wasn’t as bad as most, I thought. So, surely God would accept me into Heaven. I did not realize that the standard was not others, but Christ! The standard was perfection, and I more than missed the mark!

This tendency to compare ourselves to those around us is deadly and straight from Satan, because it sidetracks us and it kills our joy! It gives us a false sense of superiority or leads us into depression. That’s why Jesus soundly rebuked Peter when, after hearing from Jesus that he would die at the hands of others for his faith, Peter wanted to know what would happen to John:

Peter asked Jesus, “What about him, Lord?” 

Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? As for you, follow me.” (John 21:21-22)

Jesus was telling Peter to mind his own business and keep his eyes on Jesus, not on the other apostles. Don’t covet the ministry or gifts of others. Don’t whine because you seem to have it so hard while others seem to be floating through life. God has a specific plan for you. Keep following Him!

Paul says the same thing in today’s verses from Galatians 6:

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else.  For we are each responsible for our own conduct. (Galatians 6:4-5)

Eugene Peterson has an interesting paraphrase of these verses in his book, The Message:

Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that. Don’t be impressed with yourself. Don’t compare yourself with others. Each of you must take responsibility for doing the creative best you can with your own life. (vs.4-5, The Message)

So, if you find yourself grumbling about how hard you are working for the LORD, when no one else seems to be stepping forward, or if you complain because you work much harder than your coworkers, in the words of Archie Bunker, “Stifle it!”

Make sure you are doing what God has called you to do, then trust Him to equip you for the job. He will give you the strength and the direction to complete whatever work He has given you. Get your satisfaction from knowing you have been obedient. Don’t concern yourself with what your neighbors or coworkers are doing. God will take care of each one of us. You aren’t responsible for the obedience of anyone else - just your own. True joy is the by-product of obedience!  

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Galatians 6:2-3 You’re not all that!

I love social media. I love the instant connectedness we can have with family and friends all over the world. I love that an army of believers can be mobilized to reach out to help or encourage another within a matter of minutes through Facebook or Instagram. I look forward daily to posts with pics of my grandchildren on IG (it’s the only reason I jumped in there. If you follow me on IG you will be waiting for an eternity to get a post).

But there are so many down sides to this instant communication, we need to tread carefully through it! One of the new words to come from this technology is the word “selfie.” Ye gads! The ability to take our own photos and send them out there for all to “enjoy,” has created a boom in narcissism!

Everyone wants his moment of glory online, whether through FB or YouTube. We are certain that everyone wants to or needs to know about our status. Even our President got into some PR trouble when capturing a selfie a few months ago! And Ellen De Generes made history at the Academy Awards with her selfie of the stars, who needed not one more bit of exposure! Our fascination with celebrities has fed this hunger to be known. We think we are all that! Well, Paul clearly points out in today’s verses that we are not all that as he continues to exhort the Galatians to walk in the Spirit.

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.  If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. (Galatians 6:2-3)

Remember that this is in the context of helping those who have fallen to come back to a right relationship with God. Followers of Christ should be known for sharing their burdens with one another, for helping each other make our way through life. Not only does this mean we need to come along side of someone and help carry his burden, but we need to, in humility, allow others to help us carry ours.

If we are in the midst of a trial, we should be letting go of pride and allow brothers and sisters in Christ to support us. Whether this would be in sharing a prayer request, or actually asking for some real help, we deny ourselves the blessing of encouragement from God when we withdraw into our own private misery. Paul’s point here is that we need to be ready to humbly give and humbly receive. Because we are not so important that we can afford to put up walls of pride. And we are certainly not too important to help the “least of these” as Jesus clearly calls us to do! (Matthew 25:40)

Is there someone in your sphere who needs a lift with her burden? Look for opportunities to encourage someone God puts in your path today. Are you in need of a helping hand or encouraging word? Don’t be afraid to ask God’s people to help you through prayer or in some tangible way. You would be allowing that person the blessing of serving Christ through serving you! It’s all part of walking in the Spirit!  

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Galatians 6:1 Be gentle!

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1 ESV)

The skill of gently restoring a brother or sister in the LORD is not frequently practiced. Either people hammer the sinner over the head with judgment, or they wimp out completely and act as if nothing is wrong, fearing the accusation of being judgmental. Paul exhorts the Galatians here to gently restore someone caught in sin, because the goal is repentance and restoration with God. Don’t ignore the sin, but don’t thump the brother over the head with your Bible! Restoration needs to be done with an attitude of humility, because we are all one step away from falling into temptation ourselves.

More than thirty years ago I heard the late Chuck Smith speak on this verse at Calvary Chapel. He talked of having a very close friend who was married to a beautiful woman, had four amazing children, and lived in a lovely home in Newport Beach. The man was a salesman for a large food distributor and made the rounds of several Orange County markets, including a small “mom and pop” grocery store in Santa Ana. Over the years of visiting this couple, he developed a strong friendship with the wife, who always had a cup of coffee for him. This friendship became something stronger, and eventually Chuck’s friend left his wife and children and moved in with this woman. The man’s wife called Chuck in tears and asked him to speak to her husband, who refused to listen to their pastor or anyone else.

So Chuck made the trip to this man’s new place - an apartment above a garage in Santa Ana. When the woman opened the door, Chuck said, “She was nothing to look at, and certainly did not compare to his wife.” He described the tiny, dingy apartment. He sat on the couch to talk with his friend, but was overcome by sorrow at what this man had done, how he had chosen to end up there, leaving behind all that he did. And Chuck began to cry. He remembered that he just sat there crying and could not bring himself to speak, so he finally just got up and left. That night the man’s wife called and asked Chuck what he had said to her husband, because he had returned home.

Apparently, this man did not need a stern lecture from a self-righteous pastor, he needed to see the authentic grieving done over his sin. He needed to see the heart of God, not the judgment of man. I have never forgotten this. Chuck did not ignore the sin, he grieved over it! He “gently restored” his friend.

What is our attitude when we see a brother or sister fallen? Do we join the group of those who pick up stones to throw? Do we spread the news to others - maybe in the form of a prayer request? “Please pray for Jenny! She is having an affair and is thinking of leaving Ben!” Or do we grieve with the heart of God and seek to gently restore?

Paul has made it clear in this letter how to admonish those who have fallen away. He has actually modeled restoration with this Galatian church. He has not minced words when it comes to pointing out the danger of legalism. He has spoken directly to the problem. But he has maintained an attitude of humility, and his hurt and great desire to restore them to the freedom they had in Christ is apparent throughout. May we, too, learn the art of restoration!  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Galatians 5:16-25 Fruit in abundance! March 14, 2014

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.  But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. 

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:16-21)

Our tendency, when we read a list of sins like these, is to look at the first half of the list - the really BIG sins (at least in our minds), and say, “I’m so thankful that none of these apply to me!” Really? Well, good for us! But take a look at that second half. Hmmm... not feeling so good about ourselves now, are we? Paul, in his letter to the Corinthians, made a similar list and ended it with the assurance that we all, before our faith in Christ, fell somewhere on that list. But he ends his statement with the good news:

Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

We have been made clean and holy, and now have the choice to put our will to following the leading of the Holy Spirit, who lives in us and who empowers us to do His will. Instead of being slaves to that awful list, we now have the fruit of the Spirit available to us:

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! (Galatians 5:22-23)

Notice that it is the Holy Spirit who produces this fruit in our hearts. We cannot manufacture these traits in our own efforts. In fact, look at the order of that list. It begins with love and ENDS with self-control. Not long ago, I read a devotional that pointed out that ALL other religions begin with self-control: stop doing such and such, become a better person, improve your behavior, do good things, meditate, etc. to get closer to God. But Christianity says that is backwards: It all begins with love. God’s love. He loved us, then we love Him, and then we love others as His love is worked through our hearts. And the fruit continues to grow supernaturally!

According to Jesus, the whole reason we were chosen was to bear fruit, which is primarily love:

You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:16-17)

Agreeing that love is the primary fruit, Jon Courson writes, “When Paul said that the fruit of the Spirit is love, the implication is that joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control all describe what love is.” Fruit doesn’t exist for itself. It exists for others. Too often we want the fruit of the Spirit so we can be satisfied, so we can be happy, so we can be fulfilled. But that’s not the purpose of fruit. . . Truly the secret of life is fruit-bearing - not for our own satisfaction, but in order that others might be nourished from the fruit produced in, through, an often, in spite of us! Focus on yourself, and you’ll be miserable. Be a lover of God and of people. Get you eyes off your problems and pains, your tears and fears. Look for ways to refresh, satisfy, and bless others - and you’ll find the secret of life itself.” (Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary: New Testament, P.1209)

As Rick Warren says in his book, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about you!” We will know we are walking in the Spirit when our focus shifts from ourselves to those around us - when we are reaching out in love. And that only happens when we, by an act of our will, determine to deny ourselves and follow the Spirit’s leading.

LORD, help me to get my focus off of my own issues, my will, my plans, my pain. Help me to be in line with your will, your plan for the world. I want to bear fruit that not only nourishes others, but that brings you glory. Amen.  

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Galatians 5:13-15 Called to freedom and LOVE!

Are you running ragged because you are carrying a bunch of religious baggage behind you? Is your joy practically depleted? Are you always feeling like you just can’t make it as a Christian? Well, Paul has shown us that the burdens we place on ourselves, or that others place on us need to go! How can we be running in joy, if we are constantly pulled down by the demands of and the guilt over what we haven’t done? Paul pleads with the Galatians and us to live free from these kinds of burdens:

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.  For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. (Galatians 5:13-15 NLT)

Yes, we have been given freedom - but not license. How we walk is more important than our talk. We are to be light in the darkness. People should see Jesus in us. So, our number one priority is to display love. Jesus commanded it. In fact, in John 14:15, 21, and 23, He tied it to obedience, which He said was the mark of a true believer. Then He reiterated the command in John 15:

“I have loved you even as the Father has loved me. Remain in my love.  When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!  This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you.  There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command. . . I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name.  This is my command: Love each other. (John 15:9-14,17 NLT)

Obedience and good works must flow from love - love of God and love for one another. I have no problem loving God - it’s the “one another” that trips me! Yet, He says my love for Him should prompt my love for the “one anothers” in my life. In fact, if I’m not loving others, I can’t say I’m loving God! Here’s the dilemma! I know you probably struggle with this, too, since Christians are known for “devouring their own?”

Have you experienced that some of the most difficult people in your life are professing Christians? Would anyone call you or me the “difficult” person? I know I can answer a resounding “Yes!” to that one. It’s because my heart is filled with self-interest and pride that are at war with my desire to please God. Laying down my life for another seems like a stretch. You mean I need to die? Yep! I need to set aside MY desires, MY agenda, and put the needs of the “one anothers” first. Hard? On my own it would be impossible!

I’m so grateful that Paul was so transparent about his own struggles with this:

I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.  I love God’s law with all my heart.  But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me.  Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?  Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. (Roman 7:21-25 NLT)

The only answer to this problem is Jesus Christ living in me. Because the Holy Spirit dwells in me, I have access to the same power over sin that raised Christ from the dead. How do we practically live out our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit? Well, the balance of Paul’s letter addresses that. Next time we will see what walking in the Spirit looks like.  

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Galatians 5:7-12 Running the race unhindered

You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth?  It certainly isn’t God, for he is the one who called you to freedom.  This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough!  I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you. 

Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended.  I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. (Galatians 5:7-12 NLT)

Paul loved using the analogy of the Christian life being a race. He strove to run it well to the end in order to win the prize. He’s upset that the Galatians have been hindered in their race by those who wanted them to return to Jewish traditions. Apparently some were saying that Paul agreed with the need to circumcise, but he makes a flat out denial here. I find it rather funny that Paul wishes that the Judaizers, who wish to perform surgery on the Galatians, would instead just cut off their own parts! Don’t you love Paul?

This reminds me of the kind of criticism and division Paul found in the Corinthian church where they were divided over who was the best preacher of the gospel:

Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not!  I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius,  for now no one can say they were baptized in my name.  (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.)  For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power. ( 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 NLT)

Even baptism is separated from the gospel here. Paul clearly states he wasn’t sent to baptize. And he can only list a few names of those he did baptize. Does this mean that we shouldn’t be baptized? No. Baptism is an act of obedience to the model Jesus provided. It is a public declaration of our faith in Christ. It is a symbolic expression of the fact that we have died to self and have been raised in Christ. But does it save us? If it did wouldn’t Paul have proclaimed it in his preaching? He’s saying the power of his gospel was in the death of Christ on the cross - what Jesus did - not in the keeping of rituals. 

Now is this an issue that Christians should split over? No. Yet it has caused huge divisions in the Body of Christ. Our unity comes with our connection to our Savior and His finished work on the cross. It’s what He prayed for in His final hour (John 17). Jesus, who He is and what He has done, is the foundation of our faith, regardless of our denominational practices. But it’s this kind of arguing over rituals and religious traditions that we keep that is the essence of the Judaizer. We have been called to freedom, not to bondage.

So, then how do we live out this faith in a way that honors God and impacts the world around us for Christ? That will be the final focus of Paul’s letter. I can’t wait to get into the next passages! Join me!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Galatians 5 A field trip to Graceland . . .

We have been immersed in Paul’s plea to the Galatians to remain strong in their reliance on God’s grace as opposed to falling back into legalism. In my Bible reading this week, I came across Psalm 40 and was struck by the fact that if anyone knew grace it was that Old Testament adulterer and murderer, David! So, I thought we’d take a detour to see the heart of love that comes from truly experiencing grace and forgiveness. Read what he says about what pleases God, and note the passion that stems from his devotion to the God who extended to him amazing grace:

Oh, the joys of those who trust the Lord,

    who have no confidence in the proud

    or in those who worship idols.  
O Lord my God, you have performed many wonders for us.

    Your plans for us are too numerous to list.

    You have no equal.

If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds,

    I would never come to the end of them.  
You take no delight in sacrifices or offerings.

    Now that you have made me listen, I finally understand—

    you don’t require burnt offerings or sin offerings. 
Then I said, “Look, I have come.

    As is written about me in the Scriptures: 
I take joy in doing your will, my God,
   for your instructions are written on my heart.”  (Psalm 40:4-8)

God does not get excited about ritual and religious rules. He gets excited about hearts that respond to His love. When we have received the mercy of God, and truly understand the depth of His grace, the natural response is joy in doing His will! We WANT to obey Him. We want to tell others about Him. We can’t wait to be in His presence and with His people.

Think of how you feel about your children. Yes, you are pleased when they make their beds and clean their rooms when you ask them. But what THRILLS your heart is when they run into your arms or cuddle up on the couch with you, or call or text you in the middle of their days, or before they go to bed (love my grandson Beau for his precious nighttime texts)! These responses are based on the loving relationship you share. It isn’t what they DO so much as what is in their hearts that pleases you. It’s all about a heart set free by love and grace.

Paul reiterated this theme of maintaining our freedom in Christ when he addressed issues plaguing the church at Colosse. It’s not about watching what we eat or drink or observing particular religious days. 

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.  For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.  Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud,  and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. 

You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as,  “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”?  Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them.  These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. (Colossians 2:16-23 NLT)

So rules and rituals have no power to save us from our sinful nature. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we can live out what Christ has worked into our hearts. Even David understood this! In fact, David, who was called “a man after God’s own heart,” shows throughout his Psalms the passion and devotion and authenticity of a true love relationship with God. A religion has no ability to create this kind of intimacy with God. It is a work of God’s grace to us from beginning to end. How amazing that He desires a relationship with us!