Monday, September 21, 2020

Children of God

A preacher met an old man in a restaurant.  It was a normal kind of meeting since preachers like to eat and talk.  The two men struck up a conversation and they talked awhile.  On into the discussion the old man asked, "What do you do?"  "I'm a Christian minister," the pastor replied.  The old man said, "I owe a lot to a man of that profession."  

When the old man was a kid he had been born out of wedlock and his father had run away before he was born.  As he grew up he had learned to hate one question, "Who is your father?," since he didn't know the answer.  The bitterness in his heart, the anger in his mind and the emptiness in his soul had sparked quite a few fights and arguments as he grew older.  "Whose child are you?" became a reason to hate, fight and distance himself from other people.  His mother was a church goer and he endured the usual church life in the south.  One day the church got a new pastor and he prepared for the inevitable.  Sure enough, as he tried to leave the church before the pastor could get to the back door, he felt that hand on his little head and the preacher asked, "Who is your father?"  Then, after a pause that seemed eons, the insightful preacher said, "I know whose child you are!  You are a child of God!  I see a striking resemblance!"  That little boy's life was changed that day, and he went on to be elected twice as Governor of Tennessee."  It was all because he finally realized whose child he was!

Paul spoke truth to the Galatians who had been told they could not become children of God's promise unless they followed the customs and law of the Jews.  Paul writes, "So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26-27)."  Paul is saying, "I know whose child you are. You are children of God."

September is recovery month.  Really, each month and each day is recovery time, because recovery is something that is constant and ever-present.  This week we will be blessed by a cardboard testimony from our Celebrate Recovery brothers and sisters.  There won't be lots of speaking, but there WILL be lots of substance.  You will meet people who have spent much of their life being told they are misfits, defective, ne're-do-wells and flawed.  There are two errors in this thought process.  First, these folks are not the outliers ... they are the norm.  I have yet to meet anyone who doesn't have a hurt, habit or hang-up they need to face and (with God's grace) correct.  Second, all of these people are children of the Living God!  For "in Christ we are all children of God through faith ... there is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female" and we could add black or white, liberal or conservative ... you get the point!  We are all God's kids ... so let's all go and claim our eternal inheritance, and stop arguing about whose inheritance is bigger, better or more valid.  Let's keep to remembering our Father loves all of His children, and let God sort out the things above our pay grade.  Randy

Monday, September 14, 2020

Dead or Alive?

In Galatians 2, Paul makes a bold statement about law and grace and life and death.  Paul's concern is simple.  If the law (the Torah and the Talmud) could save anyone, there was no reason for Jesus to die.  His message to the Galatians is ... "if you keep returning to the law, seeking to meet its requirements, you will be condemned by the law."  Paul says, "I died to the law!" (v. 19b).  "So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.  I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless." (v. 20-21)

Three issues here.  First, are you just existing, dead in the law?  Let's all be honest.  If we are living under the law of Moses and the Talmud (legal requirements) of the Jews, we are all guilty and worthy of the justice of death.  I hear people say, "I'm an Old Testament Christian!"  Sadly, there is no such thing, for Jesus said "I have come to fulfill the law (He took our sins upon the cross)."  He said, "I give you a New Covenant by water and the Spirit."  Jesus brings life abundant.  Jesus brings us newness of life.  We are full-Bible Christians who should learn to see the pre-Jesus Bible as preparation for the life, death, resurrection, newness and return of Christ.  Our part of this story is to die to the law, ourselves and our sin, so that we may do what Paul preaches ... "live for God" (v:19).

Second, is Christ alive in you?  Galatians, Chapter 2 is about how Christ lives through us.  Lately I have heard people (I think as an excuse for their nastiness) say things like, "Jesus didn't come so we would be good ... He came to save us."  While, on the surface, this is true, Paul reminds us that we carry in us (in our brokenness) a treasure placed there by Jesus (2 Cor. 4:7).  While Jesus didn't save me because I was good or to become a good person who keeps the law, I rather think Jesus living in me should produce goodness (one of the fruits of the Spirit).  Paul's rant about Peter in Galatians Chapter 2 reminds us that if God lives in us, if Christ dwells in us then we express the life of Christ to the world.  My challenge to those who try to defend nasty attitudes by claiming Jesus didn't "save them to be good," is this ... defend that position when Jesus prayed for unity in His last prayer ... defend that position when Paul (Gal. 5) describes the fruit borne of Christ-filled, Spirit-filled people as goodness, kindness, love, joy, peace, faithfulness, patience and self-control ... defend that position when 1 John 2:7 given us the new commandment to love one another ... defend that position when Jesus said, "I am giving you a new commandment ... to love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).  Please do not delude yourself or those you claim to lead by this false and dangerous teaching!

Lastly, realize we (Christians) represent our leader, Jesus.  When I was confronted by 4 thugs, one with a visible gun in his pocket, and he asked me who was the leader of our church, I answered, "I am the preacher but our leader is Jesus."  He considered this and asked me about coming to service.  When I made this same statement to a friend recently, he looked at me like I had 2 heads.  Martin Luther King rightly preached that negativity breeds negativity and darkness breeds more darkness.  We have enough of that stuff going on around us.  1 Thessalonians 5:5 reminds us "You are the children of the light.  We are not of the night but are of the day."  So ... my charge to you ... my prayer to God ... my "telling the truth in love" is this.  If you are alive in Christ, and Christ, as with Paul, lives in you (v:20), then represent ... re-present the Jesus who saved you, who loves you and who wants you to do good in the world because He has chosen you and you have chosen Him.  That's all, my fellow children of light!  Randy

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Liberty of Grace

Galatians is a book about 1) Paul's authority to preach, 2) the insidiousness of false gospel teachings and 3) grace.  Paul says stay away from false gospels and false teachers, follow those whose teaching flows from Jesus and honors God and focus on grace as a foundation for life.  One of my friends loved to say that justice is getting what we deserve, mercy is not getting what we deserve and grace is getting something wonderful we, in no way, deserve.  I like that.  So today let's talk about grace and the things that oppose grace.

Paul says legalism ignores grace.  Legalism led Paul to react to Christianity by putting down this Christ-centered nonsense.  Paul's mantra was "follow the law and align yourself with its principles."  That teaching led Paul, according to Jesus, to persecute Him.  "Paul, why do you push against Me?" Jesus asked.  I want to ask today's reactionary legalists that same question.  Do we really all want when we deserve?  Gandhi said, "An eye for an eye ends up making the whole world blind!"  Paul reminds us in Romans 12:17, "Never repay evil for evil."  I could go on with many Biblical instructions regarding this, but I hope you get the point.  Legalism leads to conflict, persecution and becoming enslaved to the very law you say you uphold.  I find it interesting that in today's world legalism has a solid foothold in ideologies that claim tolerance and ideologies that desire for everyone to get what they deserve.  Try saying something politically incorrect (either too conservative in a liberal region or too liberal in a conservative region) and see what happens.  You will be crushed!  Legalism isn't our way, Paul says.

There is another extreme.  It is license.  Everything goes.  In 1 Cor. 10:23. Paul says, "Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is constructive."  Wesley struggled with this theme of living life.  He battled antinomianism.  If you parse the word it means, "against the law."  The antinomianists were caught up in the theology of election, and since the elect and the reprobate were "pre-determined" they believed that they had license to do whatever they wanted.  The result was moral and societal chaos with a dash of anarchy.  Since everyone basically did as they pleased, evil, self-centeredness and chaos thrived.  Sound familiar?  Read Judges 19-21.  It begins, "In those days Israel had no king."  It ends (21:25) with "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes."  Between those verses we see cultural decay.  There is dismemberment of bodies, a myriad of sexual sins, civil war that claims almost 100,000 men and anarchy.  It is God's way of warning us about the devastating effects of license.  When there is no standard, there is social, political, theological anarchy.  That is not the Church Paul is planting, nurturing and promoting.

Then, there is liberty.  The liberty flows from the grace of Jesus (1:12-24) and is by the divine revelation of Jesus.  That grace is affirmed by the leadership of the Church (2:1-10) and is part of who we are and what we do.  That grace is founded on the love taught to us by Jesus Christ when He reminded us that His greatest commandment is to love God with heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as our self.  It is a grace that looks to the good of others ... not to our rights or our own desires.  It is grace Jesus taught the disciples when He told them that His leaders would not lord over others but would serve others.  It is the grace of our nature as Christ-followers who profess the message that we are no longer slaves (Gal. Chapter 5) to sin, the law or societal pressure.  Unlike the people of Judges 19-21, there is a King in our land.  His name is Jesus.  His law is the law of love that leads us.  His grace leads us to do things that lift up people, heal blindness and edify the Church that He has called His bride.  We are neither slaves to the law or bound by the human desires of license.  We have liberty, freedom and life from Jesus who is our King of Kings.  We could do as we please ... but we choose Christ, who writes our story and is perfecting us with sanctifying grace.  Thanks be to God!  Randy