Faithful

James 4:4-6 “You unfaithful people! Don’t you know that friendship with the world means hostility toward God? So whoever wants to be the world’s friend becomes God’s enemy. Or do you suppose that scripture is meaningless? Doesn’t God long for our faithfulness in the life he has given to us? But he gives us more grace. This is why it says, God stands against the proud, but favors the humble.”

Ouch! This is a tough passage for today. It could be easy to take this in the negative and run with it. I have known many people who use a scripture like this to degrade another person.

One of the questions we have to ask is, “what does it mean to be a friend of God?” David was (and is) classified as a man after God’s own heart. Moses and Abraham were considered “friends of God.” This is showing that we do not have to have perfect lives to be considered a “friend of God.”

So what does this phrase mean? The New Interpreters Bible commentary says, “For the ancients, to be friends with another person meant to see things the same way, to share the same outlook.” I think this is important. There are times in our life where our actions does not match the words we say, but we can still be considered a “friend of God” because we come back to God and see the world through His eyes. Being transformed in the image of Christ should mean that we begin to develop the eyes and the heart of Jesus Christ for the world.

We will not always see things the exact same way. In fact, I am okay with people disagreeing with anything I say or write. This is a chance to develop relationships and learn where people are. One of the things that seems to get us in trouble is when we stick to one point of view and not even allow people the opportunity to express how they came to their understanding.

The Proverb quoted is Proverb 3:34. A better word instead of proud might be “arrogant.” Arrogant means, “having or revealing an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance or abilities.” When we elevate ourselves above people, we are essentially devaluing them.

There are days this Proverb hits me right between the eyes. Those days, like today, I have to be careful. It could be easy to flat out say that I am right and you are wrong; but then where is the grace in that? I believe God wants us to have a humble, teachable spirit so we can be the people who allow Him to transform our lives to work with Him to transform the world.

It is the times when we believe, yet live a different standard than our faith says, that we are “unfaithful to God.” “You unfaithful people!” In other translations, the word “Adulterers!” is used. This is how serious the scriptures are showing God takes our relationship with Him. When we profess belief in Him and go another path, we are essentially “cheating” on Him with other ideologies and worldly living.

To be “friends with God,” is a way to show we are moving in His direction. Our lives point to Him. Even in the messed up parts of our life, we can still show people the grace that has been bestowed on us. Do we always get it right? No. But we can be humble and keep seeking to see life, the world and people as God sees them and have a heart that breaks when His heart breaks.

Lord, show us, through your eyes, the hurting and brokenness in this world so we can respond with grace and lead people to you. In Christ’s name, Amen.

Reconciled

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Colossians 1:21-23 Once you were alienated from God and you were enemies with him in your minds, which was shown by your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through death, to present you before God as a people who are holy, faultless, and without blame. But you need to remain well established and rooted in faith and not shift away from the hope given in the good news that you heard. This message has been preached throughout all creation under heaven. And I, Paul, became a servant of this good news.

As you read these words, what comes to your mind? Is this something you’ll read and think “this is for (insert name)”? Afterall, what “evil actions” could you and I have done to be enemies of God? Paul outlines some of the “evil actions” in Galatians chapter 5 and more in Colossians chapter 3. The place we should start is, what is broken and how have we gone against God?

To start with, we look at our pride and how we do everything we can to “take care of number one.” This means we tend to look at our desires, our wants, our thoughts and try to get what we need satisfied. G.K. Chesterton reminds us what Jesus was saying when he said, Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye.” (Matthew 7:3-5). We all have something to take care of in us before we try to point out other people faults and failings.

So, it is in this place of realizing how we have gone against God, and what we have done that were considered “evil actions” against God, that we can come to a place to see how glorious and how incredible and awesome the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for you, me and the world truly is! Because of Jesus, we have the opportunity to be reconciled to God. Because of Jesus, our relationship with God has been changed forever. Because of Jesus, we can experience new life.

We do not forget what we used to be like before we met and encountered Jesus Christ; instead, God uses our former way of life as a testimony as to what God can do through the trial and struggles of our lives to bring healing, wholeness and reconciliation. Not only with other people, but with God also. This means that we have the chance to accept and live into the grace that Jesus has given. Because of this grace, Christ presents us as “holy, faultless and without blame” to God. So, when God looks at you and I, God sees Jesus Christ in our place.

We have been given this new life, this new opportunity to be reconciled to God. Through this gift, we have the opportunity to spread the good news of how other people can experience the Risen and Living Jesus Christ in their lives here and now. God has been preaching this message throughout all creation, and is speaking through each one of us today. We work with God to bring life, healing, hope, joy, peace, love and so much more that God gives through us.

This is not done so we can have the glory or recognition. We share this glorious news of Jesus Christ to give Him the glory in all we do and all we say. We can begin to see how God is working in us and through us to be reconciled to each other (even the people who wronged us badly) and to God.

#ToTheGloryOfChrist

Obeying and Respecting

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Ephesians 6:1-9 As for children, obey your parents in the Lord, because it is right. The commandment Honor your father and mother is the first one with a promise attached: so that things will go well for you, and you will live for a long time in the landAs for parents, don’t provoke your children to anger, but raise them with discipline and instruction about the Lord. As for slaves, obey your human masters with fear and trembling and with sincere devotion to Christ. Don’t work to make yourself look good and try to flatter people, but act like slaves of Christ carrying out God’s will from the heart. Serve your owners enthusiastically, as though you were serving the Lord and not human beings. You know that the Lord will reward every person who does what is right, whether that person is a slave or a free person. As for masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Stop threatening them, because you know that both you and your slaves have a master in heaven. He doesn’t distinguish between people on the basis of status. 

Paul has been talking about the life that God desires us to have. This life looks completely different from how we want to live, but it is the life that gives more freedom and more peace. Most of the things he has talked about so far seem fairly easy or at least simple to do, but now we come to this passage.

The end of chapter 5 has Paul discussing relationships in marriage and how the relationship should be between Christ and the church. This is an incredible picture because Christ is place in his right placement as head of the church. And now Paul goes into how children should behave with their parents and how slaves should treat their masters.

Children honoring and obeying parents? What kind of life would this look like? When we read this, Paul does talk about the parenting relationship as a two-way street. The children should honor and obey their parents because the parents have lived life and have important wisdom and guidance to pass on that will help give the children long lives and be able to navigate the challenges life can and does bring. The flip side of the relationship is the relationship from the parents to the children. Children are going to do things and say things that will cause the parents to become frustrated, so Paul is not talking about those times. Paul is talking about the rest of the times when parents have the opportunity to build their children up and instead actually tear them down.

Parenting is difficult and I am no where pretending to think I have all the answers or understand the unique situations each family faces. This is one of the incredible things about Scripture – that all aspects of human life are discussed. We can learn God’s will for individual families by spending time in prayer and listening for the voice of God as a family unit.

We do not like the fact that the Bible talks about slavery, but this is a different form of slavery than we might think of today. Again, Paul is talking about this relationship as a two way street. He says that if you are working for someone, then you should have the attitude that you are working for Christ and not the human boss. This does not mean to treat the human boss as a god; it does, however, mean that when working, we do our work as if we are doing it for Jesus Christ himself. This means we will do the best job we can do. The bosses are not to mistreat their workers. They are supposed to remember that the Master in heaven treated them with respect and this is how the workers are to be treated also.

There are many things talked about in the Bible we do not like to talk about; so this is one of the reasons I love to read the Bible and discuss it. There are so many things we can learn from Scripture and from discussing Scripture with other people. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not meant to keep us away from other people; it is meant for us to engage the culture and people around us. We become changed people because of the Gospel and we have the opportunity to show people and bring people the transforming message of Jesus Christ.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Light

Light

Ephesians 5:6-14 Nobody should deceive you with stupid ideas. God’s anger comes down on those who are disobedient because of this kind of thing. So you shouldn’t have anything to do with them. You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, so live your life as children of light. Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth. Therefore, test everything to see what’s pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness. Instead, you should reveal the truth about them. It’s embarrassing to even talk about what certain persons do in secret. But everything exposed to the light is revealed by the light. Everything that is revealed by the light is light. Therefore, it says, Wake up, sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you. 

Have you ever felt like you were just going through the motions in life and did not really know where you were going? That is kind of like what Paul is talking about here. He is writing this letter to show people the life in Christ that is waiting for everyone. We can all live in such a way that would embarrass other people and even fill us with guilt. Paul is reminding the readers that Christ came to extinguish the former way of life and move us into this new life that looks so different from how everyone else in the world wants us to live.

Light and darkness are a key theme throughout the New Testament, and one of the things I have thought about is how much of a difference light makes. When the light shines, we can see the path we should be on and see obstacles that are in the path that are trying to trip us up and cause us to change course. But when we trust that Christ is guiding us, our entire life is different and has a different purpose – life has an incredible purpose!

I love how Paul brings to light the life that is dark, that is going away from Christ. This kind of dark life leads us astray and we only think about ourselves and what we want and how we’re going to get it. But Christ, invites us to a new way of life that encompasses the entirety of humanity and desires us to bring more people into the light. This kind of life, where we embrace the life Christ gives, produces more fruit (lasting rewards) than anything we could do solely by living for ourselves.

When we walk in ways of darkness (see the end of Ephesians 4 and the beginning of chapter 5), it is like our soul is dead and sleeping and we cannot see or experience the life that Christ has to offer. But Christ comes along and shouts to our sleeping souls, “Wake up sleeper! Get up from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” This life is not always easy, but it is definitely rewarding and worth everything to have Christ shine his light on us so we can reflect his glory where ever we are and whatever we do.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Sharing What We’ve Learned

Ephesians 3:1-7 This is why I, Paul, am a prisoner of Christ for you Gentiles. You’ve heard, of course, about the responsibility to distribute God’s grace, which God gave to me for you, right? God showed me his secret plan in a revelation, as I mentioned briefly before (when you read this, you’ll understand my insight into the secret plan about Christ). Earlier generations didn’t know this hidden plan that God has now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets through the Spirit. This plan is that the Gentiles would be coheirs and parts of the same body, and that they would share with the Jews in the promises of God in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I became a servant of the gospel because of the grace that God showed me through the exercise of his power. 

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At first when I read this, it almost seems that Paul is acting smug, “I know this…and was revealed to ME…” But I think there is something deeper to what Paul is saying. If this were this only passage we read of Paul’s writings, we miss what the entire message is. Paul is overflowing with the grace of God and is held responsible to share this grace with all people he encounters.

Think of a time when you were given knowledge. Were you the only one? Did it make you feel part of the group to know the same things they know? We all like to be “in the know” and to know things other people don’t. This can give us superiority and authority over others. If we’re not careful, we will us that knowledge for ourselves. There is always something more that we can know other people don’t. Secrets and gossip are rampant. I have fun with people when I sing to them, “I know something you don’t know.” This is a fun thing to do.

Now, what if we are given some incredible news, like anything God reveals to us, and we just try to keep it to ourselves and don’t share? Paul is reminding us that he has a responsibility to share the good news that was revealed to him. I believe God still reveals wisdom and truth to us today through His Spirit. What is something you feel God has spoken to you? Paul is saying that the plan of God is to bring ALL people to God through Jesus Christ. This is an awesome plan because that means that God is wanting you and me to come to faith and knowledge in Him. This is something we cannot keep to ourselves. If we are given some insight to what God is doing, that means we are spending time with God and we see the world through His eyes which means we share what we have learned.

This is one of the things I love about the book of Ephesians, about the whole Bible really, that God’s grace and mercy is available for all people. There are stories in the Old Testament through the New Testament that show God speaking to His people and giving them a word or insight the rest of the culture needs to hear. This is what Paul is doing. This is what we are called to do.

Because of Jesus Christ everything is different. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ that changes us and transforms us to new creations who go out and make a difference in the lives of those around us and share in the goodness of God in all aspects of our lives.

#TheGospelChangesUs

Controversy & Confrontation

Galatians 2:11-14 11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was wrong. 12 He had been eating with the Gentiles before certain people came from James. But when they came, he began to back out and separate himself, because he was afraid of the people who promoted circumcision. 13 And the rest of the Jews also joined him in this hypocrisy so that even Barnabas got carried away with them in their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they weren’t acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of everyone, “If you, though you’re a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you require the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

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Paul is on the road teaching, preaching and making disciples for Jesus Christ. He teaches the message of grace and the truth about Jesus Christ. One day he notices Peter, Cephas, eating with Gentiles (non-Christians) until people from James, an apostle, showed up. That’s when Peter removed himself, out of fear, and did not associate with the Gentiles again until after the people from James left. Peter was so influential that the other people with him joined in and began to separate themselves from the Gentile believers.

Paul sees this and has the same options we have today. He could either do everything in his power to discredit and shame Peter without talking face to face with him and then have people make up their mind about Peter over this one incident and go around saying what a horrible person he is; or he could go and talk with Peter and remind him the truth of the gospel: that everyone is invited and welcome.

We see this kind of example played out in our world today. When someone is in the wrong, what do we do? Social media has made it an easy escape to avoid talking with the person face to face. If Paul were alive today, would he have posted on Facebook or Twitter what Peter did wrong and why he was wrong? No, he would still go face to face and talk with him.

There is so much hatred in our world today. Imagine what it would be like if we watched what we said online and stopped showing the evil side of people. Sometimes it is really one incident that people are prone to make a decision about a person without ever getting to know the person.

What do we do when a person is in the wrong? Jesus taught that we should go to the person and talk with them first. This is the most loving thing to do since it is far better to praise in public and reprimand in private. Then if they do not change, Paul says to take them to the church. This does not mean the meeting is set to be negative. This is meant to built the believer up so they understand what happened and make sure it doesn’t happen again. Also, this will help the other people in the group understand the situation and their lives can be changed too.

Some people still may not get it. Paul says to let them go, in order for them to know what it’s like to be away from the fellowship and be deserted so they will return and be transformed. During this time of separation, we should be the ones to pray for the person/people because Jesus taught us that we should pray for our enemies.

The way Paul handled it must have worked because we have the evidence from Peter’s letters and the early church leadership. How will you and I respond when (not if) someone or some group goes against what we believe?

#LiveFreeInChrist

People Pleasing?

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Galatians 1:10-12: 10 Am I trying to win over human beings or God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I wouldn’t be Christ’s slave.11 Brothers and sisters, I want you to know that the gospel I preached isn’t human in origin. 12 I didn’t receive it or learn it from a human. It came through a revelation from Jesus Christ.

Who is easier to please: people or God? This is a good question for us to think about because it shows us our view of God and if we place people above God.

Why do you do the things you do? Remember yesterday, we talked about another group of people going behind Paul to add restrictions and new rules to the newly formed Christians. I imagine they would also tell the people that Paul was only traveling around for fame and money and not really believing in the gospel or caring about the people. So at the beginning of this letter, Paul has to set the record straight.

If you were Paul, what would you do? How would you feel? Since we are human, it is possible our reaction would be anger and become very defensive and revengeful. We could also just slip away and not say anything. Which reaction would you have?

Tomorrow we’ll look at Paul’s defense of his motives and what’s really in his heart. Today I invite us to think about what is more important: to please people or to please God? And who are you more likely to listen to?

We all want to be loved and noticed by other people. Some so that they would have prestige and fame. Some so they would have friends. Some even want to know their lives matter to others.

The entire letter to the Galatians reinforces the idea that we are free in Christ. We do not have to focus our lives on how others view us. We are children of the promise. We are set free, and free people demonstrate love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. People pleasing means we may have to compromise on these qualities, these “fruits of the Spirit.” But God pleasing means that we will live a life that points people to God, even if it cuts to the other person’s soul because they know something is off.

This should also help us think about what we say and what message we are giving. People pleasing will mostly tell people what they want to hear, making it more palatable and non-offensive. If, however, we are speaking the gospel truth (out of true love) then God will speak through us and say what the person(s) need to hear to guide them to a life with God as a focus and central point.

We all have our personal preferences; but we should be careful when we place these preferences in the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Just because we like something doesn’t mean it’s true. Also, just because we know something doesn’t mean we have to tell every person to show them how they are wrong (which really comes off to them that I am right, and then they can get defensive). Instead we speak the truth God reveals and then allow God to work in the life of the person (maybe through you).

So, who is more important to please: God or people? I believe God is easier to “please” because we know where he stands. People change and flow with opinions, circumstances, and knowledge. God never changes. His character is unchanging.

Today, I invite you and I to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider who we are more likely to try to make happy: God or people (even if the person is us). Then ask how we can shift toward and attitude and a lifestyle of pleasing God instead.

#LiveFreeInChrist