Galatians Chapter 3

Paul sounds a bit annoyed at the outset of chapter three. Apparently the Galatians have been listening to some false teaching and lost their focus on the truth they first believed. There seems to be some confusion about the role of the law in securing salvation—Paul has to remind them of the place the law does have and the more important freedom-securing role of faith.

I love what this chapter has to say. In verse eight, we learn that “ the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would make the Gentiles right in his sight because of their faith.” I happen to be a Gentile, and I love that there was a provision for my inclusion in God’splan all along!

But more to the core of the message, I celebrate the release from bondage to the law. Of course we are still to keep God’s laws, because he designed them for our protection and well-being. But being right with God doesn’t depend on how good I am. Rather, God’s promise to Abraham of a relationship with him predates the law, and the later gift of the law doesn’t wipe out the earlier promise: For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise. But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise” (v 18).

Somewhere along the way in my childhood, I internalized that my being okay with my parents, teachers, the world, and God depended on me doing everything right and on doing all things well. That’s living in bondage—walking in fear of messing up somehow and when we do mess up adding a new burden of shame to the load we carry.  

Although I grew up in a Christian home with many advantages I am grateful for, it has taken a long time to break free of this pattern of thinking, this deeply rooted way of feeling about myself. I’m so thankful to look back on the path that God’s taken me down and see how much progress he’s made in me in this area. I’m sure I haven’t fully internalized this truth yet, which is why I’m glad that Paul took pen to paper (quill to papyrus?) to correct the Galatians’ thinking and that this truth has endured for me to read and mull.

Galatians Chapter 2

Church politics can be messy.   Witness the major social upheavals like Henry VIII and Luther’s 95 Thesis and you can see that those divisions can separate the church body. We see in Paul’s day that it was ugly then. If Paul did not stand for the principles of our faith, what might the Church be today?

Prior to Paul confronting Peter in Antioch, Paul and Barnabus had been working there teaching the new believers.  Now Jewish Christians came to check on the progress being done.  These men were strict about the kosher laws. They wouldn’t eat meals with the Gentiles or eat what they ate.  

Peter became afraid of those Jewish Christians and didn’t want his reputation ruined with them so he too refused to dine with the Gentiles as he once did. As a result Paul called Peter a hypocrite publicly.  Who would have thought that Peter “The Rock” would fold again as he did in the past?

As it turns out, Paul risked his reputation but brought the other believers around not to require Gentiles to be circumcised but that we were “Made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not the law”-v.16.

How freeing it is to not to live under the law that held us captive and condemned us because of our failure to uphold it! Trusting in the Lord is what can unite us as brothers and as sons and daughters of the Most High.

Galatians Chapter 1

Paul starts out, in his letter to the Galatians, expressing concern that some people are turning to a word other than The WORD.  Apparently there was a controversy over the Gentile Christians and whether or not they were following the Mosaic Law (circumcision, etc, etc, etc).  Paul reiterates that we are not saved by obedience to a set of external laws.  The law was set up to lead us to Christ, where we are justified by our faith.

Reminds me that some religions hold to the premise that you earn your way in to salvation based on your shopping list of good deeds that you have performed.  How many times have you heard “I’m basically a good guy (gal), am kind to people and don’t commit any major foul deeds, so I think I am solidly on the heaven track”?

Paul says he didn’t consult any man (verse 16) or go to Jerusalem to see those who were the apostles before him (verse 17), but preached the gospel received by revelation from Jesus Christ (verse 10).  Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately, as that could prove to be quite a responsibility), we don’t get phone messages/texts/facetimes/personal visits from Christ Himself but we get His message in the New Testament.  We still have valid direction and the ultimate truth of what we should be following and sharing about the good news.   Go share it.

2 Corinthians Chapter 13

How frustrating for Paul to be challenged on the same information 3 times. He was also being questioned as to whether or not he was being used by God to deliver his message. Paul still humbles himself by letting them know that he too is weak yet strong through Christ. He has pulled all stops to get them to follow. Now I understand his frustration. Raising my girls brought out the same frustrations as we as parents would, with good intention, present them with our insight as to which way to go in life. However I do not think we met with nearly the same resistance as these disciples did. 

Ah! examine ourselves. Great idea. I do not think I do that enough. Paul is asking them to perform an examination letting them know that if they find they are strong Jesus is in them. If they are not, he is absent. After all his teaching He wants to rest in the knowledge that even though he may feel he has failed that the people have in fact heard the word of God and have been built up. Paul makes it clear he does not want to have to return and be harsh in his dealings with them.

Now after all this worry, Paul leaves them with the most loving of instructions. He tells them that with all this new found blessing to REJOICE.  He tells them to restore and encourage one another, be of one mind and live in PEACE. May we all listen to Paul's words and take this Godly advice. We will then receive the blessings of God, a life of peace and joy only given to  the believer who loves and seeks after our amazing Lord.

 

2 Corinthians Chapter 12

"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me."  2 Corinthians 12:7

Pride is defined as "a feeling of deep pleasure or satisfaction derived from one's own achievements, the achievements of those with whom one is closely associated, or from qualities or possessions that are widely admired" and conceit is defined as "excessive pride in oneself."

Paul was not immune to the dangers of pride.  None of us are. But I wonder what Paul's visions and revelations from the Lord looked like to him and then sharing them to others could be considered suspicious or believed or something in between.  So in order to prevent coming across as superior or of an elevated status, he was given the thorn in his flesh as a way to show he too suffered.  Was the thorn given to him by GOD and Satan was present and happily afflicting Paul with this thorn and was this a way to keep Paul from showing conceited pride and being raised above others? So once again, GOD had a plan, a perfect plan and despite Paul praying to GOD repeatedly, three times in fact, he had to be wondering what GOD was trying to tell him.  

As I continued to read through this segment on Paul's vision and his thorn, and getting to the end after GOD spoke to him and said "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness", it is clear to me that GOD wanted Paul to know that instead of removing the thorn from his life,  GOD gave and would keep giving his grace to Paul and that grace would be sufficient for Paul to meet his every need.  

How often do we  question the challenges and tough times we are faced with and wanting GOD to provide a solution, and a fast one at that?  And when that doesn't happen, we question whether GOD is there, listening to us?   We need to be reminded over and over again, that even when Paul was desperate in his desire to find relief from his burden,  it can come by removing the load or by strengthening the shoulder that bears the load.  Instead of taking away the thorn, GOD strengthened Paul under it, and GOD showed his strength through Paul's apparent weakness.

Isn't it amazing that we really don't believe GOD's grace is sufficient until we believe we are insufficient?  It's so hard for us to learn to receive GOD's strength at times and we tend to do it more when we recognize our weakness and insufficiency. His hope is for us to always just trust in him and to know his grace is always sufficient.  We need to trust that he has a plan and he will provide.  Paul certainly showed that over and over with all he went through as he spread the Good Word. 

2 Corinthians Chapter 11

In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul continues to defend his ministry to the people of Corinth and others.  He expresses his thoughts and feelings openly, and he painfully explains how he has endured hardships, and danger for the church people under his care.  Through correspondence, Paul has become aware the church in Corinth has come under the influence of false teachers even from inside the church in Corinth.  He wants his beloved church at Corinth to distinguish between those who follow Christ and those who disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.  As a founder of the church and overseer of their faith, Paul gives the Corinth church instruction in discernment so they can consider the ideas and actions of the current false teachers from within in light of God’s truth and character as revealed through Jesus Christ.  Paul uses himself and his own life as an illustration to the church and offers a willingness to be criticized if necessary so that Christ’s glory can triumph. 

Just as then in the early church, so now 2000 years later, false teachers may operate within and outside the church and disguise themselves as followers of Christ.  Paul admonishes us this is not uncommon and we need to be watchful.  He reminds us that even Satan has disguised himself as an angel of light.  

What are some ways according to Paul that we can discern true servant-leaders of Christ from others? 

Paul tells us to examine the message:  The false teachers preach a different Jesus or a different kind of gospel than the one we in the church have received from the Spirit.  Each of us can relate to this instruction because we have heard messages that do not ring true with the message of the Gospel.  Paul reminds us that a skilled, polished speaker does not equate to a true message being delivered.  

Paul also tells us to examine our behavior resulting from the message:  False teachers can “enslave us, take advantage of us, take control of everything, and slap us in the face.”  Some extreme modern-day examples we have heard reported in the news are Jim Jones and his followers who committed suicide and poisoned their own children.  Other examples have been televangelists who advised listeners to send money to the personal cause of the televangelist as a proof of faith or a guarantee of healing.  More recently false teachings come today from the internet, media and popular opinion.  

As Paul reminded the church then and us also, our examination of behavior should be ongoing: As then in the church at Corinth, so too now we need to study and understand the Gospel message in order to compare it to messages from false teachers so our faith is not turned away from God. We should continue to examine our lives and our behavior to determine if our actions have veered off from behavior that represents faith in Christ.   We should also be prepared to explain the Gospel and our hope with its truth.  According to 1 Peter 3:15-17, we, as believers, must always be ready to give an explanation for our hope and do so in a gentle and respectful way.  Then if false leaders speak against us or our belief in the true gospel, they will see it lived out in our lives.  

2 Corinthians Chapter 10

"We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

As I read 2 Corinthians 10, one phrase and verse in this chapter really started me thinking--- “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  Take captive every thought means to control, to conquer, to bring into submission.  We are told to make every thought obedient to Christ and to bring it under control.  

But how do you do that? How do I make my mind mind?  My mind is often disobedient. It is often very rebellious. It wants to go in a different direction. When I want to think a certain way, it wants to go another way. To quote Rick Warren, “when I need to ponder, it wants to wander.  When I need to pray, my thoughts want to float away”.  Does this sound familiar?  How do we capture and control every thought?  That sounds impossible!

 Scripture teaches us so much and it teaches us that one way we can guard our hearts and minds is, “in everything”,  to pray.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6) 

Notice that he says to pray about everything. If I were to pray as much as I worry, I would have a lot less to worry about. Don’t worry about anything, but pray about everything. This kind of prayer is like a running conversation with the Lord.  Obviously, this does not mean we must close our eyes and kneel to pray but just keep that line of communication open as we go about our days.  It also says to be thankful! Every day before the feet touch the ground thank the Lord for our many blessings!

2 Corinthians Chapter 9

Another chapter on giving?! 

Embarrassingly, I confess I felt a bit of this sentiment as I transitioned from 2 Corinthians chapter 8 to chapter 9. However, if you intentionally pause here for a meaningful moment then you won’t be disappointed.

“Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV)

This chapter is initially dominated by a theme of accountability – specifically, Paul provides a stern reminder to the Corinthian believers regarding the importance of fulfilling their promise of financial support for the poor in Jerusalem. This tough message transforms nicely into insightful instruction – even wisdom and encouragement – regarding giving. 2 Corinthians 9 includes the following DO’s and DO NOT’s of giving:

DO give…

Generously (vv. 5, 6)

From the heart (v. 7)

Cheerfully (v. 7)

Freely (v. 9)

DO NOT give…

Grudgingly (v. 5)

Reluctantly (v. 7)

Sparingly (v. 6)

Under compulsion (v. 7)

Great list. Nice talk. Next chapter.  Wait, what? Did Paul say to give CHEERFULLY?

Absolutely!

We are to give from the heart, generously, in cheerful obedience. This is not about how much we give – our all-powerful God is able to do as he wills with our gifts (v. 8). Rather, this is about how we give – a prostrate mindset of open-handed offering.  In this manner, our gifts address human needs and bring glory of God(v. 12).

Finally, and most importantly, we are to be confident in God’s divine linkage of giving and grace – the gift of Jesus Christ given to sinners like us. There is no greater giver than our Heavenly Father and no greater gift than Jesus Christ.

“Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!”  2 Corinthians 9:15 (NIV)

How did the Corinthian believers respond to Paul’s encouraging letter? Refer to Romans 15:26 for the answer! 

Paul is speaking to us today. Will your response be characterized by the “DO” or “DO NOT” words in 2 Corinthians 9.

2 Corinthians Chapter 8

Paul writes to the Corinthians from Macedonia to commend the Macedonians for their generosity in giving to help the people in Jerusalem during a critical time (Romans 15:27ff).  Why? Apparently the Corinthians needed to e encouraged to et their act together as well. Paul tells them while they were excelling in their faith, speech, knowledge, earnestness and love for him and his companions (v.7), they needed to excel in their giving as well.

The lesson in giving is not necessarily how much we give as much as our attitude for giving.  Giving is often a sore topic for many as it hits our treasures or what we want to control, money, time,  and talents/energy.  My take away is my willingness to give is more important than how much I give, my trying my best to fulfill my financial obligations, giving to others in need will bless me with satisfaction and bless God who did not withhold anything in His love for me by giving me Jesus.

So, what is it about money that people have so much anxiety or even fear of parting with it?  I think it is more than money. It seems to me that it is our possessions that people are hesitant to part with for fear that they won’t have enough to live on. Really?  We here in the United States have more than most of the world’s population-even those who are considered under the poverty line are better off than most of the world.  Belief/trust in a good God is what we hear in our churches, but do we really believe that? Verse 8 through 15 sums this up nicely. “And God is able to make ALL grace abound in you,  so that in ALL things, at ALL times, having ALL  that you need, you will abound in every good works.”

2 Corinthians Chapter 7

This chapter has so much deep affection from Paul and Titus to the Christians at Corinth, even to say, “You are in our hearts to die and live with you.”  As I read, I thought about the fellowship we have at Church of the Chimes.  The Life Groups, the camping trips, the Sports Camp, the volunteer events we work on together inside and outside of the church, the Bible studies mid-week, the dinners we share, the graduations we celebrate, to name only a few.  In all of these things, we peel back our walk with Jesus Christ and make it visible to others who walk alongside of us.  In doing so, the rest of us are encouraged – I know I am.

I have always seen great and abiding faith among the people at Church of the Chimes.  Daily faith for daily challenges that runs deep and sustains us through every kind of struggle and joy.  Yes, it takes a certain kind of faith to remain on God’s path when everything is going well too, so that we don’t begin to think we somehow caused it all by ourselves.  But as I see people go through the challenges, and especially as I hear their testimonies of how Jesus Christ sustains them through it all, I am deeply encouraged and glad I’m not doing this life alone.  

Paul talks about how Titus was refreshed in his spirit by the people of Corinth.  So too, I am continually refreshed in my spirit by all of you.  As we sing songs like “It is Well”, which includes the beautiful lyrics “Through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You, through it all, through it all, it is well…the waves and wind still know His name.” I feel like I see a panoramic view of eternity.  I know enough of what is happening in the lives of many, not to mention in my own family, and to be able to sing together “It is well” is a victory indeed.

Twelve years ago, as we drove up to the church for the first time (Yes, why do we drive when we live on the corner?) the Lord said to me “You will never outgrow this church.”  As always, He was right.