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How can you be so stupid? Do you think that by yourself you can complete what God’s Spirit started in you? Galatians 3:3 (CEV)

When I was growing up, it was almost considered a swear word to call someone ‘stupid’. Put downs and sarcasm were simply not tolerated. But when Paul is writing to the churches in Galatia, he doesn’t sugar coat what he is trying to get across to these new believers.

Somewhere along their faith walk they had made a decision, most likely sub-consciously, to try to draw closer to God through their own efforts. The Galatians were prodded along by Judaizers who insisted that they follow Jewish customs in order to be ‘good Christians’. Paul was completely dumbfounded by their actions. How could a people who clearly understood the sacrificial death of Christ experience the freedom he has to offer and then put themselves back in bondage?

The answer can be found in the example Peter unwittingly gave us earlier in Paul’s letter. Peter slipped into the same trap, and pulled several others with him. The bait was ‘living for God’. The motivation for stepping into it was fear. Fear that they wouldn’t measure up. Fear that their past was too bad for God to accept them. Fear that he may not approve of them. Fear that they hadn’t done enough to thank him for all Jesus did on the cross. A fear driven belief that grace is too easy, that there must be more than simply believing.

Don’t be too hard on the Galatians though. Don’t we do the same thing? We go to church because that’s what Christians do. We sing certain songs because that’s how we are told we need to worship. We say certain creeds because they draw us closer to God. We go through baptism and confirmation and communion because we have been led to believe that these are all things that HAVE to be done for us to be holy.

Don’t get me wrong. Church attendance, Bible Study, Worship and other activities of the church certainly have their place. However, if those things are done to grant us a closer standing with God they are nothing more than the legalistic trap that got Paul so agitated with the Galatians.

Here’s the thing. God is far more concerned about the condition of your heart than he is your behavior. He’s far more concerned about a love relationship with you than he is watching your attempts to ‘be good.’

Paul’s words should strike deeply into our hearts. They should draw us to scrutinize carefully all that we do to make sure we are doing what we do for the right reasons. Too often we get sucked into thinking that even though salvation is by grace, Christian living in on our own power. Grace covers it all. Grace beings me into relationship with God; Grace empowers me to live daily in his love.

PRAYER: Father God, please guard my heart. Thank you for the free grace given to me by Jesus sacrificial death. Help me to live in the freedom of that grace and protect me from my own desires to earn what you gave me freely. Amen.


For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 2 Timothy 1:6

I could sit for hours by a campfire. I love to watch the flames dance as they change color. I enjoy the warmth and comfort they give me on those chilly or downright cold nights in the woods.

One night, while camping, my family and I decided to leave the warmth of our campfire to walk down by the lake we were camping at to look at the stars. There is no comparison to a starry night when you are 50 miles from the nearest small town and hundreds of miles from any large town. I always stand in awe of my God and Father when I look into his heavens.

Eventually, the coolness of the night had its effect on us and we decided to return to the fire. The flames had died down and there was nothing left but some glowing embers. I took a few small pieces of wood, laid them on the coals and began to fan the embers. Within minutes the flames had returned and the warmth of the fire was doing its work on our cold bodies.

The Apostle Paul was writing to his young protégé, Timothy. Apparently, for some reason Paul remembered the tears Timothy shed. Were they tears of loneliness in ministry? Were they the tears of a young man missing his teacher? Had Timothy gone through the loss of a friend or family member? We don’t know. But what we do know is the Paul encouraged Timothy to remember. He reminded him of his faith, the faith of his family, the strength of his God.

There are many times in our lives when the flames of God’s spirit can grow dim as a result of the struggles of family, work, or relationships. The quiet of the wilderness can fail to squelch the call of worry, doubt, guilt and frustration.

That night by the lake my spirit was restored by gazing into the heavens and remembering whose child I was. My heart was warmed by the reminder that this great God that hung the millions of stars in place stoops down to wipe my tears; offers a shoulder to cry on; offers forgiveness of my guilt.

Don’t allow the flame of God’s Holy Spirit to grow dim during the struggles of life. Focus on the facts of God’s love for you. Enjoy the warmth of his strength in your life. There is nothing you are going through that he has not sanctioned. There is nothing you have done, or can do that will keep him from offering you the warmth of his love.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, there are so many times that the trials of life keep the flames of your love and grace from reaching me. Let me sense your Spirit flowing through me so that I can be a light and shed the warmth of your love to others in need. Amen.


The Lord said: Forget what happened long ago! Don’t think about the past. Isaiah 43:18 (CEV)

I have a friend who was in a snowmobile accident that nearly took his life. His injuries were so severe that both of his legs had to be amputated. As he lay in a coma for six weeks, our community gathered around him and his family in prayer for physical healing as well as spiritual healing.

His wife tells me that the day they were planning on bringing him out of his medically induced coma was a day of apprehension. My friend was known for a foul mouth and extreme anger. Everyone prepared for the worst when he would wake up and find he had no legs.

The other day, I sat with this friend in a men’s Bible Study. You wouldn’t have known this new person beside me. Miraculously, he woke up from his sleep and entirely new man. There was no anger, no rage and no profanity. In its place were words of comfort, of love, of grace and forgiveness.

My friend owns a hardware store in the tiny community where I live. He sells all sorts of goods a hardware store would sell, but there’s one other commodity you can count on when you enter the doors of his store. You’ll find Jesus.

At the earlier mentioned Bible study our group as discussing the personal meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

Listening to him talk about the newness of life he received gave me a whole new meaning to that verse. Here he was, a man that had to learn to walk again. A man who, in many ways, had to learn an entirely new lifestyle. Ask anyone in town. They’ll tell you Bill isn’t the same as he used to be. He isn’t. He’s new. His life has been touched by the Savior.

It wasn’t easy. He stumbles on those new legs occasionally. The pressures of being a business man sometimes cause the ‘old man’ to start to surface. But he’s still not ‘the same old Bill.’

God’s word reminds us in Isaiah 43:18 that our past is just that. Past. Regardless of what happened back there. Regardless of whose fault it was. Regardless of who did what, or said what or did what to you, it’s past.

Jesus offers the only real solution to starting over and he does it with a whole new life.

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, there are times when I stumble. There are times when the pain in my heart, from the mistakes of my past, haunts me. During those times let me rest on the promise of your grace. Help me to set my past behind me and look forward to a new tomorrow. Amen.


But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. Acts 9:15

I pity those who read the Bible with solemnity and fail to see the humor in many of the stories of our faith. Or, maybe it’s just that I have a sick sense of humor. At any rate, one of the stories I find most amusing is the story of poor Ananias.

We know little about this disciple of Jesus other than that he lived in Damascus and was visited by the Lord one day to embark on a most amazing journey. Unknown to him, in a room a few blocks away, a man huddled in darkness. The man, named Saul, was well-known to the early Christians. He was loud, brash and had no time for anyone following this man Jesus. He knew the Law. He knew what was right. And he would do anything to protect the religious traditions of his people…even to the point of death.

That’s why he was in Damascus…or so he thought. Saul left for Damascus to round up people like Ananias and drag them back to Jerusalem for a quick mock trial, a beating, and if Saul had his way, death by stoning. No one did more to try to destroy the early church than Saul.

But God had other plans and those plans were dramatically different for both Saul and Ananias. That’s often the way God is. He doesn’t follow the beat of our drums; he marches to his own music. The written Word doesn’t express the emotion that Ananias must have felt that day.

“Really God? Saul? You have to be kidding! Do you realize what you are asking me to do? He’s blind now? Good! Let him suffer for awhile. Look at what he’s done to your people.”

That’s probably a little more like the conversation I’d have had with God, and if you are honest, so would you.

The story of Ananias reminds me of at least two lessons that we all need to be reminded of. First, if we really sell out for Jesus, if we are really willing to ‘Go where you want me to go and do what you want me to do’ we can expect to be taken out of our comfort zone. The uttermost parts of the earth Jesus told us to take his gospel to may not always include squeaky clean churches and orderly programs. In fact, he rarely does his work there.

Secondly, the story of Ananias reminds me to never, ever look at any person and say “God will never be able to use him/her. He’s too bad, made to many mistakes, and has too sordid a past.” God uses people like Saul all the time. Those we overlook as not being a good choice for kingdom work may very likely be God’s first choice.

Oh and there’s one more thing the story of Ananias reminds me of. It reminds me to be thankful. You see, I have far more in common with Saul than I do Ananias. I’m thankful though that, like Saul, Jesus found me!

PRAYER: Lord Jesus, like Saul I confess that I fail you often. Sometimes from ignorance, other times from rebellion. Thank you for your grace. Empower me by your Spirit to be willing to step from my comfort zone when you call me to reach out to those I find to be ‘poor choices’ for the Kingdom. Amen.

 


“For the Lord your God is the God of gods and Lord of lords. He is the great God, the mighty and awesome God, who shows no partiality and cannot be bribed. Deuteronomy 10:17 (NLT)

We’ve been doing it since pre-school. Maybe even earlier. It’s one of the most destructive games we’ve ever learned and, perhaps, holds us captive more than any other single activity in our lives. So what is this enemy of our hearts? It’s the Comparison Game.

Come on now, admit it. You play it. You may be playing it now.

As a blogger it’s looking at how many followers you have compared to me, or anyone else for that matter.

If you are in ministry it’s the size of your church, the number of mission’s trips you’ve taken or the number of converts you have tallied up in the flyleaf of your Bible.

If you are a public speaker you may measure it by the number of speaking engagements you’ve had this year, the size the honorarium you get or the largest crowds you’ve spoken to.

If you are a writer it’s the number of published works you have in your arsenal.

The Comparison Game (or whatever you call it) is deadly for our hearts on two fronts. On the one hand, if we are on the upper rungs of the ladder we can tend to look at ourselves more highly than we ought. We’ve never been divorced, we have no debt, we have good kids and are well respected by the community and we get thousands of ‘likes’ on the social media site we belong to. We can get feeling pretty good about ourselves, especially when we see our names in print.

On the other hand, the Comparison Game can make us see ourselves as less than what we are as well. If only I didn’t have debt. If only I had been able to make the marriage work. If only I had the education and opportunities he/she had. If only…if only…if only.

The cure for the Comparison Game is to look at ourselves and at others the way God does. The Apostle Paul was labeled by some as being an ‘also-ran’ in apostolic circles. After all, Peter, James, John and the other apostles had actually walked with Jesus. They saw his miracles and heard his teachings first hand. Paul, on the other hand had spent a good part of his life trying to stomp out this new ‘WAY’. But he walks into Jerusalem with his head held high. Why? Because he didn’t see others the way man saw others. He saw others as God saw others…as being people saved by grace.

How does God look at us? We ALL are made in his image. All of us. We may take pride in our accomplishments. He doesn’t. We may beat ourselves up for our failures. He doesn’t. Today, take some time to look at what God has accomplished for you rather than focusing on your accomplishments/failures. It’s a great way to keep from looking at yourself too highly, or too lowly. The Comparison Game cripples us no matter if we come out on top or on the bottom.

PRAYER: Father God, as the Psalmist says, I am in awe of how you think of me. Forgive me for comparing myself to others. Empower me by your Spirit to see me as you see me. Amen

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