Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Galatians 6:2

"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Gal. 6:2.
But I can't even bear my own burdens! This Biblical command seems to be asking for major inconvenience and trouble. I've only been in full-time ministry for 7 years, and I am shocked at the number and the type of burdens people carry today. Unfortunately, too often people only get counsel after their burdens have already driven them to the brink of despair. We have inadvertently and tragically created a culture where getting help is a sign of weakness. This verse teaches that the local church should be a safe place to share our hurts, our burdens, and our sins. But we don't want to bother anyone with our problems. Many don't want to be bothered by another's problems. We don't want others to see our "dirty laundry." We are all too familiar with playing make-believe at church. We put on our nicest clothes. We put on our best smiles and our "everything is great" facade - all while carrying sin problems and other burdens we don't want others to see. The command is to bear one another's burdens. When we do this we fulfill the law of Christ. The principle goes both ways. 1) I must check our pride at the door. Vulnerability is a scary and risky state. But it is the protocol if we allow another to bear our burdens too. 2) I must love my neighbor as myself. Bearing another person's burden includes: befriending them, praying with them, holding them accountable, visiting them, taking them a meal, or helping in some other appropriate way. We are not to fix people. That's God's job. We are to accompany them through their burdens so they are not alone.
"God, help me to swallow my pride and share my burdens with a trustworthy Christian. Make me the safe and trustworthy person others need when they seek help. Help me to be Christ-like as I seek to bear other's burdens."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Galatians 6:1

"Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted."
Paul is now showing what to do when another Christian is unquestionably living in sin. Maybe it's an offensive sin. Maybe it's an anger problem, sexual sin, or a drug or alcohol problem. Maybe the fault is a tendency to gossip or to lie or to cheat. Paul knows that this type of thing happens and drama ensues, and relationships are damaged. It's no different in our lives today. Paul says that the spiritual response is to forgive, help, and restore that person. Our natural response however is to expose, punish, and avoid the person. There is a call in this verse for spiritual maturity. We are to treat the person how we would want to be treated if we were caught in the same fault. This is not to sugar-coat the sin. But what hope is there in the Christian life if people cannot be helped with their sin problem, and restored?

There are certain sins that bring a stiff Biblical penalty. For instance, if a pastor commits adultery, he unquestionably and permanently has disqualified himself from pastoral ministry in the local church. He may still be gifted, experienced, and passionate. But he cannot be restored to that office due to the Biblical restrictions given in I Timothy 3. However, when repentance is clear, and humility is obvious, restoration as a person is the Biblical command. The same holds true to non-pastors. If only perfect Christians can serve in ministry, there will be no one to serve - in any capacity. Let's get into the business of helping people through their spiritual faults and then getting them involved in an appropriate ministry where they can properly shine again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

When the Sump Pump Fails

Heavy rains drowned our area. Several inches of standing water provided my family an unexpected fun evening of splashing around in the backyard. The fun all ended when I descended to the basement to find that the sump crock was almost completely full of water. The submerged sump pump lay silent in its watery grave. 4 separate times during the next 2 days I became a 1-man bucket brigade - bailing out countless gallons of slimy water before it overflowed and flooded our basement. I detached the old sump pump only to discover that it was from the time of Noah - presumably the same one Noah had installed in the bottom of the ark. Off to the local mega-home improvement store for an unexpected $100+ purchase. After a long, unproductive hunt for the elusive sump pump aisle, Benjamin loudly announced, "Dad, just ask that store worker right there where the sump pumps are at." The employee smiled and walked me to the destination. I made my purchase, returned home, and successfully completed my first ever sump pump installation.
God was certainly in control. It was better to spend over $100 on a new sump pump than lose hundreds of dollars in ruined basement clutter. But even if we did have a flooded, ruined basement, would God still be in control? We tend to only celebrate God's control when everything turns out ok. The day comes for all of us that everything is not ok, but God is still in control, He is still all-powerful, and our tragedies are well within His capable care. Look at what God asked Job in his time of tragedy:

"Who hath divided a watercourse for the overflowing of waters, or a way for the lightning of thunder; to cause it to rain on the earth?" Job 38:25-26a

"Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? Canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth? Canst thou lift up thy voice to the clouds, that abundance of waters may cover thee? Canst thou send lightnings that they may go, and say unto thee, 'here we are!'?" Job 38:33-35

Obviously, God alone is in control and nothing ever sends Him into a panic. We need to learn to trust Him.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Galatians 5:26

"Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:26
"Vain Glory" is another term for selfish ambition. Paul clarifies what type of selfishness he's getting at: the kind that intentionally degrades and harms people - specifically other Christians. It does something for our ego to rub another person's face in their faults or sins. When we are offended by another, our natural reaction is retaliation. We want to punish, irritate, and provoke that person - not so much to get them to change - we do this because it simply makes us feel better. Paul strongly warns against this type of retaliation. It only does more damage because it is selfishly motivated.

Secondly, he warns us to avoid envying one another. This is the opposite extreme. We envy others when we constantly feel inferior. We internally beat ourselves up because we're not as talented, spiritual, skinny, athletic, wealthy, disciplined, or happy as someone else appears to be. This act of envy is actually self-centeredness. A tendency to covet others' lives can quickly turn them into idols and their good traits into objects of lust.

These unhealthy opposites are symptoms of the same problem: self-centered ambition. This problem will be yours and mine when we choose not to walk in the Spirit. "God, help me to see others with eyes of compassion and care. When I'm offended, help me to turn the other cheek and forgive instead of my tendency to retaliate. Remind me to simply be blessed by others' strengths when I am tempted to covet and envy their strengths. Produce your spiritual fruit in me today."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Unending Circle

Ethan looked at my hand and said, "what is that thing on your finger?" The innocence and ignorance of 4-year-olds is constant entertainment. I tried to explain that mommy gave me this ring almost 10 years ago when she married me. Of course he didn't care anything about that... he only wanted me to take it off and show it to him. I never take my ring off, but was able to finally remove it and show him my initials, LaVonna's initials, and our wedding date inscribed inside the band. Ben was now interested and wanted to see pictures of our wedding day. Since our wedding album is safely stashed behind a baby-proof cabinet, it was easier just to show him the two wedding pictures we keep out in our bedroom. "Look how beautiful mommy looked in her dress!" "Look at all your hair in that picture, dad!" My ring was also visible in the photo. I explained that I have hardly ever taken it off since that picture was taken. My wedding band is a constant sign to me, LaVonna, and the world that I am happily married. I wouldn't trade our marriage for anything. This all reminded me that our boys will enter adulthood either wanting a marriage like ours, or wanting to be nothing like us. I hope and pray that we model a successful, happy, and thriving marriage. It not only affects LaVonna and me. Little eyes are watching and learning from our example. "Marriage is honorable in all..." Hebrews 13:4.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Gatalians 5:25

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." Galatians 5:25
This seems to be a restatement of Gal 5:16 where we were commanded to walk in the Spirit. For Paul, it was not a restatement at all: it was a more specific, clarifying command. The term, walk, is a different Greek term altogether than what Paul previously used. Before you say, "WHO CARES?", please realize this different term for walk is the key to this chapter! It means to live in conformity to a fixed standard. This verse could easily be translated like this: "since the Spirit has given us life, we should also let Him control our lives." Let's face it, this is easier said than done. Sure, we want to get saved and go to heaven. We love the idea of everlasting life. But how many of us are longing for our lives on earth to be Holy Spirit controlled? Paul is making a case for deliberate consistency in the Christian life. This verse demonstrates that God's Spirit should be in control in every area of the Christian's life: church involvement, marriage, the workplace, the business trip, our endless entertainment options, parenting, finances, relationships, and free time. As Christians, we have been given life by the Spirit. We are Biblically commanded to also walk in Him... or allow Him to control us. Can we really expect success in life if we do not give God the right to be in control?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Galatians 5:24

"And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." Pretty graphic statement when you think about it. Paul's direct audience was all too familiar with the horrors of Roman crucifixion. Crucifixion was a brutally painful way to die. It was also a method of publicly shaming the criminal while striking fear into the bystanders. The Romans had obviously crucified Jesus decades before Paul wrote Galatians. Other than believers, that culture was in denial that Jesus had risen. Paul now states, "they that are Christ's..." implying that His resurrection was real, but also that real ownership over the believer is in Christ alone. Believers are not owned by the culture, the government (praise God), or even by the church, because they are Christ's. He now states that all saved people "have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts." How do we still struggle with the flesh if we have "killed" it? Paul is showing that when a believer is saved, he/she publicly transfers allegiance from the lusts of our day to Jesus Himself. We must see the lust of the flesh as an enemy or criminal which is intolerable and must be publicly shamed. This does not mean that we become perfect people free from temptation, but rather, that sin is not our master. If you are saved, you have publicly transferred your allegiance from sin to Christ. If that is so, are you serving your real master, or are you tolerating sin?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Galatians 5:22-23

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law." Galatians 5:22-23. Paul produces another famous list: The Fruit of the Spirit. This is no ordinary physical fruit - this is the fruit developing in maturing Christian lives. Two things stand out to me: 1) "Fruit" is singular in it's Greek construction here. ("Fruit" can be singular or plural in English, and since there are 9 listed, our first glance is to assume it is plural here). Rather than 9 types of fruit, God presents a 9-dimensional type of fruit that Christians should produce. 2) It is the fruit of the Spirit. I can't just get up and try harder to be more loving, patient, or better self-controlled. Together, this 9-dimensional fruit is the natural spiritual product of following hard after God. It is something that God Himself produces in me. It is an all or nothing principle. God brings forth each "type" of fruit, leaving none to disease or drought. Each of these 9 come in conjunction with the others. Fruit trees in our world need proper surroundings to bear what they're intended to produce: Sunlight, water, proper soil drainage, and sometimes fertilizer. If these elements are lacking, the tree will suffer. Spiritually speaking, I must absorb God's word as much as possible, as often as possible for this 9-dimensional spiritual fruit to thrive in me.

Monday, August 10, 2009

An Offer I Couldn't Refuse

After the overwhelming excitement of the kiddie roller coaster, the merry-go-round, and the ferris wheel, it was time for a more manly quest: the batting cages. I recently attended a family party at Tuscora Park, which is full of nice playgrounds, a few rides, and of course, the batting cages. With every revolution of the twirly swings, my brother, Eric and I were longing more and more to go take some real swings. We each had an embarrassing round or two before we got our timing down and really started hitting. While Eric was hitting in the 35-40 mph cage (the slowest one), a guy stepped out of the next cage down and said to me, "you can hit the rest of these pitches, I'm done." Free swings? I couldn't refuse. I soon realized these pitches were much more than I could handle. It was the 80-85 mph cage. They were coming fast and furious. Not once did I even make contact... in fact, not even close. It gave me much more sympathy for pro players when they strike out, and much more appreciation for them when they hit it well. I guess that's why I make the big bucks as a pastor and not a baseball player. "Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." Prov. 16:19

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Galatians 5:19-21

I don't normally distance myself from my kids intentionally. But if I am away too much, or am too busy at home doing chores that keep me from the kids, I know what will happen: misbehavior. It may rear it's ugly head in different ways, but it almost always happens. Their childish antics noticeably escalate when the kids don't have the time they need with me or LaVonna. What does life look like without God? In Galatians 5:19-21, the Apostle Paul intentionally lists what people do and think about when they keep God distant. The list includes everything from sexual sin, to sorcery, to outbursts of anger, jealousy, and drunkenness. Paul adds in verse 21, "and such like," as if to say, "and any other sin we might commit." This multi-verse list is God's attempt to bring everyone's head down out of the clouds. We all struggle with the works of the flesh. Here's what strikes fear into our hearts: "...they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. -vs 21b." Does this mean that if I fall into one or more of these sins that I'm no longer saved? Of course not! When we get saved God adopts us as His own children. What good father would ever disown his children just because they disobey? The word, "do," literally means to regularly, intentionally pursue something. This Greek term is sometimes used to describe the systematic practice of paying taxes or bills. The point of the verse is this: the people who regularly, and intentionally practice these types of sins have never been saved. Consequently, unsaved people regularly practice what comes naturally to them: selfish sin.
God simply doesn't allow His children to intentionally pursue a sinful lifestyle. We will not fulfill, or act upon the lust (or temptations) of the flesh when we intentionally pursue a regular walk in the Spirit. But our childish, sinful actions will escalate when we don't spend the time we need with our Father.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Childish Generosity

We've been trying to teach the boys to stop being selfish and to start caring about others. Last night was a rare golden moment of success. We arrived home from our evening VBS and played on the driveway together as it got dark. Benjamin had somehow gotten 2 bags of candy from VBS and Ethan had none. Voluntarily, Benjamin gave an entire bag of his candy to Ethan. Nothing like this has ever happened before. I was pretty sure I could hear angels singing from the skies. Out of nowhere, Ethan (4 yrs) tightly closed his eyes and started praying, "Dear God, thank you that Ben was so nice and gave me his bag of candy. I can't wait to eat it..." Are prayers allowed to be funny? LaVonna and I couldn't stop laughing. I'm pretty sure God was laughing too. "In everything give thanks." I Thessalonians 5:18.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Galatians 5:18

"If ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law." - Gal. 5:18

When we use the word "if," there is normally some degree of uncertainty to our reasoning. "If" usually implies that something might happen, but it might not. To my boys I might say, "if you eat all your vegetables, I'll let you have some gum." The choice is up to them whether they receive their coveted treat. Imagine this scenario: I spy the boys secretly sneaking gum out of the cupboard after they did not eat their vegetables. From the other room I call, "If you are getting a piece of gum, you're busted!" In this situation, there is no condition. The scenario has no uncertainty: I saw them and they are busted, even though I used the typically uncertain word "if." In Galatians 5:18, this is exactly the usage of "if." Paul says, "If ye be led of the Spirit..." This Greek form of "if" actually shows certainty. It could be stated, "If ye be led by the Spirit (and you are), then ye are not under the law." So what's the point? As a believer in Christ, I am led by the Spirit, and am free from the cage of the Old Testament law. The law was and is very good. But all of it was fulfilled in Jesus. I would demonstrate an "iffy" faith in Christ should I enslave myself to the law after salvation. This verse takes my mind back to Gal. 5:1 - "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entagled again with the yoke of bondage." We can sure look "externally spiritual" if we follow some list of rules and regulations for life. Remember, we are not saved on the inside by being good on the outside. But rather, since I am saved on the inside, I am also free on the outside: Free to follow God's Spirit. "God, I could never do enough good things to be saved. I can never do enough good things to keep myself saved. Thank you for saving me and keeping me saved! Help me to stay of prideful external spirituality. Lead my by Your Spirit today."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Too Much Good Stuff

Last Friday I took Benjamin to his first Cleveland Indians game. It was a thrill watching his eyes light up as he caught his first glimpse inside of the nearly-full stadium! Everything was so exciting to him - from the gigantic escalators, to the roving stadium vendors, to the humongous scoreboard, to "Slider" the big purple/pink Indians mascot. I knew it was an atmosphere his little 6 year-old eyes had never witnessed before. He was overwhelmed. Somewhere between the 4th & 5th inning Benjamin looked at me with panic in his eyes and emphatically said, "I want to go... now!" We had just been to the restroom, so I knew he didn't need to go. I had already spent $15 on food for the 2 of us, so I knew he wasn't hungry. He had completely healed from the stomach flu several days ago, so I knew he wasn't going to heave. I took him to an uncrowded area and realized, this kid is so over-stimulated and exhausted that he almost had a panic attack. After just a few quiet minutes away from all the normal ballpark sights and noise, he was ready to take in more baseball, food, and fun. The game went 13 innings and Ben was actually fairly upset when we finally left around midnight after the 11th inning ended. This reminded me of full-time ministry. I absolutely love everything I do - worship planning and leading, discipleship, evangelism, sermon planning, counseling, and preaching & teaching. Sometimes I don't know when to stop. Then there are those times that I hit the wall and need a breather. It's the law of the Sabbath. God has made us with a built-in need for periodic rest. Once we take that needed breather... a weekly day off, or a periodic vacation, we will be much better equipped to serve God over the long haul.