Monday, August 30, 2010

Grace vs. Law

In Galatians 2 we see Paul recounting a trip to Jerusalem to meet with Peter once more, and the leaders of the Jerusalem Church; John and James, Jesus' brother. There was trouble being made by a sect that was harassing Paul and the Gentile converts. Let's see what was happening in the Early Church that also has an impact on our faith today.

Version: NAS

Galatians 2:1-5

1. Then after an interval of fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along also. 2. And it was because of a revelation that I went up; and I submitted to them the gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but [I did so] in private to those who were of reputation, for fear that I might be running, or had run, in vain. 3. But not even Titus who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised. 4. But [it was] because of the false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. 5. But we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.

 Fourteen years had gone by since Paul had been converted to Christianity on the road to Damascus. God had Paul with Him, teaching and administering the birth of a ministry. Paul had made one visit to Peter in Jerusalem where he stayed 15 days. While there, he met with James, the Lord's brother, but no other disciples. In the interim of these two visits Paul had made several mission trips throughout Greece and Turkey, setting up churches. So now eleven years after the first visit to Jerusalem, Paul receives a revelation from Jesus that he must return. He needs to visit with the church leaders in Jerusalem to discuss a situation that is arising.
Paul knew it was time to  have a "sit down" with the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem. A group of "Judaizers" had infiltrated the "Gentile Churches" and were spreading information contrary to the Gospel.What exactly were they doing? These "false brethren" as Paul calls them, were Jews that were trying to convert new Gentile Christians to Judaism. Remember, these Gentiles were Greeks, Syrian, Turkish, etc. they had not been Jewish, and were unfamiliar with Jewish life and custom. They were converted to Christianity without ever having been Jewish.
The Early Church in Jerusalem consisted of mostly Jews who had believed in Jesus as their Messiah, as did the original twelve disciples of Jesus. There were some Gentiles that had earlier been converted to Judaism, but by and large the Jerusalem Church consisted of Jewish converts, not Gentile converts.
The Judaizers were probably "on the fence" so to speak about Jesus. They saw His value, and may have partially believed in His ministry, but were trying to get new Gentile converts to adhere to the strict Jewish laws and customs. This is where the problem lies. Paul's message was one of grace and liberty through Jesus Christ. The Judaizers were trying to pervert this message and drag these new Christians back under the Law. The Law of Moses and the Ten Commandments and all the Jewish rules and traditions. Christianity is a message of Grace. The Old Testament was about the Law, as that was God's plan to keep His people "uncorrupted". But the New Testament Gospel is all about Jesus who is the "fulfillment" of the law. He perfected the laws and rules of the Old Testament. Salvation through Jesus brings us to a place of freedom through God's Grace; His unmerited love and favor.
Paul knew through the Holy Spirit it was time to get this settled once and for all. He needed the endorsement of the Jerusalem leaders to back him and qualify him. Without the agreement of Paul, James, and John the New Church was headed for a split. It was crucial that there be a united front on the ministry of Paul toward the Gentiles. Peter was ministering to the Jewish community, where Paul was ministering to Gentile groups. There aren't two different Gospels, but one. In the beginning of Jesus' Ministry He focused on the Jewish people. After all, Jesus is the Messiah. The savior of the Jewish people. Up until Jesus came on the scene, there was not much thought of converting the masses. The Jews were a people "set apart" for God, His chosen people. But the Bible clearly states that once the Jewish people and leadership rejected Jesus as the Messiah, that He opened the doors for all mankind to be saved..."whoever" as in John 3:16.
This is where this information and these scriptures come into play for us today. Christianity is not a religion of Do's and Don'ts. I think we have all been caught up in this at one time or another. The Church today sometimes gets the reputation as being the arbitrator on our social life, AND our spiritual life. I know when I was young, you COULDN'T dance, play cards, have a drink, say a cuss word, etc. If any of these things happened and you got "found out", good grief, you were in danger of being an outcast or at the least gossiped about. I'll talk about this more later. But today I want to make the point that Jesus is not negative, but positive. We do things in our lives, in all areas; social, job related, family related, and spiritually related because we want to do things Jesus' way. He's not condemning or harsh. He wants us to follow Him in our lifestyles because it's best for us, but He's not standing there with a big stick to beat us over the head with it, if we aren't living a "perfect lifestyle". How many people have been "rejected" by our churches? Jesus stands at the door and grieves for those who have felt left out, turned away, and judged.
So if you aren't perfect, join me in realizing that God is positive, forward thinking and not one to bruise or hurt us. He wants to take us in His arms, love on us, direct us, encourage us, but not punish us. We have the Freedom in Christ to make mistakes, then listen to His Word and counsel. He's for us, not against us. Amen!
love, in Jesus,

Monday, August 23, 2010

God Can Change Our Plan

Paul is giving his personal history to the Galatians once more. He's reminding them of what had happened to him on the road to Damascus, and what took place after that. Let's look at not only the details of that experience, but what happened shortly after to see how it positioned him to be used by God.

Galatians 1:16-24

16. to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17. nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. 18. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, (Peter) and stayed with him fifteen days. 19. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord's brother. 20. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 21. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22. And I was [still] unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23. but only, they kept hearing, "He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy." 24. And they were glorifying God because of me.

Let's take a good look at these words in bold print. After Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus he was "sent by God" into the city and waited there for God's instruction. To understand Galatians, we need to also look at the Book of Acts for the "backstory" of Paul. Let's read the following to get a clear view of what happened to "Saul" as he was nearing Damascus, intent on persecuting Christians there.

Acts 9: 3-9

3. And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4. and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5. And he said, "Who art Thou, Lord?" And He [said], "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6. but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do." 7. And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. 8. And Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

 My first thought here is that it was not only "Paul" who experienced this flash of light and hearing of the voice of God. It says that those traveling with him also experienced it and that they also heard God's voice. I imagine that it was necessary for the others in the entourage to hear God so that they would be able to assist him in getting to where God wanted him to go. A big change of plans and Paul would need the help and support of those with him. I wonder if the others experienced the same kind of radical salvation as Paul, or were they just terrified? How could you experience this sort of thing and not be changed?

Let's see what God has to say to Paul. He asks him a question. Paul, why are you persecuting me? So often God has a way of getting our attention, that comes in the form of a question. Is God asking something of you right now? Has your life been "interrupted" by God, with something you didn't foresee? Has He asked you to change your plans? Trading our agenda for God's is not always easy. We may not be "persecuting" the Gospel, but are we doing something for God that is part of His plan, and not our own?

Mighty Paul the persecutor of the church was reduced to a blind man, completely helpless and in need of assistance. God told him what to do and even though I'm sure it was difficult in the fact that he was out to get the Christians there, he obeyed the Lord's voice and did as he was told. Being vulnerable and without our own agenda is often times where God will call us to be. That's a place where He has our attention.

Don't you imagine that Paul was fearful of both sides? Jews because he had turned traitor, and Christians because he was now vulnerable? What would happen when the news got out? And out it would be. I'm sure many were wondering what had happened to this persecutor of the Church, was it for real or a hoax; a plot to lure them in by disclosing themselves to this murderer? I'm sure Paul himself had a million questions to ask God.

As Paul was waiting in Damascus blind and helpless, God was also speaking to a Christian in the same city. God was laying out a plan for him to follow also. Both parties were willing and available to hear God, and to be obedient. And isn't that what God asks of all of us? Availability and willingness, to not only hear God speak, but to then follow through even though it might make us feel vulnerable and require a change in our thinking.

Paul stayed in Damascus and in Syria for three years. It was a time of isolation and complete dependence on God. Three years that Paul listened to the voice of God, alone. No other outside influences, no apostles, no other agenda. By himself...alone with God. Sometimes that's where God calls us to be; alone with just Him. Paul had to be prepared for ministry, and even though it might have been the logical thing for him to go back to Jerusalem and be in the midst of the apostles, comforted and protected; he trusted God, listened to Him, studied under the Holy Spirit, and did things God's way.

This isolation is important to understand because Paul's ministry would come under fire from every direction. Who taught him? Who did he study under? Did the apostles approve and endorse him? Important questions that would be asked once Paul came on the scene. It was critical and of most value for Paul to remain in isolation so that it would be clear that he received his "revelation" not from any man, but from Jesus Himself. Paul was an apostle. The disciples had been with Jesus for three years, and so now Paul would be with Jesus for three years. Interesting.

Is God preparing you for something? Let Him be the leader and director. He may ask you to be with Him more often, you may feel a calling and desire for more prayer and/or Bible Study. Follow the lead of the Lord, don't be afraid to be vulnerable. Trust Him, he will protect you. He may have a big plan in store.

love in Jesus,

Monday, August 16, 2010

Personal Revelation

We know God has laid out His plans for the Gospel and Eternity, but does He still speak to us, personally? Does He care about us as an individual who needs a personal "word" from the Holy Spirit? We're still looking at Saul/Paul's conversion and how he heard God speak to him.

Galatians 1: 11-17
11. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. 12. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but [I received it] through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13. For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it; 14. and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15. But when He who had set me apart, [even] from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased 16. to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17. nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.

In verse 11 there is a key phrase I want to look at. "received through a revelation of Jesus Christ". We know Paul aka "Saul" of Tarsus, was a zealous persecutor of Christians. He was a young rabbi taught under the tutelage of Gamaliel, a famous Jewish teacher in the first century. As I mentioned last week, Saul was fast making a name for himself that was causing him to rise up in the Jewish leadership. He was the "hands on" man for persecuting and killing Christians.
The word "revelation" in the Greek is apokalypto which means to disclose, unveil, uncover. And has the sense of restoring or curing. We are familiar with the word, "apokalypse" which comes from this Greek word, referring in our culture today as end time events or something of cataclysmic change and importance.

Saul had been on a mission to kill Christians in the city of Damascus, Syria, which is north of Israel and Jerusalem. For an in depth personal account of his experience read Acts 9 :1-19. Paul makes it clear that he did not receive his revelation from any man; not from the Jews, and not from the Christians. The Jews were trying to wipe out the Christians, and the Christians were afraid of Saul so they had nothing to do with him. His revelation came from Jesus Christ himself.

And what is this "revelation" that Paul is talking about? Something that had been hidden, a "mystery" not understood or yet uncovered for the Jews to know. Plain and simple, the message of Jesus Christ; that salvation was not just for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles, (everyone else). That revelation rocked the world of the Jewish people and they did not, nor have they yet, received it. Throughout the Old Testament there are indicators and prophecies of the "Savior" who would be coming. But the Jews had a concept of who they wanted that savior to be, and he didn't look anything like Jesus of Nazareth.

Do we feel like "revelation" is just for the OT and the early New Testament times? Well, some denominations would believe and say so. But God is still God, and even though there might not be the same type of revelations, we all still need to have Jesus "reveal" Himself to us personally. Maybe we haven't led a life as counter-productive to the cause of Christ that Saul had lived, but we all need salvation and to know our Savior on a personal one-on-one way.

In verse 15 of Galatians, chapter 1, Paul talks about God setting him apart from birth, and calling him by His Grace. In Jeremiah 1: 5-10 the OT prophet Jeremiah recalls his own calling, evidently at a young age. Take time to read this passage sometime this week. You will be blessed by it and maybe feel a tug at your own heart.

I remember about 11 years ago, (not well read in the Bible, or having studied alot) I came across these words in Jeremiah 1:5, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart..." I remember it clearly because I was on a quest for personal revelation from God. I needed to hear from Him, personally. I was setting at the kitchen table, Bible on my lap. I read those words and an electric spark went through me. God was speaking. He was talking to me. insignificant me. Those words touched me so powerfully. I had heard them before...for many years. They had lived in a hidden place in my soul and spirit. A place that sometimes seems unreachable, yet we know it's there. A place where our spirit communicates with the Holy Spirit. Those words had been hidden there, until that moment when God "revealed" Himself to me personally for my own life.

There are many many people in the world today, that believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and Savior, yet they have not had a "personal revelation" of who He is. I'm encouraging you and me both, to seek personal revelation from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, the Bible. (they need to go hand in hand) He will send it to you. Do you have problems in your daily life?...children, spouse, health, relationships, finances, unsaved loved ones? God is waiting to personally reveal Himself to you in these areas. It's something I need to remember too; seeking Jesus for personal revelation of His will for my life. Trust Him. He's ready to communicate.

This is where I will strongly reiterate the need for daily Bible study. When we put ourselves before God; Bible open, He sees our willingness and availability to hear from Him. If you aren't reading your Bible it's harder to get to that place. Not impossible, because people find Jesus everyday that have never picked up a Bible. But to receive instruction and personal guidance from God we need to be in His Word.

Paul is a huge example of how "suddenly" God can step in and change our lives...and our destiny. Don't give up on the possibility of "suddenlies" in your spiritual life.

love in Jesus,

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Who do we please?

What a mouthful Paul spoke when he asked the question "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?" How do we know if our motives are God-centered or man-centered? Knowing the difference can make a huge impact on our everyday life and the ultimate fulfillment of our purpose.

Version: NAS

Galatians 1:10
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

One of the main concepts of this verse, other than who we are seeking approval from, is the idea of the term "bond-servant". This has more of the concept of a person who is "indebted" or "obliged" to someone else, and not so much as "ownership" by someone else. In Bible times people might have a debt of property that needed to be paid off and so they would contract themselves to another for a period of time to pay off that debt. In today's ideas many of us would be bond-servants of the mortgage company, Sears, and Macy's. (Just a little humor here!) But in those days, not only were you indebted, but it was a personal relationship and often one with gratitude and affinity attached.

So do we stop and examine our motive in situations and relationships?. Are we God-Pleasers or Man-Pleasers? How often do we take something on because we have a need for approval of other people? I know I've been guilty of this, as most of us have been at one time or another. I really care about other people's opinion of me, sometimes more than I should. As I've matured and gotten older I've learned the value of balancing this need. If we are always doing things for the approval of others we can soon find ourselves hurt and disappointed... and exhausted.

Taking things to God in prayer has really helped me sort out a lot of this. Knowing what God's will is and His plan can save us a lot of confusion. I've mentioned this before, but it's a key in my life. Don't do things on a whim; ask for God's approval and direction.

In Paul's case, before his conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus to kill and imprison believers, he truly felt he was doing "God's will". Unfortunately he was wrong. What may appear as the right thing to do, our sincerity, and enthusiasm, aren't always good indicators of the will of God. Neither are they an indicator of God's approval. As a Jew, and a Pharisee, highly educated and wealthy, Paul was gung-ho on putting an end to all these traitors to the Jewish faith. It was his personal mission to get rid of and/or persecute as many of these "Christians" as he possibly could. Paul was gaining the approval of the Jewish councils and higher-ups. He was a young man on the rise and making a pretty big name for himself. You want to get rid of some pesky Christians? Who ya gonna call? Paul, known at that time, as Saul. He was at the stoning of Stephen and and in full approval of that dreadful decision. Acts 7:54-8:3

When God first called me, He had me "out-there" in the founding of a church start. It wasn't particularly easy being a woman in the landscape of ministry in the denomination I was in. Let's face it, it was like walking on eggshells of ego, the buddy system, and the "traditions of men". The dominant word here being "men". There was a phrase jokingly put, that coming to the alter to pray or confess, was the closest any woman would ever get to the pulpit. Sad but true.

They all liked what God was saying through me as long as it wasn't rocking their boat. I could keep my spot in the semi inner circle of this small church start, as long as I agreed with everything they said and did. In the natural I wanted to be accepted because I knew God was moving mightily in the midst of our congregation and He had some powerful things to do there. What initially had started out completely Spirit-led soon disintegrated into the man-made rule book way of doing things.

Well, I guess you can catch my drift. No matter how much I wanted to stay in good standing with the "group" there, God was asking me to stay true to Him; not any one person or denominational "handbook". I didn't last long there as I couldn't go along with it, so my husband and I excused ourselves.

Version: RSV

2 Corinthians 5:9-10
9. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.(God) 10. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body.

God has a way of asking us to do things at times that goes against the grain of "mainstream" religion. He's not particularly worried about what others might think of us. I'm not talking about rudeness, or craziness, or "show-offy-ness". (my own word here). I'm talking about following the Holy Spirit in our words and actions. Being true to what God is asking and saying, and not bowing down to pressure...not following the crowd to gain the approval of others. Ultimately, on Judgement Day, we will have to give an account of what we have done here on Earth; good or bad, lasting or inconsequential, God directed or man directed.
God once showed me a little mental picture (a small vision, if you will) of the "reserved seating" pews that we find in many church sanctuaries. It's usually up close to the front, to one side, for visiting speakers or clergy. He said to me, "This is where they want me to sit."  They didn't want Him to be front and center; in charge of the service, but just to take His place to sit and not say anything until called upon. Just visiting.

I don't know about you, but I don't want Jesus to be in the "just visiting section" in my life. I want Him fully in charge, directing my life, and in control. And to get that I need to be a bond-servant. Grateful and indebted to Jesus for my salvation AND my life.

Seeking God's approval over man's. You'll never be able to please everyone, so better to just try and please God. He'll let you know if you just ask.

love, in Jesus,

Monday, August 2, 2010

No Other Gospel

Knowing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is of the upmost importance. There are a lot of  "gospels" out there in the world today, but there is only one true Gospel and that is the one from Jesus Christ. If you're following an "added on" version or different "gospel". I'm hoping that this study of Galatians will reveal that to you.

Version: New American Standard

Galatians 1:6-9
6. I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; 7. which is [really] not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.

The word "gospel" comes from the Greek word "euangelion" which means good news. We get the words "evangelize" and "evangelist" from this word, meaning someone who preaches the gospel or preaches the good news.

In the case that you are reading this Bible Study today and you are thinking, "What...there are other "gospels"? The answer would be "yes", there are other "gospels" out there. Some lay in the guise of Christianity, others are blatant, but most are man's spin on religion or spirituality. All you have to do is look as far as the New York Times Best Seller list to find one or more perversions of the Gospel of Jesus.

Matthew 5:18
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

 Luke 16:17
And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

The New International Version gives us a more clear understanding of these verses and these two words, when it says that "not the smallest letter; not the least stroke of a pen" . A jot and a tittle were letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The meaning? Nothing written in the Bible should be changed, added on to, or taken away from. If it is, then it is not the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The books of the Bible were conceived by the Holy Spirit, and compiled under His direction. Now we may not always understand what it all means, but we're not supposed to add or subtract from God's Word. Here is where it gets tricky, because I've heard one denomination call another denomination "false prophets" just because they didn't "agree" with what was being said. The key to knowing whether or not something is the true Gospel of Jesus Christ or a false gospel is whether or not it is found in the Bible, and I do mean the "Holy Bible".

If you don't believe the Bible then it's really easy to get off track. We can't pick and choose what we believe from it. Like I said, we might not always understand, but we can't have a Bible Smorgasbord  where we reject the parts that don't seem to "fit" into our lifestyles and points of view. Too many religions and cults have found their origins in adding on to or subtracting from the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The way I see it is this. Get your own Bible and read it. Become familiar with it. Study it. That way you won't be fooled by someone coming along and trying to tell you different. Pray for revelation and hearing from God. Ask Him to lead and guide you and to reveal if anything you are believing is not the true Gospel.

So back to the "other gospels". When I was working in the Freedom in Christ ministry and talking with people and going through their ideas, view points, and history, there were many who had fallen prey and victim to New Age Philosophy. The New Age theory is basically that you are master of your own universe and that you are a God in and of yourself. There is no One God (Jehovah), but "God" can be found in any natural or inanimate thing. The New Age has a habit of taking a little of the scriptures and incorporating them into their own teachings. That way it "sounds better" and is more palatable to those seeking "enlightenment" in their spiritual journey. But they "pervert" the true Gospel in a way to make it easier to follow, and to appeal to the masses of people searching. Nothing in the Bible suggests that what Jesus had to say was particularly "easy", on the contrary He said the way was narrow, and that many would look at the Gospel and then reject it because it seemed to be more than what they were willing to do and believe in.

Today, I'm encouraging you to seek God for His words concerning your beliefs. Lay them before God and ask for revelation if there is any thing that you are believing or practicing that is not Biblical or Truth.

Following the "traditions of men" can prevent us from following Jesus.

Version: NAS
Mark 7: 6-8
6. And He said to them, "Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, 'This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far away from Me. 7. 'But in vain do they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.' 8. "Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men."

There is nothing or no person that can take the place of our Bible and the message of Jesus Christ. If what you are believing, worshiping, or practicing is not Christ centered, then get a Bible and start in the New Testament. Let it be the defining factor in all your beliefs.

Next time we'll take a look at what this particular "gospel" was that Paul was warning his converts about.

Love you all, thank you for reading and joining in in this study of Galatians. I love seeing your comments and thoughts. Please feel free to leave a message in the comments section. Remember, what you are thinking may be what someone else needs to hear.
God Bless You,