Archive for March, 2006

We start with a reminder that favoritism is forbidden for two reasons: 1) the rich persecute the poor, and 2) when you favor the rich, you violate the law of love.
So, if we’re favoring those who have something to offer us in return… we need to QUIT IT!

vs 12 “Speak and act as those who will be judged by a law that gives freedom.” I’m wondering if this speaks to the ongoing discussion we’ve been having regarding the relationship of faith and the law. We will never be wholly successful following the law. But, (praise God!) we have the blood of Jesus for our atonement, and the Spirit of God for limitless power. So, as we live in the power of the resurrected Jesus, full of the spirit, we can respect the law – because the law expresses the character and will of God. The law will clarify HIM as it gives us freedom. Following the law without Jesus, exposes us as sinners. Following the law in Jesus does too….. Perhaps that doesn’t hold up very well…. hmmmm…. Anyone?

For others, we withhold judgement and show mercy. Mercy rocks! (Perhaps I’ll start a band…)

FAITH WITHOUT WORKS IS DEAD!
If there aren’t any verbs, it just doesn’t add up.

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I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart. I’m sure for all of us those word bring back a familiar Sunday school tune that we sang very long ago. When we hear those words we think of the good that is happening in our lives. James says the exact opposite in the beginning of his letter. He states that we should count it all joy when we endure trials. He lets us know that our trial’s helps us grow as we endure the test. He also talks to us about asking without doubting when it comes to expecting God to answer our prayers for wisdom when were in the midst of trials. When we are enduring trials we need to do it with patients because God will bless those that do. We need to understand that these tests don’t come from God but these tests come from our own evil desires because every perfect gift comes from God.

In verse 19, he continues with his message. In the past I have always separated this as a different idea because in the Bible it is separate. But I think that he is continuing in his thought. While we are enduring trials, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because getting angry will not help. We need to get rid of the filth (the temptations) and humbly accept the message that is in our hearts. When we are listening to the message, don’t just listen but we need to apply so that can conquer the temptations in our lives. When we apply the message this will set us free and God will bless us.

The last two verses to me seem to fit into the next chapter where he begins to talk about how we treat people. He talks about that if you’re religious and can’t control you tongue your just fooling yourself. If you truly are religious then you should take care of the widows and orphans. In the beginning of chapter two he begins by talking about how we act around the rich and what we say to the poor.

What do you think about these two verses? Where do you think they fit in this letter? The controlling of the tongue is also discussed in chapter 3.

Paul encourages the church to support each other. This is good adivce, and I wish all churches would do this all the time. Specifically, he starts out saying, “if a person is discovered in some sin, … restore [them] in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too.” This is incredibly good advice. Further advice is given to be humble and not prideful (“if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself”), and that what one can be proud of is managing one’s own load, rather than comparing oneself to others (and showing envy, presumably).

Next, Paul shifts to moreso a call to action. He advises to existing believers that they have a responsibility to take what is learned seriously, for “a person will reap what he sows,” so make it count! Also, “let us do good to all people, and especially to those who belong to the family of faith.” That last clause bothers me a bit, and almost goes against other teachings. Are Christians superior to other non-believers, and should they treat each other with extra kindness, or should Christians reach out to the world of unbelievers? This clause seems almost anti-evangelical! Then again, Paul could just be telling a distraught church to take care of their own and heal their own wounds first. But that’s not how a plain reading of the text goes.

In the Benediction, or closing, Paul gets back to the topic of circumcision. He is basically stating that circumcision in meaningless, and “[all that] matters is a new creation!” He makes some sweeping generalization (seemingly so) in saying that “those who are circumcised do not obey the law themselves, but want you to be circumcised so that they can boast about your flesh (or outward appearance).” He seems to be dismissing those who are earnestly following the OT here. Does this seem a tad anti-semitic?

Finally, near the end in Gal 6:17, Paul says, “from now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear the marks of Jesus on my body.” Just after he said that outward appearances don’t matter, he’s referring to marks on his body. Did Paul get a tatoo or something? I thought getting marked was “bad.” What does this mean, and doesn’t this seem contradictory to his statement about circumcision being a thing of the flesh only (and yet still being marked, many of us would say, severely)?

Frankly… I’m confused, a bit disturbed, a bit astounded. Paul was a complex guy. Any insights, gang?

Oh, and this finishes out the book of Galatians. Next up… the book of James!!!

21:15 The people regretted what had happened to Benjamin because the Lord had weakened the Israelite tribes. 21:16 The leaders of the assembly said, “How can we find wives for those who are left? After all, the Benjaminite women have been wiped out. 21:17 The remnant of Benjamin must be preserved. An entire Israelite tribe should not be wiped out. 21:18 But we can’t allow our daughters to marry them, for the Israelites took an oath, saying, ‘Whoever gives a woman to a Benjaminite will be destroyed!’ 21:19 However, there is an annual festival to the Lord in Shiloh, which is north of Bethel (east of the main road that goes up from Bethel to Shechem) and south of Lebonah.” 21:20 So they commanded the Benjaminites, “Go hide in the vineyards, 21:21 and keep your eyes open. When you see the daughters of Shiloh coming out to dance in the celebration, jump out from the vineyards. Each one of you, catch yourself a wife from among the daughters of Shiloh and then go home to the land of Benjamin. 21:22 When their fathers or brothers come and protest to us, we’ll say to them, “Do us a favor and let them be, for we could not get each one a wife through battle. Don’t worry about breaking your oath! You would only be guilty if you had voluntarily given them wives.’”

21:23 The Benjaminites did as instructed. They abducted two hundred of the dancing girls to be their wives. They went home to their own territory, rebuilt their cities, and settled down. 21:24 Then the Israelites dispersed from there to their respective tribal and clan territories. Each went from there to his own property. 21:25 In those days Israel had no king. Each man did what he considered to be right. – Judges 21:15-25

Eleven of the tribes of Israel rose up to punish the last tribe, Benjamin, because they had allowed despicable and sinful thing to happen. The Benjaminite men of one city has brutally raped and murdered a young woman. Literally, thousands of people died over this incident of sin. Afterwards, the leaders of the other tribes were worried because they had killed all of the Benjaminites (including women and children) except for 600 men. They were worried because their were no wives for these men to continue on the tribe of Benjamin and they had vowed that they would not let any of their women marry a Benjaminite. So, they come up with plan to destroy another city and take all of the virgin women to be wives for the Benjaminites. However, they are still two hundred women short. So they told the two hundred men of Benjamin to abduct two hundred women from another city. They reasoned that if they were abducted and not given to the Benjaminites the vow was not broken. As I read this whole episode, I was shocked and appalled by the vast amount of death and destruction. The whole time I kept on thinking, “Where is God in this.” Then I realized that he was not much a part of it. The only time we see God showing up is after the Benjaminites has killed thousands upon thousands of members of the other tribes. He then tells them he will hand the Benjaminites over to them. I have to wonder if God was displeased by this whole turn of events. Justice was never really sought. Instead the other tribes went for retribution. I wonder if this is a lesson to us today about seeking God before we leap. Justice was definitely needed for this raped and murdered woman, but it was never found.

Heavenly Father,

We are an impulsive people. Often we rise up and do things our way instead of yours. I know I have done this all too often. Help those who call themselves by your name to truly seek you first before we act. Help us to always make sure we are following you and not our own foolish ways. I love you Lord. Amen.

Galatians 5

For thousands of years prior to the arrival of Messiah, God made a way for non-Israelites to be redeemed. Gentiles could convert to Judaism by committing themselves to the law, which included circumcision. (I cannot seem to find information on the specifics of Gentile conversion at the moment. If anyone else knows it, please share with the group.)

In Galatians 5, Paul is vehemently preaching that not only is circumcision no longer required for redemption, but it voids the sacrifice of the cross. Furthermore, he states that anyone who allows himself to be circumcised is obligated to follow the rest of the law, too, which they are unable to do.

Apparently, there is a group of church leaders telling the people of Galatia that they need to be circumcised.

“Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” verses 7,8

“The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be.” verse 10

“As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” verse 12

Who are the agitators of whom Paul is speaking? And why did he insist on Timothy being circumcised in Acts 16 if he felt this strongly about avoiding the act? (In Phillippians 3:2, he refers to circumcision as ‘mutilation.’)

In verse 14, Paul misquotes Jesus, leaving out an important piece:
“The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’.”

In fact, Jesus said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37-39

Was the slip merely an accident? I don’t think so, given the context of Paul’s speech, admonishing the Galatians to avoid the law, which he believes Jesus abolished. According to Jesus, though, the greatest commandment remains: Love the Lord your God. How do we do that?

“This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world.” 1 John 5:2-4

According to John, the commands of God are not burdensome, as Paul declares. Jesus himself said:

“Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” John 14:21

Salvation is freely offered to all, Jew and Gentile, through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. I don’t believe that negates the requirement to follow God’s commands, however. And if I were a boy, I’d be getting myself circumcised.

16:1 Samson went to Gaza. There he saw a prostitute and went in to have sex with her. 16:2 The Gazites were told, “Samson has come here!” So they surrounded the town and hid all night at the city gate, waiting for him to leave. They relaxed all night, thinking, “He will not leave until morning comes; then we will kill him!” 16:3 Samson spent half the night with the prostitute; then he got up in the middle of the night and left. He grabbed the doors of the city gate, as well as the two posts, and pulled them right off, bar and all. He put them on his shoulders and carried them up to the top of a hill east of Hebron.

16:4 After this Samson fell in love with a woman named Delilah, who lived in the Sorek Valley. 16:5 The rulers of the Philistines went up to visit her and said to her, “Trick him! Find out what makes him so strong and how we can subdue him and humiliate him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred silver pieces.”

16:6 So Delilah said to Samson, “Tell me what makes you so strong and how you can be subdued and humiliated.” 16:7 Samson said to her, “If they tie me up with seven fresh bowstrings that have not been dried, I will become weak and be just like any other man.” 16:8 So the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh bowstrings which had not been dried and they tied him up with them. 16:9 They hid in the bedroom and then she said to him, “The Philistines are here, Samson!” He snapped the bowstrings as easily as a thread of yarn snaps when it is put close to fire. The secret of his strength was not discovered. – Judges 16:1-9

Sampson made a very poor nazarite. He did not really seem to want to follow the rules that were set out for those who were under a nazarite vow. In fact, Sampson did not really make a very good follower of God. It is not just that he made mistakes. We all do that each and every day. It that he blatantly flaunted his un-Godly lifestyle. He was sleeping with prostitutes and the Philistine knew it. He was killing people left and right with very little provocation. He fell in love with another Philistine woman who obviously did not love him back. Yet, God used him in mighty ways. Part of this bothers me. The guy was just scum. Then again, he paid the ultimate price in the end and maybe that story of redemption is enough. Today, we would boot somebody out of leadership because of these failings, but God chose to still use him (I guess in the end he did get the ultimate boot out of leadership.)

Heavenly Father,

I do not always understand your ways. I don’t always understand why you choose to use the people you use. Yet, I know you have your reasons that are far above my understanding. Help me to follow you regardless of others that you choose to use regardless of their failings. I love you Lord. Amen.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman.” – Galatians 4:31

Think about it. We have actually been adopted as heirs in the Kingdom. We are God’s children. We have inheritance rights. The theology of adoption is one that I find most fascinating. As the father of three adopted children, I think I understand this in a way many people cannot. All of my children have full inheritance rights. If my wife and I should ever have a biological child (Please Lord do not let this happen at this point) our three daughters will be exact equals with this new child. Biology will not make a difference because they all four would be my children. God looks at us the exact same way. When we ask him to become our father he agrees with everything he is. We are not second class children. We are his children just as if God was our biological father.

As our father, God has asked us to remain in the grace he has given to us. He is telling us to stay away from the law because it only brings condemnation and not grace. Grace allows relationship, but the law on gives rituals that point to the relationship we can now have. Paul goes as far to show this point by comparing living under the law to being a child of Hagar, instead of being a child of grace that was born under the covenant that came through Sarah.

14:1 Samson went down to Timnah, where a Philistine girl caught his eye. 14:2 When he got home, he told his father and mother, “A Philistine girl in Timnah has caught my eye. Now get her for my wife.” 14:3 But his father and mother said to him, “Certainly you can find a wife among your relatives or among all our people! You should not have to go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines.” But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, because she is the right one for me.” 14:4 Now his father and mother did not realize this was the Lord’s doing, because he was looking for an opportunity to stir up trouble with the Philistines (for at that time the Philistines were ruling Israel). – Judges 14:1-4

I am sure that all of the judges that God caused to rise up and liberate Israel had human flaws, but from what we read about Sampson, he seemed to have some of the worst. Here was the only judge we are aware of that God gave supernatural strength. He may have been an amazingly strong man, but he did not have the wisdom or intelligence to temper his strength. Sampson was an impulsive and even arrogant man. He enjoyed taunting the Philistines. Yet God used him anyway. In fact, it seems that God used these very flaws to accomplish his purposes. Sampson’s impulsive and reckless desire to marry a Philistine woman (which was strictly forbidden by God’s law) was used to stir up trouble and throw off the power of the Philistines. Verse 14:4 actually says, “Now his father and mother did not realize this was the Lord’s doing, because he was looking for an opportunity to stir up trouble with the Philistines (for at that time the Philistines were ruling Israel).” I take this to mean that God allowed this to happen, not that God actually caused it to happen, but one could look at it differently. Either way, the marriage never actually happens, so God’s law was not broken. In the end, God used Sampson impulsive ways, but these same ways would be Sampson undoing.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for using us – flaws and all. Thank you for working in our lives so we don’t have to make the same mistakes Sampson made. Help each of us to learn humility and to have a servants heart. I love you Lord. Amen.

Paul continues his opposition of the beliefs of the Galatian church by calling them foolish. Perhaps he thought they were not so much mentally deficient, as unobservant.

He makes the distinction that they received the Spirit by believing, not by obeying the law. Human effort is not effective. Even Abraham did not find favor with God by obedience, but by faith.
I’m sure this is contrary to what I was taught when new on this journey. I was told, erroneously, that the Jews pre-Christ were judged according to their standing with the law and sacrifices. This is clearly not so!
(Was I the only one subjected to this teaching?)

Before Christ, people of faith believed that the coming Messiah would be their salvation. After the resurrection, people of faith believe that the Jesus’ sacrifice provides for our salvation. It plays out similarly, right?

Everybody, in their natural state is stuck with sin. The law exposes our sin so we will seek a remedy. The only adequate remedy is Jesus. Once free, we don’t need the law (vs25).

Paul goes on to tell the Galatian believers that being baptized into Christ is a levelling agent. There is no hierarchy: socially, financially, or based on gender.

10:10 The Israelites cried out for help to the Lord: “We have sinned against you. We abandoned our God and worshiped the Baals.” 10:11 The Lord said to the Israelites, “Did I not deliver you from Egypt, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 10:12 the Sidonians, Amalek, and Midian when they oppressed you? You cried out for help to me, and I delivered you from their power. 10:13 But since you abandoned me and worshiped other gods, I will not deliver you again. 10:14 Go and cry for help to the gods you have chosen! Let them deliver you from trouble!” 10:15 But the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned. You do to us as you see fit, but deliver us today!” 10:16 They threw away the foreign gods they owned and worshiped the Lord. Finally the Lord grew tired of seeing Israel suffer so much. – Judges 10:10-16

They say patience is a virtue and I personally think that most of us don’t really have it (I definitely don’t have it.) However, we can be very glad that God does. As we look over the history of Israel we only see a few times where God seemed ready to abandon them to their fate. We find this passage in Judges 10, we find God telling Moses he is going to wipe out the whole nation and start over through him, and there very well may be one or two others. But, we don’t find very many. What we do find is a God who constantly takes them back. He gave them a covenant promise and he sticks to it. Even thought the Israelites had broken the covenant many time and God could have declared it null and void, he did not. We can be happy to day that we serve this same God. How many times have we done things are acted in ways that go against our relationship with God? I know for me it is too may times to even attempt to count. Yet, God keeps on pursuing me with a passion born our of his creative love.

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for never giving up on me even when I have given up on you. Thank you for drawing me back into your arms filled with grace, mercy and love. Help me to remain in your love and serve you each and every day. I love you Lord. Amen.