Staying on Track

But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods.  But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? ... I am afraid for you, lest I have labored for you in vain.  (Galatians 4:8-11 NKJV)

In reading through Paul's letters to the churches these past few weeks, I am relating in some way to how Paul must have felt when he expressed some of his concerns to his massive "flock".   Aside from Paul's thankfulness for the people of faith at these churches, a prevalent theme in his writings is an expression of distress over their apparent straying from the dedication to the faith that they had been taught.   Paul is perplexed at how they could have strayed from a rock solid faith because Paul knows how powerful the gospel is (Romans 1:16-17).   After all, why would someone stray from something so good?

I appreciate Paul's candor in telling the truth as he sees it.  We know that Paul loved these people.  However, it appears that his statement was not well received because he asks the question later in his letter:

"Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" - Gal 4:16 NKJV

The truth is hard to take and the truth is hard to tell, isn't it?  Generally speaking, these truths of which Paul writes also typify the church today.  We can read the passage at the top of this post (Gal 4:8-11) and be convicted even today, almost 2000 years later, of the state of our churches and the state of our hearts.  We have strayed from God because although we are known by God, we don't know God deeply because we are not in God's word enough to develop an unshakeable faith.  Poor Paul.  He was afraid he had labored in vain.   Pastors today who are passionate about equipping people with God's Word must feel the same frustration, but nonetheless they must keep pressing on to do the work that God has called them to do. 

So how can we keep from straying from our faith?  How can we protect ourselves from falling prey to false doctrine, fear and feeble worship?  We can continue in our faith by striving to know the mind of God through the daily reading of His word.   God's Word, when allowed to dwell in our hearts and bounce around through are minds, has the power to change our lives and enable us to live the way God intended us to live - in a way that will show others that Paul's (and other co-laborers for the gospel) labor was not in vain.   Let's dive in to its riches today.

For Further Thought:

1) How well do you know God?  Gauge this by how often you are reading His "mind", His Word.

2) In what area of your life have you slipped into false thinking or "idol" worship?  If you have, what do you think is the cause in your own life?

3) How do you react when confronted with the truth?  Is it the reaction that God would be pleased with?

Escaping the Past

But they were hearing only, "He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God in me. - Galatians 1:23-24 NKJV

If there were to be a "Top Ten" list of some of the most radically changed lives in world history, the Apostle Paul's life would definitely have my vote to be added to the list.  In Galatians 1:13, Paul recounts some of his past life in his letter to the Galatians by saying

For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.  (NKJV)

Yet, in spite of what Paul had formerly done, he was called by God to preach Jesus and to further the church he once so zealously tried to destroy.    I can only imagine how blown away Paul must have been to be allowed to serve God in spite of his past. 

We all have a past.  Some of our pasts are rather normal seeming and pretty uneventful when compared to others.  Others of us have lived lives we would rather forget.  All of us though, have regrets and wish we could have done some things differently.  However, no matter who we are or what we have done, through a relationship with Christ we have been given the power to change.   Each day when we wake up we are given a new canvas to paint our lives upon.  Sometimes we need to start over more than once throughout the day!  And we can when we confess our faults to God and sincerely vow to start "painting" once again.  I am so thankful for God's forgiveness and the fresh start He offers me every minute of every day.

Paul's life was a testament to an escape from the past.   Paul learned to embrace his past mistakes and declare them as proof that a life can change through the power of God.  Only God could have produced the remarkable change in Paul.  When I read Paul's words from Galatians 1:24 "And they glorified God in me.", I wonder if Paul had a tear in his eye when he penned those words.  I would think that he was truly humbled by the way God was using him.    I know I would have been.   I am humbled every day when I realize that God is using me in some small way.  It is my prayer that God can be glorified in me, no matter what I have or haven't done in the past.

For Forward Thinking...

1) How can the story of Paul's changed life give you hope as to how your own life or circumstance can change for God's glory?

2) In what situation are you having difficulty believing in God's power to change it? 

3) What element of your past have you not forgiven yourself for?  Confess it to God right now and know that it is now behind you.  You are now free to move forward.

LBY 9-Gentleness

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.  Against such there is no law.  Gal 5:22-23 NKJV

A brief description of the above, according to Beth Moore, is the following:

  1. Love never fails.
  2. Joy cometh.
  3. Peace rules.
  4. Patience waits.
  5. Kindness tenders.
  6. Goodness does.
  7. Faith fights.
  8. Gentleness bows.

This week was deep.  I wonder if anyone else I know, upon examination of this verse on the fruit of the Spirit, has ever taken the time to get to the root of gentleness the way we saw in this study.  I sheepishly admit that I've never taken the time to dig deep into the meaning of the word, always just glossing over "gentleness" because I already thought I knew its meaning.  Not so.  My only hope is that Beth Moore uses a different dictionary than I.  :)  But then, I did admit that I've glossed in my study.  Oh well.   Today is a new day.


meekness, mildness, forbearance.  Primarily it does not denote outward expression of feeling, but an inward grace of the soul, calmness toward God in particular.  It is the acceptance of God's dealings with us considering them as good in that they enhance the closeness of our relationship with Him.  However, praotes (the Greek for gentleness) encompasses expressing wrath toward the sin of man as demonstrated by the Lord Jesus....This meekness does not blame God for the persecutions and evil doings of men.  It is not the result of weakness...but the actiivity of the blessedness that exists in one's heart from being actively angry at evil...That virtue that stands between two extremes, uncontrollable and unjustified anger, and not becoming angry at all no matter what takes place around you.

What a definition, huh?  You might want to reread this one.  The bold represents my emphasis of what really spoke to me.  I'm still digesting it. 

Gentleness is an inward grace of the soul ---- not being mad at God for the situations He has placed us in.    So gentleness really is more than not killing bugs!  :)  Just kidding.  Gentleness takes submission, humility and a teachable spirit.  Is anyone else feeling a little bruised from this study this week?  I'll break down my thoughts on these items:

Submission - the foundation of gentleness.   After all, how can we accept God's dealings with us peacefully if we aren't submitting to His sovereign will for our lives.  I heard Jill Briscoe speak one time about "unpacking".  She said that if we are ever in a difficult situation beyond our control that we needed to accept it, "unpack our bags" and just live there because we were in God's will.    "Unpacking" is like giving up control to God.

Humility - the Greek word for humility "encompasses the idea of arriving at a correct estimate of ourselves...Humility is the correct estimation of ourselves which results from a correct estimation of our God."  Again, once we remember that God's ways are higher than ours, we will stop throwing our little temper tantrums and just submit with gentleness.

Teachability -  How can we be teachable if we are too busy fighting God to get our own way?  I guess that is how teachability ties into gentleness.  We must have a willingness to learn from where we are, realizing that God has placed us in our specific circumstances for a reason.  "To miss God's Word in our circumstances is to miss God.  To miss God is to miss the point."

In summary, I'll quote Beth again from day 5:

God commands that our teaching comes from "an inward grace of the soul" that He refers to as "gentleness"...teaching with humility...with an attitude of submission...with an awareness of our own sins and a forgetfulness toward the sins of the flock...leaving condemnation to God and conviction to the Holy Spirit, God's teacher is the vessel while God's Word packs the punch.  Does gentleness mean weakness?

Lord, give me a teachable, submissive, humble Spirit....a gentle spirit, with that inward grace of the soul.  I do want that, even though the learning is hard sometimes.  Help me to never question You or Your plans for me, knowing in my heart that You are truly good, all the time.  Amen.

What Are You Sowing?

For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (Galatians 6:8)

How many times have you heard, or even said yourself the following: "You reap what you sow."?  With what tone have you heard the phrase said?  Most likely, the tone was condescending or judgmental, I would bet.  I would also bet that most people don't know that this "saying" comes straight from the bible.

Galatians 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

Okay, so I think that most people take this verse as the "I told you so" verse of the bible.  But what about looking the passage from a different point of view - the positive side.  If we reap what we sow, not only will we suffer the consequences of poor decisions and actions, but we will also reap the benefits of a life lived for God.  When we help someone in need, when we lend a sincere listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, or when we encourage someone through God's word that God promises a victorious life we are also sowing for future consequences - the good ones!

God's plan is so long-term and many times we don't see the benefits of our work in others lives until years later, if they choose to let us know that we, somehow, helped them to get on or back on the right path. It can get frustrating when we don't see immediate fruit from our efforts, but friends, be assured that you are doing some good even when you can't see it.  God promises that when we send out His Words of life, they will not disappoint. 

For as the rain cometh down , and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater:  So shall my rod be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me vod, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.  (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Fellow soldiers, we are in this together, and one day, we will see what we've been waiting for.  "And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not." (Gal 6:9)  Keep up the good work!