Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Let Us Not Set Aside the Grace of God

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God...” Galatians 2:19-21a

I read Galatians 2 in its entirety this morning, but when I read, “I do not set aside the grace of God,” I paused and put my Bible down.

How often I have set that grace aside. Even after spending quiet time with God, in a few hours I can find myself setting aside His grace.

And this morning, understanding His grace as dying to the law; living for God; being crucified with Christ so that I no longer live; and Christ Himself living in me so that now the life I live is by faith in the Son of God, who loves me and gave himself for me....

I think I may have not understood His grace, and that is why I could so easily set it aside.

A bit further in Galatians, we find this:

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

I think grace, for me, was still my attempt to live out the Spirit of Christ, not connecting it to Paul’s clear teaching of what grace actually is; the definition we find in Galatians 2:19-20.

Although I knew I have the Spirit and ought to listen to it, I believe the reason I could so often set His grace aside is because I was only half way there in comprehension.

I have not, in total confidence and commitment, remembered daily the life of Christ in me and the corollary of death to myself.

And although grace must be lived out in Christ through a material body of skin, brain, bones and muscle, which obviously still lives with every breath and heartbeat, a regenerated spirit within us also lives.

The previous spirit--the unregenerate one--the “I” before Christ, no longer exists. It died under the blood of Christ; a death we agreed to in our repentance to Christ (which means committing to Christ to turn away from that self). 

Our former self is dead.

It is when we stubbornly or carelessly allow the habit of the former self to tiptoe back in to tempt the redeemed self into returning to the actions and thought-life of its old self that we set the grace spelled out in Galatians 2:19-20 aside.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9).

We do not live out His grace by our attempt to control or tap into the Holy Spirit in us, as if we can reach in and help our self to as much or as little grace as we think the situation calls for.

Nor do we abide in His grace by the mere knowledge of the Holy Spirit in us, as if we could somehow succeed by telling our self, “I should be of grace in this moment because the Holy Spirit lives in me.”

We live out grace in that “we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Corinthians 10-11).

We die. That is how we live out grace.

We do not trust or put faith in our knowledge of the Holy Spirit, but trust and have faith in the Spirit Himself.

We rejoice in our death and continual dying and go forth in the daily new birth that is real and tangible.

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Notice our role here is to “lay aside,” not grace, but “every encumbrance and sin.”

And note how that “sin” is described as something that happens “easily.”

In other words, if we wonder why we are setting aside God’s grace, perhaps it is because we are not setting aside the sin that comes so easily!

Set aside the sin and God’s grace prevails!

Also notice our other role is to endure by “fixing our eyes on Jesus” who is “the author and perfector of faith.” We cannot muster up our own faith that in Christ we can be a person of grace. Our faith must reside in and derive from Christ Himself.

And finally, Hebrews 12:2 brings us full circle to where we began with the Galatians passage. Our going forth in God’s grace is grounded in—not to be severed from—what Jesus accomplished, in love for us and “for the joy set before Him,” on the cross.

It is in that love and joy—not just the remembrance of it but the actuality of it—that grace is not to be set aside.

Copyright Barb Harwood

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Difference Between Christ and the Corporate Church

Here is a great synopsis of the difference between Jesus Christ and the corporate church (the corporate church being a building in, and denomination under which people gather). 
It was written by a person named A. A. Phelps in 1883:

"There may be ten thousand Churches, but there is only one Christ. Nor can all those Churches supply the place of our one, blessed all sufficient-Savior. A man may be saved without the Church, but he cannot be saved without Christ. A man may be in the Church and not be saved; but he cannot be in Christ without salvation. Sinners sometimes become members of the Church; but only saints are members of Christ. A person may live in the Church for years, with the old heart of carnality and selfishness; but 'if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.'

"The requirements of the Church are often wrong and ruinous; but the claims of Christ are always reasonable and right. The Church may become a sink of pollution; but Christ is ever the perfection of purity. The Church may be rent with divisions; but Jesus Christ is not divided. The Church may become terribly entangled in mysticism and error; but Christ is always the embodiment of light and truth. The Church may change her name and her nature; but Christ is 'the same yesterday, today, and forever.' The Church may be a crutch to walk with, but she is a poor Christ to trust in for salvation and eternal life." A. A. Phelps

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Content in All Situations

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

Many of us grew up in our Christian faith engaging with this statement in stand-alone fashion, severed from its context.

The way I heard it applied led me to interpret this verse to mean, “I can do whatever I set my mind to in the strength of Christ.”

It became the Christian version of the secular “I can do whatever I set my mind to” and “I can be whatever I want to be.”

Interpreting the verse this way gives us license, as Christians, to continue to believe we can do anything by simply tacking on the addendum, “in the strength of Christ.” And with that kind of strength, so the thinking goes, there is no way we can fail.

This is how we twist Jesus into a stamp of approval to attempt anything we want and to feel spiritually entitled to attain it.

We anoint ourselves with super-hero status: if there is something we cannot do, or are clearly failing at, we keep at it because, sooner or later, in the strength of Christ, by gosh and by golly, we’ll do it!

(And if anyone around us sees our attempt differently, or gets in the way, we are quick to lament, “Satan is attacking me”). So much for Godly counsel and Scripture’s clear teaching on the gifting of individuals with various, and dissimilar, gifts!

When we look at the context—meaning, when we do not take this verse out of context but in fact keep it in its Scriptural context—we see something very different than Jesus rubberstamping us to “Be all that you want to be and do all that you dream to do.”

Here is the verse in its context:

“I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:10-13

As we read the above paragraph in its entirety, we see that it does not talk one iota about doing anything specific.

It does not air a laundry list of Paul’s accomplishments, which, if we want that list, can be found elsewhere, in a different context, but not here.

So what is the point and why does it matter?

When Paul says, “I can do everything,” it comes immediately after his confession that he has learned to be content in all situations. That is what he is qualifying!

Contentment in all situations. That is what he has learned to be—to do—through the strength of Christ. That is Paul’s point!

How this verse became a red cape for Christians to fly around in thinking we can “do whatever we set our mind to in the strength of Christ” is curious indeed.

Why is this important?

Because I have witnessed people, including myself, jettison their God-given gifts—gifts that often never become perfected—because we got it into our noggins that, with Christ, we are not limited at all to the giftedness God gave us! In fact, we feel we can totally ignore our innate talents, personality and disposition in lieu of reinventing ourselves in our own image.

This often takes the form of forcing ourselves into an archetype expected of us by our corporate church, or jumping on the bandwagon of the Christian fad du jour.

What ensues, enhanced and promoted by the human-imposed corporate church hierarchy that determines what constitutes a “strong Christian,” is that we have people with no musical talent whatsoever striving to be in the worship band.

We have people in leadership who would most benefit the church in administration.

We have youth leaders (the coolest of all standings within a corporate church) who really work better with adults, or perhaps in the area of poverty alleviation and crisis relief.

We have people who become international evangelistic missionaries when an inner city urban youth soccer ministry would have been their sweet spot.

We have moms and dads “pouring into” their corporate church while their home life starves.

We have folks limiting themselves to the confines of their corporate church box, not confident that faith lived outside of corporate church counts, or is legitimate. 

Rebellion from God comes in many forms. Not least of all the rebellion of Christians against their God-given gifts, their God-given situations, and their God-given relationships.

So, while we’re over here attempting to “do” something God would not have us do to begin with, all because of the frequent quoting of Philippians 4:13, we’re not actually “doing in the strength of Christ,” we are rebelling in the power of the flesh.

Let’s go back to context, and look at the two paragraphs preceding Philippians 4:10-13:

“Rejoice in the Lord always, I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” Phil 4:4-9

Does that sound like contentment? It is, and it is the road map to Paul’s being content in “any and every situation” which he states just a few verses later.

(Also note, lest we be tempted to hijack the part about "present your requests to God," that this results not in our requests being granted, but in the peace of God guarding our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. God may determine that what we are requesting is not what He wills. But He will grant us His peace). 

Because Paul is teaching everyone to do this—to rejoice in the Lord always, to be gentle and not anxious, to pray and be thankful, to think about such things as are noble, true and right, and to practice them—it follows then that everyone can do this—do it most certainly—in the power and strength of Christ

And contentment—the peace of God—will surely follow.

That is the “everything” we can “do” in the strength of Christ: regardless of persecution; regardless of sickness; regardless of poverty; regardless of wealth; regardless of hardships; and regardless of abundance.

In Christ’s strength we can, like Paul, be content.

That is the meaning of Philippians 4:13.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Fear and the Present Moment

These two quotes from author Andree Seu Peterson appeared in her essay, The Next Thing, published in the December 3, 2005 edition of World Magazine:

"Am I fearful? Fear is a focus on phantoms of the theoretical future. But the future is God's, not mine; mine is only the present moment. I am fearful because I'm thinking I have to live the rest of my life. But I don't. I only have to live the next five minutes. To me belongs obedience; to Him belongs outcomes." 

"Have I totally messed up my life? Fine, make a list. Here are the things I cannot do: I cannot turn back the clock, I cannot cork up sinful words once spoken, I cannot take back squandered opportunities in career or love. But here are things I can do: I can start from today--with today's time, today's skills, today's health, today's grace. I can do this trusting, even at this stage of the game, that God is still sovereign and still good." Andrew Seu Peterson

Monday, January 8, 2018

Dennis Prager on Evidence

"Whenever I meet someone who claims to find faith in God impossible, but who persists in believing in the essential goodness of humanity, I know I've met a person for whom evidence is irrelevant."  Dennis Prager, radio commentator

Sunday, January 7, 2018

If You Read One Book This Year

If you read one book this year (in addition to the Bible, of course!), read C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters.

In this book, the character Screwtape, who is the devil, is teaching Wormwood, his underling, how to tempt people.

This book could be the primary text and curriculum for every psychology program, that is, if those who taught and studied in psychology programs believed in the devil and demons!

If one wants to be fully enlightened in understanding the personal struggle with sin—as well as evil in general—one must read The Screwtape Letters. 

“There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
C.S. Lewis in the preface to The Screwtape Letters

“But the best of all is to let him read no science but to give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is ‘the results of modern investigation.’ Do remember you are there to fuddle him.” Screwtape, in a letter to Wormwood, advising him on how to keep his “client” in the dark regarding Christianity, page 4.

This is just the beginning of a magnificent read...

“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.’” John 8:42-47

Friday, January 5, 2018


Endings can be invigorating in that they show us that our work or purpose in a place is finished; that the life lived there has reached its end.

That’s a good thing, because it means that the purpose in arriving in a particular place or situation in the first place has been accomplished. It means everything that is pretty much going to happen, has happened and there’s nothing left remaining.

It means, perhaps, that the blessing of God for the duration of our time lived in a particular locus—be it a home, city, job, company, or career—is complete. And that sense of irrefutable and unrelenting inner restlessness just might be God’s tender push to nudge us on to the next thing and all that He will accomplish there.

Endings are conflicting, rightly so.

The little “should I stay or should I go” dance that plays out in our heart and mind is the necessary check and balance that ensures we aren’t being impulsive out of a wrong motive.

It’s easy to cut and run when we aren’t particularly fond of our current situation, or after we’ve been fired or let go or otherwise been given some sort of notice that we might want to start looking elsewhere.

But endings can also be precipitated by a long run of pure contentment and satisfaction with where we’ve been, making the ability to act on what we know to be true--that it’s time to move on—exceedingly gut-wrenching.

In either case, I believe it is best to not think of endings in terms of “It’s over.”

In going through the process myself, I have found it more beneficial, and less heartbreaking, to approach them as an ongoing: a leaving from one manner of existence to another, taking with us all that we learned and matured-into there. To see it as the necessary step in being able to continue on into the next thing.

It’s not an ending so much as it is a progressing. The “old,” the “what came before,” doesn’t remain entirely behind. It goes forth in the person we have become while living that chapter.

Upon leaving, we are not the same as when we arrived.

copyright Barb Harwood