Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 10 May 2022. Today’s topic: Those Old Laws

Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? Galatians 4:21 (NIV).

The laws of Moses were (are) for the Jews alone.   It’s not that the Judaic codes are wrong or harmful for anyone else; indeed, some are quite valid.   For instance, our Western concepts of food handling and cleanliness find all or part of their origins in Old Testament Jewish laws.   The dozens of codes and restrictions that God gave to Moses in the deserts after Egypt were as much to teach about what could cause harm as to teach obedience to the Lord.  But they were originally designed for the Israelites alone.

Yet one fact remains:  if you put your faith in those old laws, you’re under them.   If you convert to Judaism, you become Jewish and subject to its codes and restrictions.   Similarly, if you convert to Islam, you become a Muslim obedient to the Koran and Sharia.   If you join the Amish, you subject yourself to the behaviors and restrictions imposed by the community.  You get the picture. 

Paul said these words leading into a discussion about God’s promise to redeem His people.   He spent over a thousand years living with the Jews, proving Himself to them and urging them to return to Him.   Throughout that time, He promised them a messiah, a true deliverer, who would redeem the people and free them.   What they didn’t understand was that God would free them from something much more tyrannical than some government.   He would free them from the consequences of their sins because their sins had held them in slavery to evil.

He did it within the confines of the Jewish laws that began with Moses and were complete through all the kings and prophets who followed.   Nobody here could keep those laws perfectly. Then came Jesus, who did it…and they rejected Him.   They rejected Him after He started saying things that sounded crazy to them, things like “it is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick,” and “the Son of Man must give His life as a ransom for many.”  And, “I am,” meaning He is God.

That wasn’t the kind of thing they had in mind.  They thought someone would come who would free them from tyranny while freeing them from these laws that God had put in place to remind them of who they were.   They never expected that He would do something else.  Since Jesus freed them – and us – from those consequences of sin, why would anyone want to be under the laws of sin again? 

For further reading: Romans 2:12, Galatians 4:22

Lord, I don’t want to be under sin’s control again.   I have been before, and it ruined me.   Thank You for freeing me, for saving me when I didn’t deserve it.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 9 May 2022. Today’s topic: Mother Paul

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, how I wish I could be with you now and change my tone, because I am perplexed about you!  Galatians 4:19-20 (NIV).

On the day after Mother’s Day, I’ll admit that Paul’s hyperbole (“I am again in the pains of childbirth”) seems a bit much.   During any discussion regarding our kids or our commitment as parents, my wife (like many women) will gladly throw the trump card of childbirth:   I, as a man, can’t physically ever know the excruciating pain of giving birth.  That’s true.  Any time we compare pain, or what we went through in order to parent, if we’re in good spirits, I can count on hearing the “you didn’t give birth” line and know that she’s “gone there” to a place where I have no hope of prevailing.


And yet, Paul uses that kind of comparison to make a point to his friends in Galatia.  Paul, who likely never married nor fathered his own children, wanted his friends (and us) to think that what he endured as their spiritual parent was equal to the torturous pains of labor and delivery.   Yep:   you can tell from that claim that Paul was never married.  

And yet…

…And yet, what he said has merit.   Look at the larger context of the chapter.   Go ahead and read all of Galatians 4, and you see that Paul is in desperate concern for his friends.   It’s likely that, having spent much time with them and having seen the depth of their faith during those times, Paul understood ‘where they were’ spiritually.   He understood that their faith was thin, that more mature voices were not prevailing but that his own might.   He understood that the Galatians were in danger of jettisoning basic beliefs about Christ’s salvation by embracing outdated practices.  Paul knew that it would be easy to call into question what they believed if these simple heresies were allowed to stand.   Parental-like concern was in order, even if it was hyperbolic.

Tell me:   if Paul knew you or me, would he have similar concerns?   What about our lives, our professions of faith, our practice of Christian life through what we say and do, would give a deeply caring but deeply strenuous man like Paul of Tarsus concern about our hold on faith?   Would he think we’re doing just fine, or would he be in agony, as if in the pains of childbirth, over us, anguishing that we were exchanging the good of Christ for the tawdriness of everything else?

What would your mother say, especially right after Mother’s Day?  Maybe she was familiar with the words of “Mother Paul.”

For further reading: Romans 8:29, Ephesians 4:13, 1 Thessalonians 2:11, Galatians 4:21

Father, thank You so much for giving me people like Paul, who care for my well-being.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 5 May 2022. Today’s topic: Faith Fire

It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always, not just when I am with you.  Galatians 4:18 (NIV).

People will often get burned out on faith.   It isn’t that Jesus changes, or even that their faith or feelings change (though that can happen).   Instead, top-of-the-mountain moments can burn you out, leave you emotionally and physically drained. 

My wife just attended our church’s annual women’s retreat. The ladies who plan it are on truly fire for the Lord.   They’re eager, highly motivated, honest, upright and righteous, and very much into their Word.   When you meet one of these women, you want to have the kind of faith they have.   It’s contagious.

And, if you aren’t careful, it can also burn you out.   It’s not unlike adding a lot of kindling to a fire.   You get a short, intense flare-up that burns hot.  But, if you aren’t careful, it quickly burns out.  Our faith can be that fire; indeed, any kind of human activity can be like that fire.  It requires tending, nurturing, someone to take care of it.  You carefully feed it, not binging or piling on the fuel.  I hope the women who sponsored the retreat last weekend remember that; I believe they do.

Yet there are times when it’s proper to be zealous, to be passionate.   The people of Galatia were relatively new to faith, and were eager, wanting to do anything they could to give praise and grow what they believed.   That unwittingly included being taken in by Judaizers who either did not understand the implications of their own demands, or didn’t care.  It isn’t surprising that the recent converts would have been confused, maybe even barrel-rolled by ‘authorities’ who sounded like they knew more.  That kind of thing happens to us, too.

It would have quickly burned them out.   That’s part of what made the Old Testament worship and the Judaic codes exhausting.   It was impossible to keep up with them; nobody could keep God’s law perfectly, and there came to be Jewish authorities who would ‘prosecute’ you for your failings.   No wonder people would fall away from the faith.   That kind of thing also happens to us.

When it happens, the best thing to do is check it out for yourself.   Do what the church ladies do and get into the Word.   Look it up on your own.   Read deeply and ponder what you read.   Then take it to God in prayer, not just at the dinner table or on Sunday morning.   Seek to be re-energized by what Jesus said in the Word He left us, then move forward in wherever He takes you.   It’ll allow you to fire up your passions accordingly while tempering other things in moderation.

For further reading: Galatians 4:19

Father, energize me in the Words of Your Bible.  Help me to seek comfort, strength, and fuel there.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 4 May 2022. Today’s topic: Divisions

Those people are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may have zeal for them.  Galatians 4:17 (NIV).

Divide and conquer is the oldest tactic anywhere.   Study battles fought by ancient peoples and you’d find that they were won by one side overcoming the other by dividing and conquering in some way.   Divide the people, split their unity and power, render them weaker because of this, then overcome them.   The idea is neither new nor complex.

We are divided now more than any time I’ve ever seen, perhaps more than at any time since World War II.  Just this week, the largest Methodist denomination in America, the United Methodist Church, formally split in two.  The split was caused by division over opinions on LGBT issues (that I won’t discuss).   Consequently, the UMC will continue with its recent/current practices, and a new Global Methodist Church will preach a more traditional, conservative teaching.   It remains to be seen how the formerly undivided church will split properties and assets.

No matter how they got there, the end-result is that human issues divided the Methodist church.   They’re dividing more than the Methodists.   ELCA Lutherans, PCUSA Presbyterians, the United Church of Christ, and more denominations have been tackling similar issues for over a decade.  The result?   Division.   Whether some sought to purposefully divide or not doesn’t change the divided outcome.

In Paul’s day, Judaizers in the nascent churches of Galatia were trying to marry the new Christian church to ancient Jewish practices.   It was an issue that divided the church, spurring Paul to bring his friends up short.   He reminded them that many of those who seek to divide do so for their own purposes, not Christ’s.  Even giving ‘the benefit of the doubt’ to the motives of the dividers, it’s hard to see ways in which human divisions bring glory to the Lord.

Which is also a caution about trying to assume Jesus is too small for our fights.   Methodists split in two?   May Jesus be preached twice as much.   Hot-button issues dividing our society?   God is still God even when we don’t treat Him like God.  Church in Galatia threatened by factions who want to still be Jewish?  Jesus is bigger than that.   Mind you, Paul reminded his friends that, while Christ is still Himself, they weren’t.   Their human divisions threatened good order and discipline.  That’s why he encouraged them to constantly seek Jesus and, in doing so, stand against those who would divide and conquer for human purposes. 

It’s the same for us.   When we are caught up in the issues of the day, what would Christ have us do?   To paraphrase Lincoln, even as we’re divided, the Almighty is at work in the land.

For further reading: Galatians 4:18

Father, forgive our human divisions and sins, and heal the breaches we cause.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 3 May 2022. Today’s topic: A Bridge Too Far

Where, then, is your blessing of me now? I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me. Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?  Galatians 4:15-16 (NIV).

Have you ever done something that was a bridge too far for a friend (or they you), something that put your friendship in danger?   Paul wanted to know if he had; I know I have.   At age 55, I’ve known hundreds, maybe thousands, of people personally.   At 55, I’m not friendly with all of them.   When I was a kid, I did some cruel things.  As an adult, for some friends, things I did were too much to bear; too hurtful, too wrong.   In some cases, I’ll never know why we drifted apart or when the break happened.   In others, I know too well.

And in some instances, I made friends walk away by things I had said.  I turned people off with things I said online, or opinions I shared.   And I even turned people off by sharing my faith in Jesus.   When I did that, some folks considered me to be a hypocrite; to be fair, based on who I was at the time, they may have had a point.   The saddest part is that, in our old friendships, I would have done anything for them.  Many felt the same about me.  These are things Paul understood.

Know this:   as it says in Hebrews, the Word of God “is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”   When we love people, we need to be honest with them.   Most times that love is gentle, but sometimes it isn’t.  What matters is being on God’s side in all things.   These days, when I find myself in a situation where what I say and do would cause conflict, I have to go to God in prayer.   It’s bigger than me, and He tells us to be honest and firm, but also humble and considerate; to be kind, to forgive because we’re forgiven.

Jesus said that kindness in His name always brings reward.  And He also said that, by believing in Him, we might very well lose relationships with family and friends.  The best answer we can give when that happens is, “God bless.”   In doing so, we ask God’s protection and blessing on those we love, and we are enabled to be kind.  But we’re also empowered to let the relationship take its course.   Sometimes that means a break.   Or a boundary, even when it’s caused by the truth.

For further reading: Amos 5:10, Matthew 10:42, Hebrews 4:12, Galatians 4:17

Lord, bless those in my life, and those with whom I’m not friends anymore.   Guard and guide them.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 2 May 2022. Today’s topic: Meet Others’ Needs

As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you, and even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn. Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. Galatians 4:13-14 (NIV).

Opportunities abound every day to share Jesus in our lives, mainly through things we say and do.   I’ve talked here about driving for Lyft, where I get many opportunities to talk about faith.   That surprises me, because I don’t do it because I represent Lyft.   I respond when people bring up the subject and begin to share.   Believe me, there are many who do.

Maybe that’s because we’re all a little sick, a little bit ill.   Maybe they realize it.   I do; how about you?  We all need some healing, and the healing we need can only come from Jesus.  It’s our deepest need.   I firmly believe that our deepest need isn’t significance, or to be noticed, or even to be loved.   Our deepest need as people is to be loved, noticed, and significant by our Creator.  

Obviously the difference is the Creator, but let’s be real:   most people don’t know or don’t care about that difference.   Christianity isn’t the most prominent belief on this planet.   Vastly more people on Earth don’t believe in Jesus than do.   That means that most of the people on Earth daily, regularly, perhaps unknowingly deny their deepest need.

When Paul first went to Galatia, he was (or became) ill.   He was forced to fully rely on the kindness of strangers.   In doing so, he helped satisfy their greatest need:  one they may not have even know they had.  He preached the Gospel to them while he was sick, then while he recuperated.  Paul lived it.  It was an unexpected opportunity and the kind of thing around which Paul oriented his life after Jesus remade him on the road to Damascus.   Sharing the Lord became Paul’s highest service, including when he was sick, even on his deathbed.

You and me, we live in the most prosperous age the world has ever known.   Even with wars, poverty, and so many problems, our time in history is replete with wealth, capabilities, liberty, and access to information at levels never seen by humanity.  Those things are also opportunities:   opportunities to witness to others.   Maybe we don’t have the kind of evangelistic mission Paul had; maybe we do.   No matter, we each get the opportunity to simply live out faith in the risen Lord through what we say and do.   Be honest with yourself:  What kind of witness are we?  Are you living to meet others’ needs? 

For further reading: Matthew 10:40, 1 Corinthians 2:13, Galatians 4:15

Heavenly Father, forgive my failures, renew me with Your strength, and help me to better witness for you today.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 28 April 2022. Today’s topic: Now, Run

I plead with you, brothers and sisters, become like me, for I became like you. You did me no wrong.  Galatians 4:12 (NIV).

Without some context, this verse may be hard to understand.   During Paul’s initial trip to Galatia, he got sick.   Nobody knows specifically what the illness was.   We only know he became ill.   The parishoners there in Galatia cared for him, tended him as he recuperated.   In doing so, they showed unusual kindness, making a life-long friend.

So, when Paul says, “for I became like you,” he’s reminding them that, in his visit, he was at their mercy, dependent on them, and sick.   If they (the Galatians) were reverting to old (Jewish) customs, Paul was telling them THEY were sick.   That they who had done him such kindness were actually poisoning themselves to be the sick ones, the ones in need of spiritual healing and recuperative mercy.

You know where this is going.   Look in the mirror.   Is something trying to pull you backwards?

When Jesus tells us to put our sins, our cares, our worries, our everything on Him, He’s telling us to give them up and let them go.   To not dwell on past sins, and to repent from them.   That means turning away from them.   He fully healed us.  If we’re going to stay safe from the effects of our sins, we need to keep away from the things that hurt us.  Toxic relationships, tempting behaviors, risky or edgy things, you name it:   pick your pet sin and whatever triggers you to it, that’s your red flag.   It’s waving for you.   Stay away.

Better yet, run away from it.   Run fast and far.   For the Galatians, the sin was being entangled by those who insisted on observing all the traditional Jewish festivals, dates, and traditions.   Those ran contrary to the ways Jesus and His disciples had taught.   They put the focus on tradition instead of Jesus Christ.  Paul told them to run from this because it was making their faith in Jesus weak and sick.   Even back then, one day wasn’t any holier than the next, even as we hold some days, traditions, and things sacred, even beneficial to our faith.   But if those things start to become more important than simply believing in Christ, better put on your running shoes.

Paul ‘became like’ his friends when he was first with them:  needy for help and mercy.   Now he was free to give them a different kind of help, reminding them that it was dangerous to get entangled in things of old that don’t fit into Christianity.   It’s the same for us, and it isn’t hard to understand.  Now go run.

For further reading: Romans 7:1, Galatians 4:13

Lord, keep me from becoming entangled in old sinful practices.   Help me to identify them, and to turn away from them.   Help me to see that anything contrary to you is sin.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 27 April 2022. Today’s topic: Truth, Not Whining

You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.  Galatians 4:10-11 (NIV).

I’m going to whine a little:  whenever I hear people describe one day or one place as “holy,” I get perturbed.   “The holy month of Ramadan; the holy city of Jerusalem; the holy day of Christmas; the holy items from the Temple.”   Irked; perturbed; annoyed.  Some places or times are sacred to us; weddings, funerals, Arlington National Cemetery, the Alamo; you get the drift.   But things aren’t holy unless God makes them so.  There is nothing that you, me, the Pope, Robert Jeffries, the president of your synod, or an Imam in Arabia can do to make something holy.  Only God can make things holy.  If we place rules around certain days, months, seasons, and years, then we need to be careful.   When we try, we risk making them into idols, into things that become more important than our faith in God.

That being said, Jesus also does command us to “be holy.”  Through Peter, He doesn’t tell us, “give it a good try.”   He says, “be”.   He tells us to do this, not just to talk about it, or philosophize about it.  Part of doing that means that we treat special things with special care.   For many people, Easter and Christmas are special occasions.  Preparations for communion are regarded as special.   There are certain activities that aren’t allowed (or at least frowned upon) in churches, or sanctuaries.   Ever heard of “wearing your Sunday best?”   The list goes on and on.  Jesus tells us to be holy, and that means Him and His work with reverence and respect.

Knowing that, EVERYTHING we think, say, and do should be holy because Jesus told us to be holy.  He didn’t say, “your words must be holy but those things you do on the internet?  Nah.   Do what you want there.”   His command for us to is simply “be holy.”   Meaning it’s a part of our existence.  It’s part of our being.

And, since we know that we’re fully sinful and can only be made righteous – made holy – by Jesus making us so, then what Scripture is actually saying is “be holy by putting your faith in Me.”  Be holy but realize the only way we can do it is by taking all our sin, all our junk, all our failings to Him and Him alone.

After that, if Jesus wants to make Ramadan, Jerusalem, Christmas, or the communion items holy, then all praise to Him for that.   Apart from Him, we can do nothing.   And that’s truth, not whining.

For further reading: Romans 14:5, Colossians 2:16, 1 Thessalonians 3:5, 1 Peter 1:16, Galatians 4:12

Father, I can do nothing apart from Your Son.   Forgive my sins.   Clean me up and set me back on Your path.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 26 April 2022. Today’s topic: Hello, My Name Is…

But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable forces? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?  Galatians 4:9 (NIV).

Paul asked this question of his friends in Galatia nearly two thousand years ago.   Could he be asking it of you today?

Have you watched “The Chosen” lately?   We’ve discussed it here before.   It’s the crowd-funded show about Jesus.   In the very first episode, we meet Mary Magdalene, who is possessed by demons and leading a life of sin.   Jesus heals her, calls her to follow Him, and changes her life.   Sometime later, in a different episode, though, Mary goes back to her old ways.   She goes back to the red-light district because she just can’t seem to shake the effects of things that had happened before.  Mary knew she’d been a slave to sin, but she chose to leave Jesus – JESUS, God Immanuel, who she knew face to face, who had personally rescued her – and go back to the illusory comfort of pet sins.

Hello, Mary, my name is Dave; hello, Mary, my name is friend reader.   We’re very much alike.

Here in Galatians, Paul is asking his friends why they have begun to turn back to old ways of Judaism that have been superseded by the Christ’s atonement and resurrection.   The behaviors required by those codes seem trivial by today’s standards.   Observing Jewish festivals, holy days, special celebrations:  what’s so wrong with that?   After all, modern companies, even modern churches, go out of their way to do that in our time.

What’s so wrong with it?   Everything.   It’s rejecting the salvation of Jesus in favor of legalistic traditions, codes, and rubbish.  The churches in Galatia might as well have been Mary Magdalene, returning to a life of drunkenness and whoring.  She couldn’t simply dabble in the old ways:   she jumped in fully.   Just like the churches in Galatia.   Just like us.  Do it long enough and we wouldn’t know God.   Do it long enough and we wouldn’t even know ourselves.

That’s why Paul chided his friends this way; it’s why it’s also a good warning for us.  Jesus doesn’t force us to follow Him.   He doesn’t compel us; He doesn’t threaten us for falling away.   But He does state the truth that, if we don’t know Him, we embrace sin.   We can’t simply have a little taste of sin.   It won’t let us, and Christ knows this.   He asks each of us to follow Him, knowing it will be hard to deny temptation and that sometimes we’ll feel pulled to go backwards.  But He asks us anyway, knowing that, if we let Him, He will remake who we are.

For further reading: 1 Corinthians 4:3, Colossians 2:20, Galatians 4:10

Strengthen me when I am weak, Lord, that I might follow You closer.

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Practical Proverbial, from Galatians, 25 April 2022. Today’s topic: No God, Aren’t Free

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.  Galatians 4:8 (NIV).

It’s an awful thing to not know God.   It’s like not knowing the sky:   it’s there, it’s obvious, you can’t honestly ignore it, but you choose ignore it and, in doing so, look like a fool while cutting yourself off from the benefits of sunshine.   So it is with choosing to not know God.   You live, you breathe, you have a life (maybe even the façade of a ‘moral’ life), you have rights, you have liberties. You have all the things God gives, but it’s a half-life because you’ve chosen to ignore the obvious, to ignore who gave you life and breath, who gives you your rights and the nature in which you exercise them, who teaches the difference between liberty and being libertine.

You’re an easy mark.   In ignoring God, you open yourself up to the evil one, who is just as real as God but who you choose to ignore as well.   That’s just what he’s looking for.   Your life is fertile ground for being swayed by temptations and calamities.   Mind you, you might believe you’re being moral, that you can still make wise choices, good choices, to avoid these kinds of things.   What you don’t understand is that all of western morality springs from God because it was He who originally gave it.   It wasn’t a fairy tale:  its history.   He even said it: “apart from me, you can do nothing.”   Apart from Jesus, you really don’t have morality, and you don’t have a foundation on which you can rely when things go south.  You have no temporal or eternal hope.  Apart from Him, you’re a vulnerable target for the very real devil to attack you and lay waste to your phantom morality.

Thus, you’re a slave to whatever the world tells you your fate will be.  Pandemic?   You’ll have to settle for fear.  Anger?   Let it run its course.   Adultery and lust?   Why stop?   If you don’t believe in God, there is no reason to deny yourself these emotions, these temptations, because all things are open to those who believe only in themselves.   You become a slave to all those things.   They rule you; they become your master.   You really aren’t free, or moral, at all.

Rousseau, Nietzche, Hegel, Marx, and other atheists believed this, and they lived vacant lives; lives that left their mark on humankind but without kind humanity, without hope or love, without what is best in mankind, without a real future.  Without God.

What an awful way to live.  There is a better way.

For further reading: 2 Chronicles 13:9, Isaiah 37:19, Jeremiah 2:11, John 15:5, Romans 1:28, 1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Thessalonians 4:5, 2 Thessalonian 1:8, Galatians 4:9

Lord, I put all my faith in You alone, not in the world or my own choices.

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