The Life I Now Live

Galatians 2

Galatians 2 20

Paul has jumped ahead 14 years in his summary of his life as we start this next chapter.   Paul chose to meet with the leaders in the faith to present to them the gospel he was sharing with the Gentiles to make sure he was doing it properly.

This was 14 years after the end of events in the previous chapter, and if you look back, that was 3 years (and sometime) after his conversion.  After 17+ years of being in the faith, Paul, whose words we read in our study of Scripture, still asked those with more experience than he if he was on the right path.  What a good reminder for us!  Sometimes I think it can be easy to assume that for as long as you have been a part of the church (especially if you are someone like me who was raised in the church), that we have it all right.  But it is wise to continually seek counsel to ensure we have not strayed from the truth or are missing anything.

In Paul’s case, the leaders had nothing to add to what he was sharing.  “On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised,[a]just as Peter had been to the circumcised.[b] For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles.”

Paul’s message may have looked a little different than Peter’s because of who he was presenting to, but these leaders still agreed that it was true and wasn’t lacking anything.  I like this.  It is a reminder to me that not everyone is going to receive the Good News the same way.  If we tried to present it to everyone identically, it just wouldn’t click.  But by having different ways of sharing, and different people doing the sharing, we have the opportunity to reach more people.

As Paul continues to talk of his journey, he comes upon the argument that he had with Peter regarding forcing Gentiles to follow the Jewish law.  He reminds Peter that they and we are not justified by works, but by faith in Jesus Christ.  But that doesn’t mean that we can return or remain in our sinful lifestyle.  We must get out of that pattern.

The chapter ends with this:

19 “For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. 20 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. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[e]

As Christians today, we are not bound by the law, but we are to live for God just like Paul.  We should be grateful for the grace God has given and the sacrifice of Jesus and strive to live a life worthy of that honor.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

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Keeping God’s Gospel

Galatians 1

Galatians 1 7

Today we are going to be starting the book of Galatians which was written by Paul to the churches in Galatia.

After his introduction, he gets right into a major problem he is seeing among them:

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

Although this was an issue the people of Galatia were having, it is something that we can fall prey to as well.  It is a good reminder to us that the truth matters and that if we are trying to present the gospel contrary to what is found in Scripture, we are in trouble.

He continues on with his reminder in this way:

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

You may find that it is easy to go through life being a people pleaser, and you may be able to avoid a lot of conflict this way, but if you are so focused on pleasing people to the extent that you start to displease God, you are going to have problems.

Now, I’m not saying you should try to stir up conflict with others.  We are told in Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” But that doesn’t mean that you give in to the world.  You still have a responsibility first and foremost to God to uphold His Word which brings us back to keeping the gospel as it is presented in Scripture.  It is an unchanging story.

This first chapter finishes up with Paul summarizing his conversion and early faith story which we read about earlier this year in Acts.  If you missed it, go back and read the full account!  When Paul is writing here, he is assuming that his readers have already heard the story and he doesn’t go into much detail.  His point here is that God was praised because of Paul’s conversion, not because they knew Paul at all.

Most of us probably don’t have a story like Paul’s, but that doesn’t mean that God can’t be praised because of what we do for Him.  If our lives are reflecting God’s love, He will be praised.  Make that your goal for the week – that because of how you are living, God will be given praise.

 

~Stephanie Fletcher

 

Deaths of the Apostles

Free Theme Days – Evidence for the Risen Jesus

Acts 2 24

Earlier in the week (two days ago, in fact) we talked about how the apostles were telling the truth about Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. We noted how, out of their many faults, they weren’t all crazy. We also noted how along with Paul, they weren’t gaining much from teaching this tale.
But COULD they have been lying? I assume, knowing their other faults, there is always the possibility that they COULD have been lying, enjoying the privilege of being leaders in a new religious movement. Some people just like power, after all. But there is a large difference between “they could have been lying” and “they lied”. What does the record of their lives show?
Church tradition is normally frowned upon in the Church of God. There are some very valid points to be made for why that is the case. Revelation and tradition have conflicted in the past, and even in many churches today, and we think that what God said is correct and a person’s interpretation of God’s words are not on the same playing field. But there are places where Church Tradition doesn’t conflict with scripture, and it is at least interesting to think about what a majority of Christians have said about the 12 men who followed the founder.
Twelve men followed Jesus from the get-go, and they were called disciples in the gospels and apostles in Acts. We’ve talked about them already, but today I want to touch briefly on how each one of them died. Each of these stories come from church tradition. There is little evidence for some, and undeniable evidence for others. Let’s see their deaths and then comment on them all together.
  1. Peter was crucified upside down, saying that he did not die in a way similar to his Lord.
  2. Andrew, like his brother Peter, was also crucified.
  3. James, the Son of Zebedee, was put to death with the sword by King Herod in Judea. (Acts 12:1-2)
  4. John, the Son of Zebedee, dies in exile, but of natural causes at an older age.
  5. Philip was put to death by a Roman Proconsul in Asia Minor after converting the Proconsul’s wife.
  6. Thomas traveled to India and was killed by four soldiers with spears.
  7. Matthew was stabbed to death in Ethiopia after bringing the faith to the people.
  8. James of Alphaeus was crucified while preaching in the southern parts of Egypt.
  9. Jude/Thaddeus was beheaded in Beirut.
  10. Simon the Zealot was killed after refusing to offer a sacrifice to an idol in Beirut.
  11. Bartholomew was flayed alive and beheaded.
  12. Matthias was burned to death.
  13. Paul, (this is a bit of a cheat, as he wasn’t one of “the Twelve,” but go with me) after appealing to Caesar and traveling to Rome, was killed by the Emperor by beheading.
That’s a pretty grim and dire list. Why bring it up? With the exception of John, every other Apostle of Jesus died in faith, and usually because they were preaching faith, after living a harsh life. Peter was crucified upside down. Do you believe that a man who stole a body would have allowed himself to be crucified upside down if he could produce a body and say “I MADE IT ALL UP! It was a hoax!”? No! Peter didn’t downplay his testimony because he was speaking the truth. Considering that Bartholomew and Matthias both died in places outside of Israel, only one of the twelve apostles died in their homeland.
They didn’t live high on the hog, off the fat of the land. They traveled to places they didn’t know, to people to whom they were sent (apostle means “one who was sent”) because they believed Jesus was alive and that message was important enough to seek out the lost.
John was in exile because he believed Jesus was alive. James, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, Jude, Simon the Zealot, Bartholomew, Matthias and Paul were all killed in various ways because they believed Jesus was alive. Andrew, James the Lesser and Peter were all CRUCIFIED because they believed… no, they KNEW… Jesus is alive. 
So, do you believe Jesus is alive?
-Jake Ballard

Quid est veritas?

John 18

John 18 37 38

There is a phrase floating around in culture. “My truth.”
Being a philosophy nerd, the phrase “my truth” hurts my brain. What does it mean for YOU to have truth that is yours? Is it yours alone? Can other people share your truth? If you share your truth and I disagree, am I disagreeing with reality, or with what you think about reality? What is “my truth?”
I was thinking about these questions and many more beside them, because of what Pilate asks Jesus.
Jesus has just been arrested, drug around the city of Jerusalem, falsely accused, and more. He is speaking to Pilate and declares “I was born for this, and I have come into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” (John 18:37)
After hearing this, Pilate asks what I am asking…”What is truth?” (vs. 38)
But there is a different heart here. Jesus says his followers will know the truth. All through the teachings we have just read (chapters 13-17) we see Jesus telling his disciples that the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus calls the Spirit of Truth, will be with them. We are also told by Jesus this famous passage: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No person comes to the father but through me.”(John 14:6) Jesus makes this bold claim because he knew that he is exclusively the gate to the Father and to eternal life.
In our world, we may look around us and see many people selling us their version of the truth. Whether it is “fake news” or biased media on either side of the political spectrum, whether it is communities of people denying biology or denying differences between men and women, or whether it is hate-filled people implying those differences make men or women better than the other, or that there are racial differences that make certain races better or worse, whatever the messages are that we are given, we MUST run all claims to truth through the filter of Truth, the Spirit of God and the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus prays that God would sanctify us, his followers in His Truth, and says “Your word is truth.”(John 17:17) The Logos of God (John 1:1) is truth, and we know that the Logos has put on flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood in Jesus Christ. When someone says “I am speaking my truth”, we should be asking “is this the truth of Jesus?”
He is not a way, one path among many, with all leading to God or salvation.
Jesus is THE way.
He is not a truth, one truth among many, with all being equally valid and connected to the world.
Jesus is THE truth.
He is not a life, one life among many, with all being filled to overflowing.
Jesus is THE life.
Pilate, you asked “What is truth?”
Truth was standing right in front of you. His name is Jesus.
-Jake Ballard

Me Against the World

John 15

John 15 19

Does it feel like some days everyone hates you?

We’ve all been there; we say or do something different and it blows up in our faces.
Sometimes, this is probably justified. When we say or do something bad, it may be good for the people in our lives to call us out. While there are many things wrong with political movements like #blacklivesmatter or #metoo, their goal is admirable: there ARE times when those in power, like police, need to be held accountable; there are some people who are victims of sexual assault and harassment that are afraid to speak out due to the backlash. While you have not done anything like those called out in these movements, I’m sure you’ve had moments when your friends turned against you when you did something to hurt a mutual friendship, or maybe bullied a kid. And we can see that this is justice, in a way. We feel like (and on some level, know) we deserve it.
But there are days when you say what you believe is truth and it backfires. There are days when you are asked what you believe and everyone around you mocks you and belittles you for it, or tells you that you are on a dangerous path for not agreeing with their view of God. There are days when you do the right and righteous thing, and it seems like people around you think you have done something terrible…
Jesus lets us know this won’t be uncommon. He teaches in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me before it hated you.” In our day, we can see this is true in a small scale. On some issues, we love people, but hate sinful actions performed. When a man believes that he can’t make a wedding cake for a gay couple, he is sued and taken to court. In many circles, he is considered a bigot. Very recently, another Christian political commentator gave a speech entitled “Men are not women.” That speech created a protest movement, and he was assaulted with liquid that smelled like bleach. While these are hotly charged political issues, both of these men were standing on what they believed were biblical, moral principles, and were hated for their views.
This is because we are not of the world. We don’t go along with the system the world offers. Christ calls us to live in love differently. One could argue that if these men had just lived like Jesus, then they wouldn’t have encountered any problem. Love wins, right? But Jesus points out that he is hated by the system of the world, AND HE WAS PERFECT. Christ lived a life full of grace and truth (John 1). But that did not endear him to the world.
When it seem the world is against you, stop and think:
Did I do something wrong? If so, fix it.
If not, is the world against you and it is not related to the Bible? Maybe it is wise to think about what they are saying.
However, if the world is against you and you are standing on Scripture, then stand strong. Don’t be shocked, because they first hated Jesus. Stand strong, in truth and love, and God will stand with you.
(For a throw back, watch this clip … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f_o6QHdIG4I // For some rock, listen to this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kiwluGZdJQ )
-Jake Ballard

IF you Believe, THEN…

John 8

John 8 31 32

As we have read repeatedly in the last two chapters, we see again in John 8:30, 30 Even as he spoke, many believed in him.

Then Jesus shared this powerful truth:

31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

This passage points out that while belief is important, belief alone is insufficient.  If I’m completely honest, I don’t like the implications of this passage.  I want to just believe and know I’m ok.  Unfortunately, I see a similar warning in James 2:19, where we’re told, “Even the demons believe – and shudder.”

Now Jesus has my attention.  If belief alone isn’t enough, what does He expect? I interpret these two verses as Jesus giving his followers a series of If .. Then conditions:

  1. If you hold to my teaching (which I interpret as meaning: you need to live your life like Jesus told you and demonstrated to you).
  2. Then you are really my disciples (meaning, you’re not really His follower unless you do what He told you to do.)
  3. If you are really my disciples, then you will know the truth. (This suggests to me that people can’t even understand the truth unless they are really Jesus’ disciples.)
  4. Finally, when one knows the truth, the truth will set them free.

 

The believers Jesus was talking to had the same reaction I tend to have.  Wait a minute, set me free?  I’m not a slave.

 

Jesus went on to say that anyone who sins is a slave to sin, and Jesus came to set people free from sin.

 

This is really interesting to me.  As members of a denomination that claims to have the faith of Abraham, we may tend to think we have a corner on the market for faith and truth.  But how focused are we on the holiness message Jesus is sharing in this passage?  This should challenge us.

Verses 35 and 36 go on to say, 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

I don’t know about you, but I want a permanent place in God’s family.  But to have that place, I need to be set free – first, from sin, and ultimately from death.

 

This requires adding to belief:

  1. Following Jesus’ teaching
  2. Becoming his disciple
  3. Knowing the truth
  4. Having Him set me free.

Sign me up!  How about you?

-Steve Mattison

Reflecting on John 3

John 3

John 3 17 (1)

Hi there!

Today’s chapter could take an entire week of devotionals if you ask me!  I highly recommend having a Bible in front of you when going through today’s post.  Because of how much I found within this chapter we are going to have a slightly different format today… I am going to give the verse and then give the reflection question without too much of my own words to add to it.  Take today to really pause and think about your own thoughts instead of just mine, and I will do my best to take a backseat and be more of a guide than a driver.

 

 

Vs 3-8: How does this idea of being born again through baptism play into your life?  If baptism is a decision you have already made, are you still reflecting that “rebirth” in your life?  If you have not made that commitment, how do Jesus’ words impact your expectations for salvation?

Vs. 11-12: Do you fall into the category of those who hear of the amazing things God can do, and yet still do not believe that He can do them?  Do you think you’re missing out on some of the things God has because you don’t accept the “basic” or “earthly” teaching?

Vs. 16: We all know this verse well, but take a few moments longer to stop and think about what it means without just speeding through it.  It’s a popular verse for a reason!  What meaning does it hold for you?

Vs. 17-18: According to these verses, think about the purpose for Jesus in the world.  How can you take and apply that into your own life and relationships?  Does this change how you want to interact with the people that you are surrounded by?

Vs. 19-21: Are there any things in your life you are leaving in the dark?  Why?  What does it mean for you to be vulnerable and seen plainly in the sight of God?  How does that make you feel when reflecting on your own life?

Vs. 26-30:  John very easily could have taken a lot more credit and gained a large following for himself here.  How does his response of becoming less so that Jesus can become greater and sacrificing his own personal status relate to your life?  Is giving God the credit or putting other people’s missions/needs ahead of your own something that comes naturally?  We can all guess what the answer here should be, but it’s much harder to act on that and make a change in our own life.

Vs. 33-34: The “it” here is referring to Jesus’ testimony.  Now that we are in the time post-resurrection, do you feel people, believers specifically, still struggle to accept the truths that Jesus preached?  Go beyond just what Jesus preached about the Kingdom, and think about what he has said about who God is, or what He has done, etc… If people do not accept Jesus’ testimony, what does that mean about their relationship with God?

Vs. 36: This verse is very similar to verse 18, so clearly the message is important!  When an author repeats an idea it usually means to take special note of it.  Why would the author repeat an idea like this?  Is it a theme you see extending beyond just the book of John?  How do you feel your life reflects the truths in this verse?

I hope some of these questions made you think a little bit longer today!  I encourage you to discuss these ideas with others and get their perspective on it as well.  If you can’t find anyone… I’d be happy to share some of the answers and ideas I have floating around in my head.  In my opinion, these kinds of things are always better when you have the opportunity to talk with another believer!

Have a fantastic rest of your day!

~Sarah