July 30, 2019-Lessons from Galatians, Our Identity in Christ

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Today’s lesson is a little different study. This week’s Catechism lesson (8-4) features key concepts and food for thought from the book of Galatians.  With the new school year starting soon it’s great to remind young people (as well as older people!) that we belong to Christ, and we live as new creations in Him.

The apostle Paul warned the Galatians against teaching a different gospel or of adding to the Gospel message out of fear of what other people might think.  Salvation comes to ALL people, regardless of national ancestry, race, gender or ethnic traditions by faith in Christ alone, by the grace of God alone.  There is no such thing as “Jesus….AND.”  We are not made right with God through circumcision, or by keeping Jewish Law (which the Jews never could seem to do anyway,) but by the grace of God in which we are given faith in Christ. It’s all about God, and it’s all a free gift.  No ANDs.

Galatians 1:10- (NIV) 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.

What does it mean to be a person of integrity?

Galatians 2:20- (NIV) 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.

Even though we are sinners who sin daily and sin much, we are defined by our identity in Christ, not by the sins we have committed.  What does it mean to “put on Baptism as daily wear?”

Galatians 3:26-27 (NIV)- So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,  for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

What does it mean that because we are baptized, our identity is in Christ, no matter what our place in life or our vocation (the things we do) happens to be?

Galatians 4:7 (NIV) -So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.

What does it mean to be an heir of the kingdom of God?  Do we share in both the cross of Christ as well as in His resurrection?

Mark 8:34-38 (NIV) Then he (Jesus) called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.  What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?  Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?  If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

As children of God, do we care more about living as someone who Jesus bled and died to redeem and save, or “going along to get along?”

Galatians 5:25-26 (NIV) Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.  Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

What does it mean to stay true to our values and to trust the Holy Spirit to give us the grace we need in difficult situations? When is it better to stand and fight or to walk away from an awkward situation?

Galatians 6:9 (NIV) Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 

We may not see the rewards of being kind, helping others, and living as God’s children should.  However, this is the vocation God gives us as His people no matter how other people treat us.  There is a saying, “No matter who your boss is, you are really working for God.”  What does this mean as we navigate our way through life?

 

 

November 17, 2017- Signs and Wonders, Beautiful Feet, and Loving Jesus- Acts 2:43-47, Isaiah 52:7, Romans 10:15

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Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  Acts 2:43-47 (NRSV)

The early believers were convinced that Jesus would return in their lifetimes, so they lived accordingly.

Some have used this passage as a Christian argument for collectivism as a form of government (the somewhat contradictory phrase “Christian socialism” comes to mind,) however, the key to making this first century community work was that sharing and living in common were voluntary. The response to the Good News was one that came from grateful and loving hearts, not one of forced compliance to a set of rules. There were no mandatory levies or quotas, as the people provided for themselves and for others as there were needs. They were governed by the principle of loving God and bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth.  There was no tax man going around making sure that everyone gave his or her fair share (and more,) and no one claimed more than he or she needed.

Their community was based upon living in response to the love and grace of God.

Today it seems as if we have lost sight that God is still with us. Does the way we “do life”- and how we welcome others into our community- reflect God’s love and grace and mercy toward us?

It has been said that integrity is living one’s life the same whether we are under direct scrutiny of others or not.   Are we the same people in the dark that we claim to be in the light of day?

By the grace of God we are called to live our lives in such a way that others want to come join us- because we share the joy we have in Christ.

And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (reference to Isaiah 52:7) Romans 10:15 (NRSV)

Do we have “beautiful feet?” Do we bring good news? Do we show others that following Jesus makes a difference?

September 22, 2017 Liar, Liar Pants on Fire, and Be Happy With What You Have- Exodus 20:16-17

falsewitnessYou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

commandments 9 and 10

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. Exodus 20:16-17

The Eighth Commandment is one that addresses our integrity. We are commanded to tell the truth about others, and not to say or do things that would wrongly incriminate them or damage their reputation.

Gossip has always been a juicy temptation for humanity. It is easy to get engrossed in (and embellish upon) the drama of other people’s lives. What we fail to realize is that gossip, especially when it is exaggerated and involving sensitive issues, can be highly destructive and damaging.  God commands us to stay out of the rumor mill.  He commands us to refrain from assassinating another’s character or incriminating an innocent person by spreading lies about him or her.

Those, then, are called slanderers who are not content with knowing a thing, but proceed to assume jurisdiction, and when they know a slight offense of another, carry it into every corner, and are delighted and tickled that they can stir up another’s displeasure [baseness], as swine roll themselves in the dirt and root in it with the snout. This is nothing else than meddling with the judgment and office of God, and pronouncing sentence and punishment with the most severe verdict. For no judge can punish to a higher degree nor go farther than to say: “He is a thief, a murderer, a traitor,” etc. Therefore, whoever presumes to say the same of his neighbor goes just as far as the emperor and all governments. For although you do not wield the sword, you employ your poisonous tongue to the shame and hurt of your neighbor…

For we ought never to deprive any one of his honor or good name unless it be first taken away from him publicly.

False witness, then, is everything which cannot be properly proved. Therefore, what is not manifest upon sufficient evidence no one shall make public or declare for truth; and in short, whatever is secret should be allowed to remain secret, or, at any rate, should be secretly reproved, as we shall hear. Therefore, if you encounter an idle tongue which betrays and slanders someone, contradict such a one promptly to his face, that he may blush thus many a one will hold his tongue who else would bring some poor man into bad repute from which he would not easily extricate himself. For honor and a good name are easily taken away, but not easily restored. – explanation of the Eighth Commandment from Luther’s Large Catechism

As Luther explains, there is more to the Eighth Commandment. It implies that we should avoid presenting others in a negative light and dragging their dirty laundry out for all to see, whether the rumors are true or not.  We should assume the best of those around us, and we should actively work to avoid causing injury to others by our words.

Luther’s explanation of the Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Commandment can be found here. The Ninth and Tenth Commandments address the desires of our hearts.

The Ninth and Tenth Commandments are pretty straightforward also. Don’t have a desire for someone else’s spouse.  Don’t be obsessed with having other people’s stuff.

Those two Commandments can best be expressed as, “Be happy with what you have.” It’s not necessarily bad to admire someone else’s spouse- he or she might have qualities you would treasure in your own spouse, or to admire someone else’s car, because you aspire to a better model than you already have.  Our friend’s kitchen cabinets might inspire our own kitchen remodel for instance.   But covetousness becomes destructive when it becomes an overwhelming desire to have something or someone who is owned or bound to another.  God commands us to be thankful that those around us have good gifts, as well as for us to be thankful for the gifts He has given us.

Therefore we allow these commandments to remain in their ordinary meaning, that it is commanded, first, that we do not desire our neighbor’s damage, nor even assist, nor give occasion for it, but gladly wish and leave him what he has, and, besides, advance and preserve for him what may be for his profit and service, as we should wish to be treated. Thus these commandments are especially directed against envy and miserable avarice, God wishing to remove all causes and sources whence arises everything by which we do injury to our neighbor, and therefore He expresses it in plain words: Thou shalt not covet, etc. For He would especially have the heart pure, although we shall never attain to that as long as we live here; so that this commandment will remain, like all the rest, one that will constantly accuse us and show how godly we are in the sight of God! –explanation of the Ninth and Tenth Commandments from Luther’s Large Catechism

The purpose of the Law is to hold up a mirror to our face, so that we can see how much we sin and fail.  Jesus knows we sin and fail.  The good news of the Gospel is that He came to earth and died on the Cross to save us from our sins.  It is only in Christ that we can look to God and obey His commandments- God’s own rules given to us for our protection and well being.

September 1, 2017 – Vindication- Psalm 26:1-8

Vindication

Vindicate me, O Lord, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.

Prove me, O Lord, and try me; test my heart and mind. For your steadfast love is before my eyes, and I walk in faithfulness to you.

 I do not sit with the worthless, nor do I consort with hypocrites; I hate the company of evildoers, and will not sit with the wicked.

 I wash my hands in innocence, and go around your altar, O Lord, singing aloud a song of thanksgiving, and telling all your wondrous deeds.

 O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell, and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26:1-8 (NRSV)

On the surface this looks like the Psalmist is praying a pretty arrogant prayer, but his focus is not on us or our good deeds. His focus is on God’s love and our response to it.

What integrity do we have in and of ourselves? Absolutely none.

What ability do we have to be steadfast or loving of our own accord? Again, absolutely none.

Apart from the intrinsic value we have as children of God, and assuming that transplant organs are not sold for a dollar value, what exactly are the materials that comprise our physical bodies worth? About $5.

How many human beings are hypocrites? 100%.

How many human beings do evil and are wicked? 100%.

The Psalmist does speak of his integrity, his trust, his steadfastness, his faithfulness, and his innocence, but all the while his focus is on vindication, which can only come from God.  If we have any integrity, trust, steadfastness, faithfulness or innocence, these are not inherent to ourselves, but given to us as gifts from God.

 Merriam Webster Online Dictionary defines vindication as: the state of being vindicated; specifically :  justification against denial or censure.

Without that vindication, if not for God choosing to justify us, we are the worthless, the hypocrites, the evildoers, and the wicked. End of story, perhaps.

We live the paradox of being saint and sinner (simul justus et peccator– the teacher and theologian RC Sproul, while not a Lutheran, explains Luther’s concept very well here) so we are all of these terrible things…but we’re also not.

The Psalmist is affirming in this prayer and song (for a Psalm is a prayer originally meant to be sung) how God envisions us, and he is giving us the definition of who God created us to be.

We trust in Jesus’ integrity, Jesus’ trustworthiness, Jesus’ steadfastness, Jesus’ love, Jesus’ faithfulness, Jesus’ worth- all the things that we do not have save by His grace.

Because Jesus gave Himself as a sacrifice for many, we are made into saints- even as we are still sinners.  He is continually calling us to Him, and turning our hearts more and more toward Him.

Do we desire what God desires, and freely gives, to us?  Do we have (in Christ) the confidence to join the Psalmist in his prayer?