We Reap What We Sow (Galatians 4-6)

Galatians 6:7-10 NKJV Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Several years ago I set up a small garden in our back yard. I read up on gardening. I built a raised bed, purchased good soil, worked in compost, and even let a few night crawlers go that were left over from a fishing trip. Yet all of that study and preparation didn’t produce any tomatoes. It wasn’t until I planted tomatoes that some time later saw tomatoes growing in my garden. What get’s planted is what get’s harvested. I could have done all that preparation and planted something different. I could have left it to the birds and wind to plant and I’d have a garden bed full of weeds.

The Apostle Paul reminds us that what we sow into our lives is eventually what we will reap. There can be a lot of waiting between sowing and reaping. We are reminded that everything that we intentionally place into our lives or do for the glory of God will produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

This should encourage us in three ways. One is to sow to the Spirit. We should do the things that please and honor God knowing that this will produce the fruit of the Spirit. Second, we should continue to sow to the Spirit with patience. Just as a farmer waits for the crop to germinate, push through the soil, and finally produce fruit, we often reap the greatest fruit long after a seed has been planted. There are verses of scripture that I memorized as a child or teenager that are still being called to mind and producing fruit in my life today. Third, we need to be diligent to take every thought captive, knowing that even small seeds sown to the flesh will produce a harvest and create chaos in the garden of our lives.

Father, thank you for you Word. I rejoice that we have freedom in Christ to take every thought captive and ask that you give me grace to filter can catch anything I would be sowing to my flesh. I also rejoice that what we sow to the Spirit produces real and lasting fruit in our lives. I pray that I would live a Spirit filled and empowered life where the fruit of the spirit is evident in my life. IIn Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Playing With Wrong Motives (Galatians 1-3)

Galatians 2:11-14 ESV But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Growing up I used to love to play basketball. I would always go to the park and play pick-up games with whoever was there. Normally I was a really good team player. I’d set picks, pass the ball to my teammates, played an aggressive defense, and took good shots. Yet, whenever the girls would come to watch some of us play, my game changed. I didn’t pass the ball as much and I took way too many bad shots. The reason was simple. I wasn’t playing to win anymore, I was playing to impress the ladies. I was playing with the wrong motives.

Cephas was a leader in the church who was acting hypocritically. Even though he was from a Jewish background, he was visiting and eating in the homes of the gentiles on a regular basis (A great thing for pastors to do.) It was a very real demonstration of how we are saved by faith in Christ and not the rituals that we keep. Yet when the Jewish folks came from headquarters, Cephas began playing a different game and no longer went to eat/ visit with the gentiles. So much so, that other folks who were looking to Cephas as an example stopped hanging out with the gentiles as well. This was a problem because it also communicated that the faith of the gentiles was inferior because they weren’t born into a Jewish family and they didn’t keep all the religious customs of the Jews.

Paul knew better, he’d fought many battles with folks who’d antagonized him on this issue, been to the first ever church council to clarify a major doctrine, and had seen many gentile believers firmly established in the faith. Yet now he encountered a church leader who had changed the way he was doing ministry and it was hurting the church. Paul called him out on it publicly because it was a public issue that affected the entire church. Public sins should be dealt with in public, private sins should be addressed in private.

This isn’t just an issue for church leaders though. Each day we have an opportunity to live a clear gospel witness. Indeed through the great commission we are called to take the gospel to the whole world. We may encounter some situations where we find ourselves hiding or muddying the waters on the gospel in order to fit in with the crowd. In such instances we may be playing to an audience rather than running the race the Lord has put before us.

Father, thank you for the grace. Thank you for friends and ministers like Paul in our lives who will call us out in our sin for the sake of the gospel. I pray that you give us wisdom and courage to live a clear gospel witness in whatever we do. Give us wisdom in living out a clear gospel witness today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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The God of Peace (2 Corinthians 13)

2Corinthians 13:11 ESV Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

I dislocated my shoulder when I was a teenager. At first we weren’t exactly sure what had happened, so I attempted to throw something and the pain was more than I could handle. I ended up at the hospital and everything was put back right. The pain didn’t immediately disappear but after a few weeks of physical therapy I was pretty much pain free again.

Sometimes there are folks who get “out of joint” with the body of Christ. They have sinned and the church needs to practice church discipline (such as Paul addresses in 1 Cor. 5) or they grieve one another with their conduct (such as suing one another, bragging about spiritual gifts, eating meat sacrificed to idols in front of a weaker brother, or the other incidents mentioned in 1 Corinthians). When a brother or sister is out of alignment with the body in these ways it is painful, tender to the touch, and no real spiritual work gets done. What needs to happen is reconciliation and restoration.

Paul reminds the church that if we are to ever really experience the peace of God, we always need to aim for restoration. This is how the body of Christ heals when we experiences damage in our relationships with one another. We can’t just bury it, hide it, or go on as if nothing happened. We need to be comforting one another, agreeing with one another, and seeking peace. After all, God is a God of love and peace.

The questions we can ask ourselves in reflection today is this: Is there anything I’m doing that might cause the body of Christ to be out of joint? Are there molehills that I’ve turned into mountains? Are there things I’ve done to cause my brother to stumble? Is there blatant sin in the camp that needs to be addressed? Is there someone who is seeking reconciliation that I need to forgive?

Father, thank you that you are a God of peace. Thank you for the peace that was made with us through Jesus Christ. Thank you that you have put us together with other believers to be the body of Christ. I pray that when we find ourselves at odds with one another that we do everything with in our power to seek reconciliation. I ask that we always practice church discipline with an aim towards restoration. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Glorifying God in our Weaknesses (2 Corinthians 10-12)

2Corinthians 12:9 NKJV And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

We had a tough conversation at the little league ball park the other night. The coach had shared that we had a record number of boys sign up and we ended up with 16 kids on the roster. That means that some games, some kids won’t play. Everyone wants to see their kid play and no one wants to invite relatives to a game where their kids doesn’t play. It is a less than ideal situation.

After the parent meeting I shared with the coach that whatever decisions he had to make that affected our boy, we were behind him 100%. I shared that we were there to learn team work and sportsmanship and sometimes that meant sitting out so someone else could have a chance to step up. Even if we don’t get to don a batting helmet or glove in a game, we’ll still be cheering on and boasting in the accomplishments of the team.

I sat my son down and told him that he had a bigger role on his team this year than he has ever had. In the games where he plays a lot as well as games where he shows up, dressed to play, but gets little to no game time, he is to be the number one encourager for his team. Instead of reliving the outs and at bats that he got, he will get to help the team remember all of their successes. If he can do that, playing the bench may actually be creating room for a bigger purpose in his life.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not an ideal situation. I’d rather all the boys play all the time, but sometimes we need to recognize our obstacles as opportunities. The Lord is sovereign. He does what He pleases. Sometimes He allows setbacks, challenges, and even tragedies to shape our character. He hasn’t left us alone though. He has promised He will never leave nor forsake us. Paul points out that even though he struggles in weakness, God is strong, God’s Grace is sufficient, and Paul’s weakness gives him an opportunity to boast in the Lord even more.

Sometimes we imagine the Christian life will be pain and problem free. The truth is that it is filled with challenges. What is unique is how we can face those challenges by trusting in Jesus through them. When we face setbacks, health issues, financial issues, relational issues, etc., we can rejoice in the fact that God’s grace is more than enough for whatever we face.

Father, thank you for your grace that is enough. Thank you that even when we struggle with weakness, infirmities, set backs, and losses that you are more than enough. Thank you that we can call on you and you are an ever present help in a time of trouble. Thank you that when we are stripped of pride in our own accomplishments that we can still boast in YOU. Give us grace to trust you in the good times as well as the bad. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Godly Sorrow (2 Corinthians 7-9)

2Corinthians 7:10 ESV For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.

I went to see the doctor for a check up a few weeks ago. We had a great conversation until he told me that I was fat. To be honest, it stung a little to hear. I knew that it was true, but I didn’t like him saying it. He was encouraging me to lose weight and so he told me all the negative side effects of being fat and how it was effecting my health and could effect my health years down the road.

I was grieved coming out of the doctors office. I had a choice to make. I could either be upset that he was so blunt and choose to get angry and tell all my friends what a terrible doctor he is, or I could take his word to heart and start changing my lifestyle. So far I have been consistently choosing the second option. His harsh word that caused me grief produced a positive change and attitude in me.

This is how it should work when we are confronted about sin in our lives. We don’t need to get mad at the messenger. That doesn’t deal with the sin. We need to come to the Lord in confession and repentance. The basis for the verse above is that Paul had grieved the Corinthians by being so direct and pointing out the issues in the church that needed to be addressed. Rather than let that grief fester into bitterness at Paul, they had moved to action and it produced repentance.

We should be asking ourselves how do we handle it when someone addresses sin in our life? Certainly there is grief. No one likes to be told about their sins, even if they are true. We have a choice we can become bitter at the messenger or we can repent and turn to the LORD. Grief about sin can be godly when it produces repentance.

Father, thank you for placing people in our lives that love us enough to point out the obvious. Thank you for the grace of being confronted and warned about sin. Thank you that when we find ourselves grieved over our sin we can repent of our sin and turn to you. I pray that my heart would never allow sorrow over sin to turn to bitterness at a messenger, but that it would always produce repentance. Thank you again so much for your grace. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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(2 Corinthians 4-6)

2Corinthians 5:8 NKJV We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

It has been a difficult start to the year. We’ve had several funerals for local folks that have been well known and loved. It’s almost like being at the ocean on a red flag day and wading out into the tide. You get knocked down, before you ever really get up, another wave comes and knocks you down again. It’s been frustrating, emotionally exhausting, and difficult to mourn one loss for the sake of another.

One of the comforts is that many of the folks I’ve had to say goodbye to in 2021 have had a strong testimony and legacy of trusting in the LORD. As I read these words today I couldn’t help but be comforted and encouraged. While we struggle here on earth, they have a much better body in a much better place.

I’ve shared before at funerals that those who have gone on wouldn’t want to come back (to this earth before Christ’s return). I’m reminded that this is doubly true in the sense that many have who have passed away have left frail bodies for us to bury here on earth. They are experiencing bodies with out the aches and pains that they had grown accustomed to in this life. No more bad knees, aching joints, coughing spells, no more fatigue. Then there is the better joy of being in the presence of the Lord!

Father, thank you that to be absent from the body is to be present with you! Though I mourn the loss of those who have passed away this year, I rejoice that they are enjoying new heavenly bodies. I rejoice that they are in your presence. I look forward to the day when we will all be together again without the limits of this earthly body and fully in your presence. Thank you for comforting and encouraging us through your Word. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Forgiveness in Discipline (2 Corinthians 1-3)

It can be a painful thing for the church to have to practice church discipline. Yet, when someone claiming the name of Christ lives in open contradiction to the gospel of Jesus Christ it is time to interviene. The goal of Church discipline is never to kick anyone out, but to restore fellowship.

In 2 Corinthians chapter two, Paul deals vaguely with someone who was under church discipline at Corinth. Paul wisely doesn’t record their name. Instead, he deals with the issue in such a way that the originally intended readers will know who he’s talking about but other readers won’t. Some issues call for discretion. We can guess that perhaps he was addressing the one who was living an immoral lifestyle in 1 Corinthians 5, or perhaps someone who had personally slandered Paul? Whatever the case, it was evident that the church discipline had worked and Paul urged the church to welcome them back in to the fellowship.

What a beautiful thing when a church forgives and embraces a former member who has repented of grievous sin. This is what is supposed to happen. The one who has sinned and repented is welcomed back. The church acknowledges the sin and they also acknowledge the repentance. Through Christ the member is reconciled.

Father, What a beautiful thing it is to forgive those who have sinned against us. We are grateful that even in your discipline there is grace and mercy. We need only to come home and we will find you running while we are a long way off. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Hospitality of the Saints (1 Corinthians 16)

I love reading some of the endings of Paul’s letters because he shares personal and practical details. Near the conclusion, the Apostle Paul shares his plans to visit the Corinthian church again and plans for other teachers to visit in the mean time. There were no real hotel rooms to lodge in back then, at least not in the way we think of hotel rooms today. Families or wealthy patrons often extended hospitality for those in need of a place to stay. It was particularly customary for folks from among the churches to lodge fellow believers as they came to town.

In the case of teachers or apostles, staying in someone’s home gave them another discipleship opportunity as well as accountability. Paul could easily encourage the Church to follow him as he followed Christ because he lived among them. There were some who had hosted him and could testify to the kind of person he was in private as well as in public. Certainly he impacted lives in homes where he stayed, where ever he went.

One of the products of individualism (that is so pervasive in our culture), is that we have become more and more private. (though our information through social media/technology is more available to the world than you might think.) As we’ve become more private, we’ve become less hospitable. As we work through the global pandemic one of the areas we will need to revive is Christian hospitality to one another. Not just in opening our homes to guests as they come through town, but to one another. There is so much about the Christian life that is better caught through life experience than taught in a classroom environment.

Father, thank you for the grace of one another. I pray that even in the mist of a pandemic that you will give us opportunity and show us how to offer hospitality to one another. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Love (1 Corinthians 13-15)

1Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

What good is a brand new sports car if you don’t have a battery or any gas? You can’t drive it. It won’t go anywhere because it doesn’t have any power. It might be nice to look at and admire, but it’s fullest potential will never be unleashed without some sort of power.

Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 13 that while the gifts of the Spirit are to be sought, love is what is really needed. Love empowers and directs the use our Spiritual Gifts. We shouldn’t use spiritual gifts to pump ourselves up and inflate our egos, but we should demonstrate love in how we use the spiritual gifts that God has given. Paul works this out in 1 Corinthians 14 when he illustrates what order in a church service should look like. Love seeks to edify the whole congregation, not just itself.

1Corinthians 13:8 ESV Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

One of the thing that will we see just a taste of in this life, that will be perfected in Heaven, is the gift of love. Right now we love in a fallen and a broken world. In Heaven where all brokenness is either outlawed or mended to be whole, we will know love without bitterness. There won’t be envy, prideful boasting, back stabbing, arrogance, or selfishness. Where love remains and is perfected, the people who walk the streets of gold will genuinely want the best for one another. Between the folks there, there will only be the fullest expression of everything listed in this chapter as an attribute of love. Between God and His people, there will only be the deepest love. Love remains. Other things pass away, but one thing we know for certain is that beyond the vail of death, for those in Christ, love remains.

Father, Thank you for loving us. I pray that we earnestly seek to love you and love one another as you empower us with the Holy Spirit. May we be better at loving you and loving others every day of our lives this side of eternity. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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Limiting My Freedoms for the Glory of God (1 Corinthians 10-12)

I took a bunch of student leaders on a leadership retreat one year. On our way to the place we were staying, I gave our young leaders the challenge of picking where would stop for lunch. I told them to pick a place that was best for the entire group. The vote was cast and word came back that they wanted Chick-fil-a. I told them it wasn’t best for the entire group. They came back and said Popeyes Chicken. Again, I said it wasn’t best for the group. They came back and said Churches Chicken. Again, I said it wasn’t best for the group. Finally, they were frustrated and asked why those places wouldn’t work? I asked one of the leaders why he didn’t share his allergies with the group? (He was allergic to chicken). He said he was willing to just eat fries or go without food… I shared that we were on a leadership retreat and that good leaders put the needs of others ahead of their own desires and wants. This time word came back for a place we could all eat and no one complained about not getting chicken. They realized the decision they made wasn’t to deny them chicken, but to provide a better lunch experience for their fellow leader.

1Corinthians 10:31 ESV So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

It’s easy to take this out of context and make it a verse about individuality. I did for several years. I thought all this verse meant was that in whatever I did, I should honor God and I should probably pray before each meal. However, the context that we have explored yesterday and today, reminds us that this verse doesn’t come from a context of individuality. It comes from a context of ‘how do we get along with one another when a brother or sister’s conscience is more sensitive to an issue than ours.’

We should glorify God in how we handle such trivial things as food and drink. It means that mature Christians should limit their freedoms for the sake of God’s glory. When facing a difficult decision, I used to ask myself, “How do I glorify God with this decision?” It has been helpful. That question could and should also be asked when it comes to dealing with a brother or sister who has a conscience who won’t let them participate in something that is not a sin.

Father, thank you for the liberties we have in Jesus Christ. Thank you for the opportunity to serve one another by limiting our liberties for the sake of fellowship. I pray you are glorified by our attitude of service when we love and serve one another in this way. In Jesus Name, Amen.

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An Open Letter to My Legalistic Friends

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