I have one more thought before I fold up Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia and open his letter to the church in Ephesus. There is an admonition he gives to these dear people at the close of his letter that has troubled me greatly in the past.

1Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path.

Galatians 6:1

Perhaps it is my own misunderstanding, but these words were weaponized in my past. They were used to develop camps of us – those who are godly – and them – those who are overcome by sin. We, the godly, are to point out the failings of them, the sinners, to bring them back to the right path. Then Paul goes on to say this:

2Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. . . .5For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Galatians 1:2, 5

So am I responsible to help carry the other person’s burden or am I only responsible for my own life?

Today it seems an unlikely understanding of Paul’s words. But it wasn’t until I tore apart the verse in my first Greek classes in college that I finally understood Paul’s concern.

I would like to take the liberty to paraphrase what Paul said. I am putting this in my own words, staying true to what I believe Paul was saying without any attempt to directly translate the original language.

Hey friends, if some sin takes a fellow believer by surprise, help him or her out. Don’t just stand by and watch them destroyed. Steady them, hold them up, walk beside them. But remember your own ability to fall and be careful that pride or arrogance doesn’t trip you up. It could just as easily be you taken by surprise and caught in sin’s trap. Be ready to stake yourself to your brother or sister until they can walk on their own. It is what Jesus would do.

Today, if you find yourself taken by surprise unable to wrestle free from the trap of sin, tell someone. Don’t try to go it alone. That is what the body of Christ is intended to provide.

Today, if you see someone struggling under the heavy weight of sin, stake yourself to them and don’t let go until their strength returns. It is what Jesus would do.

Be Jesus to someone today!

Have you ever flown with a child? It is amazing how much one must carry on for the wellbeing of the child, especially when she is an infant. As she gets older, she is able to take more responsibility for herself and the things she brings with her. It might be a backpack with snacks, books, games or comfort blankets to help keep her occupied during the flight. As that child gets older, she assumes more and more responsibility for what she brings with her. Eventually, she will fly alone and the load she carries will be hers alone. She can’t pass it off to mom or dad; it is her responsibility.

As I finish reading Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, I am challenged by his closing remarks. Wanting to neatly summarize his final comments into a one concise package, I hear the word RESPONSIBILITY.

I am responsible to others. 2Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ.

I am responsible for myself. 5For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

I am responsible for what I reap because it is a byproduct of what I sow. 7. . . You will always harvest what you plant.

I am responsible for where I put my focus. 14As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. 15It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. 16May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.

In Christ, I am transformed into a new creation. The old is gone; the new is come!

Where are you struggling to take responsibility? Bring it before the loving gaze of Jesus and ask him for wisdom to discern and courage to follow through.

Sychronized movement captivates me. Whether it is perfectly timed dancing or sychronized swimming, the essential nature of being completely in tune with the other participants fascinates me. Perhaps my fascination is because I am not overly coordinated in that area. There is another arena where absolute sychronization creates a beautiful dance to behold. Paul says it like this:

25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:25

Keeping in step with the Spirit – what does that mean?

The emphasis of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia revolves around what the people put their trust in, their hope for right standing with God. Paul brought the good news to them that it was Jesus’ death on the cross that made a way for them to be right with God — to be declared righteous.

Then he shifts a bit to talk about living according to the Spirit. When we walk in step, in sychronization with the Spirit, we won’t do what the flesh wants. That really is the crux of the matter, isn’t it?! Walking in step with the Spirit.

Changed behavior that comes from a changed heart really is the evidence of a right relationship with God. The problem is a changed heart is difficult to monitor so we turn to what we can monitor — outward piety. Paul knew that outward displays of religious behavior didn’t mean there was an inward change of heart. He puts it very simply, boiling it down to one command.

13You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:13-14

When I keep in step with the Spirit, I am truly free. I display the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. As I practice listening to and keeping in step with the Spirit, my life changes. More often I choose what the Spirit desires rather than what my flesh desires. This is what it means to keep in step with the Spirit.

My takeaway for today is this: I am in right standing with God because I believe that Jesus is God’s son and he died on the cross for my sins. Period. The Holy Spirit directs my life and enables me to live in freedom; the freedom to love and serve others well.

I moved away from home when I was eighteen years old. I first attended Bible college and then volunteered for a year working for a mission agency. Immediately following my year of service, I was married. We located in the midwest and I never moved back to my childhood home to live for longer than a few weeks.

There is a sense in which I felt a bit orphaned at times. I still enjoyed loving parents who were attentive to my needs and often came to assist me along the way. But I didn’t have the day-to-day interaction with them like I observed in many families around me. At times, I deeply longed to be able to go to Mom and Dad’s after church for Sunday dinner or to play games or hang out at Grandma and Grandpa’s with my kids. Alas, my choices took me away. While there were many gracious people along the way who loved and cared for us, we weren’t part of the family. We were always extras.

I think that’s what draws me in to Paul’s description of our adoption as God’s children in Galatians 4.

4But when the right time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. 5God sent him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that he could adopt us as his very own children. 6And because we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” 7Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are his child, God has made you his heir.

Galatians 4:4-7

There is a movie from the 90’s entitled “It Takes Two.” It is the story of two girls, one very rich and the other very poor. The poor girl is in an orphanage waiting to be adopted when she meets her doppelganger in the rich girl. The story is their misadventure of swapping places. At one point a family, the Butkisses, adopt children to work in their junk yard. The family has natural born children and they live, eat and work separately from the adopted children. The children from the orphanage are brought in to be slaves to the family.

It isn’t so in the family of God. When the time was just right, God sent Jesus to buy our freedom, to choose us from the orphanage of slavery. Then he adopted us as his very own children, with full rights just like a natural born child. He gave us a place at the table, our own room with a comfy bed and then he did something really incredible! He put us in the will. That’s right! We became heirs just like a natural born child.

There were many people along the way who loved Dave and I, even inviting us to family times. But NO ONE changed their will for us. No one included us as heirs with their natural born children.

Think on that amazing fact today! You aren’t redeemed to work as a slave. You haven’t been brought into the family to do the dirty work that no one else wants to do. You are adopted as a full born child! Your inheritance is guaranteed. You have a place at the table. Your name is in the Christmas drawing.

That’s a lot for one day, isn’t it?! Do a little happy dance while you remind yourself that you’re loved, redeemed and a part of the Family!

Rules have a place. If you or someone in your home is a football fan, this is an exciting time of year — the NFL playoffs. Without rules, the football field would be chaotic. Even with rules in place to govern play, the players routinely push the limits. This is evidenced by the number of flags thrown by referees during the game.

Cooking is another arena where there are rules to follow. Typically in the form of recipes, certain rules need to be learned in order to be a successful cook. The best cook is one who doesn’t need the written rule, but follows an internal guide to produce the best food. The internal guide develops when the “rules” are internalized and a recipe no longer becomes necessary to ensure a tasty creation.

Rules in sports and cooking guide our behaviors. We can easily refer to the rule and know where we went awry. Years ago I had a friend who, by her own admission, was not a cook. She even had trouble following a recipe. She once made a crockpot ham recipe that called for 6 tablespoons of brown sugar. I don’t know how it was written – 6 T or 6 tbl – but she thought it was 6 pounds (6 lbs) of brown sugar. Unaware of proper ratios, she obediently worked 6 pounds of sugar into the crockpot of shaved ham. Needless to say, the end product was uneatable.

One arena in which rules don’t work well is relationships. The best relationships are governed by internal gestures of love and compassion. Continuing to read in Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia, he is baffled by their behavior.

1Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross. 2Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? 5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

Galatians 3:1-5

Why in the world would I return to following the rules when the Holy Spirit is a awarded because I believed that Jesus died for me?

Because rules are measurable. I can see the checklist and know when the list is completed. If the rule says I shouldn’t go to a bowling alley in order to be righteous, I can clearly know if I’ve been to a bowling alley. It is much more difficult to measure if I am growing in love for others. Rules make our faith objective, measurable.

But rules don’t foster healthy relationships. God is after a relationship with you. I love the example of Abraham. Genesis 15:6 reminds us that Abraham believed God and he was declared righteous because he believed. He didn’t have the law to follow; the law came over 400 years later.

In what ways are you tempted to follow the rules in order to be righteous? Do you reach for the rule book rather than listening to the Holy Spirit who lives inside? Do you trust the rules more than the internal voice? Are you afraid you will get it wrong?

Paul has more to say, so come back tomorrow for more on living without the rules.

21I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Galatians 2:21

In what way do I treat the grace of God as meaningless?

I think there are more ways to do that than is possible to count. Anything I rely on in addition to Jesus’ death to cover my sins, to make me right with God –causes me to treat the grace of God as meaningless.

After Paul visited the area of Galatia, sharing the gospel — Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from the evil world in which we live — some people from Jerusalem called Judaizers came behind him and, in essence, told the new Christians Jesus wasn’t enough. Sure, Jesus died on the cross but in order to be right with God the people needed Jesus AND… in this case, circumcision.

It might not be what a person experiences today. But there is plenty of Jesus AND… floating about. Jesus and what I wear. Jesus and the spiritual gifts I receive. Jesus and the songs I sing. Jesus and the way I am baptized. Jesus and church attendance. Jesus and . . .

What comes to your mind when you consider Jesus alone as the way to be right with God? Do you expect more than that from others? Do you feel others expect more than that from you? Do you find yourself defending a “Jesus AND…” position?

For many years I said I believed it was Jesus alone that saved me but I was quick to add extras. Extras that were put on me by others but also extras I adopted on my own. Until it began to suffocate me. I found I couldn’t move or breath. I lost mobility and vitality. Slowly but surely, the life inside me ebbed away and I felt sad, forlorn and lost. The list of requirements was so overwhelming; as much as I tried, I never got it quite right. I knew on the inside I was failing miserably, but I attempted to put on a good front.

Until I couldn’t anymore. Then Paul’s words to the Galatian churches rang like music in my ears!

19For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. 20My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Galatians 2:19-20

I no longer treat the grace of God as meaningless. It is everything to me. I am made right with God by Jesus’ death on the cross where he paid for my sins. And that ALONE is what makes me righteous. Nothing else. Nothing at all!

Everyone struggles with something. It might be pride, recognition, approval or a dozen other issues. When I meet someone who overcomes what I struggle with, I am in awe. How does he do so easily what causes me so much struggle? The Apostle Paul is one such person for me.

Saul, whom we first meet in Acts 7, opposed Christianity in the most violent way. Acts records this about him: “(Stephen’s) accusers took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul. . . .Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen.” He took a staunch stand against Christianity and did everything possible to eradicate it. Until he meets Jesus in a most dramatic manner. Turn to Acts 9 to read about that. It is what Saul, now turned Paul, does that makes my jaw drop.

He immediately changes his course of action and goes from ardent persecutor to passionate evangelist. Just. Like. That. He didn’t ask anyone’s permission. He didn’t check his script with anyone. He didn’t wait to be acknowledged by the other apostles in Jerusalem. He took seriously his encounter with Jesus and took to the streets. Amazing! This is how Paul says it for himself to the churches in the area of Galatia.

1This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. 10Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant… it pleased him 16to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. 17Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus.

Galatians 1:1, 10, 16-17

After Paul’s conversion, he knew that if he stopped to ask the opinions of others, he would be sidetracked. His time would be spent convincing others of his conversion rather than living out his conversion. It is evident he knew that pleasing humans ultimately meant he wasn’t pleasing God. It’s great when humans are pleased with our service of God, but it doesn’t always happen that way.

I know I can’t be guaranteed the approval of man in my service of God. But why is it so easy to be distracted by the approval of humans? What must I do to live with the kind of confidence Paul displayed?

The challenge I face is to live with my eyes on Jesus, to take my cues from him. I want to be so familiar with him that I notice the slightest movement of his eyes to guide me left or right, to feel the slightest pressure on my arm to pause or move more quickly, to trust so completely I take the next right step without hesitation.

What keeps you from living boldly? Is there a champion from scripture that illustrates how to do it well? What practices do you need to adopt to be that person?

The day started fine. I enjoyed the luxury of sleeping a bit longer, then grabbed my coffee and headed to the lanai to read and pray. I picked up a book I bought several weeks ago and began reading. After about an hour, I realized I was no longer remembering what I read. I layed the book aside and decided to do an errand.

A heaviness settled over me I found difficult to shake. Returning from my errand, I grabbed some lunch and then went outside to continue my reading. The heaviness increased. Uncertain if it was the word of the Lord to me or the taunting of the enemy, I found a trusted friend — my husband.

He asked what was bringing me down and I started to share excerpts from my reading and how it impacted me. Even as I shared, I felt the darkness begin to lift. As long as I stayed in my own mind with only my thoughts, the heaviness persisted. But when I shared it and brought it before another who had my best in mind, who could help me to see it objectively, the darkness could not stay. As scripture says, “the light exposes the darkness.” Ephesians 5:13

Today I finish this week with the invitation to bring your darkness into the light. Whatever is working in your mind, causing despair or darkness, bring it to the light by sharing it with someone – someone you trust, someone who can be objective.

Freedom will be yours.

Happy Friday! Happy Weekend!

I admit — I am a bit of a brain geek. A keen interest in the brain and how it functions drives me to read books on the brain. The really great news is that the brain has an elastic property about it that enables it to heal and change with the proper treatment, supplements and medication. There is no such thing as a “normal” brain – thank you to the Fall (recorded in Genesis 3) – so no one is normal. We are all a little off our rockers. That levels the playing field, doesn’t it?!

As I finished reading This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr.Earl Henslin – a book I recommend everyone picks up to read – this quote caught my eye.

Seeing yourself as a victim means your identity comes from the belief that the past is more powerful than the present. It is the belief that your failures of yesterday are more real than the reality of today. It is the false belief that other people from long ago are responsible for who you are now, either your emotional pain or your inability to grow.

This is Your Brain on Joy, Dr. Earl Henslin, p. 205

Bullies come in all sizes and shapes. This one happens to be named Your Past and it can be loud, obnoxious and intimidating. So how does one face the bully of the past and get beyond it? How does one live in the present today not the failures of yesterday? How does one take responsibility for who she is today?

There are many excellent portrayals of ordinary people overcoming bullies in movies past and present. It might be worth the time to check out this website that cites eight movies inspiring individuals to be better.

Or you can follow Paul’s excellent advice in Philippians 3.

12I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.

Philippians 3:12-14

As children of God, we can also rest assured that our past is thrown into the sea of forgetfulness as a benefit of atonement by Jesus’ blood. In common words, when we said yes to Jesus, our debts were paid in full. They were put in the “PAID” file.

13You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 

Colossians 2:13-14

12He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

Psalm 103:12

Your Past might be the bully you face on a regular basis, but he is only a loud noise. He can be silenced, unable to bother you anymore. Begin here with these words of truth. It may be helpful and necessary to reach out to a trusted friend, counselor or spiritual advisor for additional help, but there is hope!

4But you belong to God, my dear children. You have already won a victory over those people, because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world. 

1 John 4:4

Bullies operate on the premise of fear. Igniting fear by claiming to be bigger, scarier, faster and more powerful than others, they make a person feel small and vulnerable. In order to keep the bully happy, the bullied gives in to the demands of the other. It might be for money, favors or tasks, but a person acquiesces because that seems the only viable option.

Enter the enemy of our souls. Monday, I exposed his lies as a twist of what is actually true and encouraged you to take a stand against him by the word of your testimony. Not today Satan!

Tuesday, I reminded you that Jesus’ voice is always speaking albeit quite soft. It requires a trained ear to hear to his gentle invitations and quiet reminders. His voice encourages, affirms and invites me to intimacy.

Today, I want to remind us that the spirit who lives within is greater than the spirit of the world. I know. We already know that. But it bears repeating. You see, my experience tells me that the bully is loud and brash. He throws his weight around to intimidate and scare me. He wants my lunch money; he wants me to do his homework; he wants me to carry his backpack. Monday we said, “Not today!” Today we are remembering that the Spirit within is greater than the spirit of the world!

Music speaks to me. This song ties it all together into one message. It’s a great proclamation of my position in Christ — adopted, forgiven, I belong — and that the enemy can’t take away who I am or what I have in Christ because the Spirit in me is greater than the spirit in the world! I pray it blesses you as well.