October 29, 2014

Galatians 5:13-14 You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Our bodies are completely selfish. When we give our bodies free rein, they ignore the needs of everyone else and want what they want. That’s the risk of freedom, because if we listen only to our bodies, we’ll end up in a train wreck. We are to listen to our bodies to the extent that we are to take care of them, keeping them in good condition to serve us a long time, but we are not to let our bodies be in control. That’s why Paul speaks so strongly about living according to the Spirit rather than the flesh, in Romans 8:4, 5, and 13 and again in this chapter, in verses 16 and 25. The way we keep track of that is how we relate to those around us, that is, do we love our neighbor as ourselves? God has no intention of tying us up with minutiae, so He tells us to love Him and love our neighbor. That’s why Augustine said to “Love God and do as you please.” If we love God sufficiently, then we will be fully obedient to His law and will allow His love to flow through us to those around us.

This whole issue of freedom has been major in my own life, as it is for every human being. We see people all around us who, in their desire to be free, become slaves of all sorts of things. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, illicit sex and more are all dangled in front of us by the devil as tempting tidbits. We are indeed free to partake, but the result is never good. As a pastor, I am called not only to walk according to the Spirit myself, but warn and assist others in that same path. I am not to run around in accusation mode; that would be completely counterproductive. However, I am to make it clear what the choices, and the consequences, are. If I fail to do that, I am not loving my neighbor as myself. I have experienced the difference between walking according to the flesh and walking according to the Spirit, so I would be less than loving to fail to share that with others.

Father, as always I need Your wisdom as to how to go about what I see needs to be done. Help me be a loving, encouraging guide and not a stern taskmaster. Whether I like it or not, many will get their image of You from me. Help me give them a good picture! May I walk so completely in step with Your Spirit that all of Your purposes for me may be fulfilled, drawing many into Your family and bringing You the glory that You alone deserve. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 28, 2014

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

This principle is so simple and yet is so overlooked so much of the time. Not many people trouble themselves with the issue of circumcision these days (except the San Francisco city government that tried to outlaw it not long ago, but that’s another story) but this applies to all sorts of external “acts of righteousness.” For example, I’m a strong believer in tithing, but there’s no way you could tithe your way into heaven. I’ve known churches that have run people off over this issue! If the love is there, for God and for your neighbor, then you will want to give generously, but you can’t get the cart before the horse. What we do is important, but why we do it is even more important. We are saved by grace through faith, period. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Indeed, faith that doesn’t work is dead, (James 2:17) but those works are no substitute for faith. Even there, as Paul so famously expressed in 1 Corinthians 13, the underlying motive must be love, or it is all for nothing.

I believe this was truly my parents’ operating principle, and that was and is a huge blessing. So few people, actually, are raised in such an environment. However, the moment I start getting proud of my background I am personally abandoning this principle, because pride is antithetical to love. Jesus was not speaking casually when He said that the first commandment (or Prime Directive, if you want to think in the terms used by some popular fiction) is to love God with all you have and are, and the second is to love your neighbor as you love yourself. (Matthew 22:37-40) You cannot love God without believing He is, so there you have it. The secret to living right is simply to fall more and more in love with God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we will do that, our actions and our attitudes will fall into place, and we will have the immense joy and satisfaction of fulfilling the purpose for which we were created.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me express this principle more and more effectively to others. I have a tendency to give too much information, to make things too complicated. Help me get back to basics, not being distracted by all the peripheral stuff, so that Your Spirit may take Your Word through me to set people free, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 27, 2014

Galatians 3:26-28 You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

This passage is the foundation of all true “gender equality,” not to mention all the other forms of equality among human beings. However, it is truly operative only on the basis of faith in Christ Jesus. That’s why all the various humanistic “equality” movements are doomed to only partial success at best. It is no accident that William Wilberforce, the man behind the abolition of slavery in the British Empire, was a strong Christian, as were his kindred spirits in the US. It is no surprise that slavery is currently practiced almost exclusively in Islamic countries. That said, it needs to be remembered that equality is not the same as uniformity. Paul went into this issue at some length in 1 Corinthians 12, talking about spiritual gifts. If everyone were identical, we would have nothing! The challenge is in recognizing differing characteristics but equal value. In the digital world, exact copies are the rule of the day, but human beings are thoroughly analog. We’ve got to remember that in all of our interactions, and especially in the Church. Each has unique gifts and unique contributions to make, so the loss of even one makes us poorer. However, true unity comes to the degree that we indeed clothe ourselves in Christ, keeping our focus on Him and not on ourselves. We are quick to rank ourselves and one another on various scales, but that all becomes meaningless compared to Christ’s perfection.

Growing up as a Caucasian in Japan I have always been aware of differences between people, sometimes painfully so. It is as I have grown as a child of God that I have come to recognize the truth of this passage, first intellectually and then on every other level as well. I have learned to accept and be blessed by the unique characteristics of different people – sometimes very different! That’s not always easy even now. I’ve got to remember that Jesus didn’t die for just one group, but for every individual on the planet. That said, every individual is of incalculable value, and I need to treat them that way. I need to remember my own faults and rough spots, and not focus on friction but rather seek and receive the lubricating oil of the Holy Spirit. I am not to let conflict avoidance keep me from obedience to God, but I am not to allow differences to create rifts, so far as it is possible. That’s been an issue since the early Church, but since Jesus prayed for unity among us, I know it’s possible! Above all, I’ve got to remember that everyone is of equal value with me in God’s sight, and I’ve got to treat them that way.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Help me walk in the unity You desire and intend, letting Your love flow equally to all who will receive it, so that the lies of the enemy may be exposed and defeated and many drawn to repentance and faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 26, 2014

Galatians 3:24 So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.

Japanese has a much better equivalent than English for the Greek expression of “one put in charge.” The idea is of education or training, and different English translations have used expressions like “schoolmaster,” “tutor,” and such. What Paul is saying is that the whole point of the Law is Christ. We tend to think of various things as having independent existence, but actually, everything is to point us to Christ, because everything was created through Him and He is what holds it all together. (Colossians 1:17) We were created to have fellowship with the Father through Jesus Christ the Son by the Holy Spirit, and the Law was given to help teach us that. When we focus on elements of the Law to the point that we lose sight of Christ, we’ve lost the whole point. Recently someone drove a car into a granite monument of the 10 Commandments, destroying the monument (and the car), as though they could remove the Law by such an act. How pathetic! We rebel against the Law, not recognizing the grace and love that were and are behind it. God never commands anything that isn’t for our good, but we fail to realize that and desire to do things simply because they are forbidden. That’s why God took the very drastic step of sending Christ to earth to be born as a human baby, experiencing all our frailty and then in perfect obedience bearing the penalty for our rebellion, so that we might be saved by faith in Him.

As an educator myself I am well aware of this principle. I don’t teach students “me,” I teach them the material they will need to fulfill their purpose in life. They generally learn some things about me along the way, but that’s not the point. That’s all the more important in my role as a pastor. I’m not here to draw people to me, I’m to draw them to Christ. Some people refer to this as “Garrott’s church,” but that comes from a misunderstanding of what is going on. I have responsibility and considerable influence in this church, but the church belongs to Christ because it is part of His body, and I must never forget that. Likewise, I am to help the believers operate in that understanding. When I do too much, rather than providing opportunities for them to participate and contribute, I am doing no one any favors.

Father, thank You for my current back problem that forces me to let others do things. Thank You for the young man who came yesterday to set up the sanctuary for today’s service. Thank You for the sister who will be leading the service, apart from the sermon. Help me be fully focused on Christ so that I may lead others to Christ as well, just as You gave the Law to do, so that Your purposes may be accomplished in Your way on Your schedule for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 25, 2014

Galatians 3:14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

Some churches today act as if the promise of the Holy Spirit is no big deal, but Paul is saying here that a major purpose of Jesus’ cross was to enable us to receive the Holy Spirit by faith. No other faith has a Savior, as Christianity does, but likewise no other faith posits the indwelling Spirit of God for everyone who believes. This is a very big deal indeed! When we limit the Holy Spirit to various “manifestation gifts” we are missing most of the point. The Holy Spirit is the ultimate Emmanuel, God with us. (Matthew 1:23, quoting Isaiah 7:14) Jesus was indeed Emmanuel while He was on this earth, and it was very important for a number of reasons that He took a fully human body to do that. However, as He was preparing His disciples for His crucifixion and later ascension, He said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” (John 14:16-17; 16:7) It is the biggest possible deal that God would indwell His people. We take that far too lightly! Spiritual gifts are nice and they are useful, but they are secondary to the incredible reality of the indwelling Spirit of God.

I am continuing to grow in my grasp and appreciation of this glorious truth. When I am aware of and yielded to the indwelling Holy Spirit, then all the irritations of life fade to insignificance. It would be nice if I could stay that way 24/7! That is the biggest attraction of heaven to me, because I have tasted enough on this earth that I am quite addicted, and in heaven there will be a limitless supply and no hindrances. I have tried to help people understand that this is available to them, but few seem to open up to receive it. Sometimes they get a taste, but then seem to forget how wonderful that was, or believe that it could never happen again, much less be part of their daily lives. Psalm 34:1 is the cry of my heart to them, that they would not just get a momentary taste but would have faith to receive the indwelling fullness of the Holy Spirit. It is clearly evident that an experience of the baptism in the Holy Spirit does not insulate us from temptations of all sorts, and I need to make it clear that we are not to quench (1 Thessalonians 5:19) or grieve (Ephesians 4:30) the Holy Spirit, but the fundamental reality is that the Spirit of God is available to all who will repent and believe. That is Good News indeed!

Father, I feel like I haven’t focused on this message clearly enough. There is so much truth I want to impart, and people overload so quickly. Help me be fully yielded to Your Spirit myself, so that I may have the wisdom I need to say what I should when I should, to supply the truth people need when they are ready to receive it. Help me remember that it is Your truth after all, and that it is Your Spirit who imparts it to people’s hearts; I am no more than a tool. May I be an available, useful tool, so that the Body of Christ may be built up, for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!

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October 24, 2014

Galatians 3:5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

What comes to mind as I read this is how many churches today have never seen a miracle, or at least one they recognized, and there is little or no evidence of the Holy Spirit being present. This is not a matter of denominations, it’s a matter of hearing with faith. Too many today take the Bible as a book of fairy tales, and certainly don’t seek to apply it in their daily living. At the time Paul wrote this very little of the New Testament had been written, so they were operating on oral testimonies backed up with Old Testament prophecies. That’s why the emphasis here is on hearing. Today we have the whole Bible in almost more forms than you could count, and yet people don’t take the Word in and really believe it to put it into practice. Paul was really having to get on the Galatians because they were becoming legalistic, but at least they had the Spirit and the miracles in the first place! The Church today needs to wake up and examine itself, shake off empty forms and get back to believing and living out the Word of God.

I have to include myself in that, because this church has seen very few miracles, at least that the world would acknowledge. We are seeing the fruit of the Spirit that Paul talks about later in Galatians, but we have plenty of room to grow in all areas. As Paul said in Romans 10:17, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of Christ. As pastor, I must be both careful and bold to speak the Word in love, in season and out of season, not failing to speak because I doubt the reception will be good but trusting God to use His Word to produce His results. That applies to speaking both to non-believers and to believers, because all need to grow in faith so that they may receive all that God has prepared for them in Christ.

Father, thank You for the opportunities You gave Cathy and me yesterday to share Christ at some length with people. Thank you that both those people are hungry. I pray that they would not delay to open their hearts to be born again, and I pray that there would be many more to follow them. I pray also for the believers who are already in the church, that their eyes would be lifted from themselves and their circumstances and fixed on You, so that they may believe and trust You enough to allow You to do in and through them all that You have planned, for their blessing and for the growth of the Body of Christ, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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October 23, 2014

Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This verse is so totally familiar that I almost didn’t write on it, but it is familiar for an excellent reason: it is extremely powerful. Anyone who gets the truth of this verse worked into their spirit and soul is immune to any attack of the devil. After all, anyone who has died is immune to any and all temptation. Pain is also irrelevant. We inhabit our bodies for a while, and for that interval we are subject to all sorts of things. However, when we are in Christ the hold of our flesh over us is loosened, and we can walk in what He has accomplished for us. That’s not to say that the influence of the flesh is totally gone, it’s that we are no longer bound by it. Paul used this image of death in a good way in Romans 6:11, where he tells us to “Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Sometimes that takes a lot of faith. If we are focused on our faith, we will find that we never have enough. If we focus on the One in whom we believe, we find that His grace is indeed sufficient for us. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

I am in the middle of an unexpected practicum in this, having thrown my back out somehow yesterday. Pain can be quite a distraction! However, as I told my wife, this gives me a rather intense empathy with the pain she has every day with her Parkinson’s Disease. I am reminded that the origin of the word, “excruciating,” is “to be crucified.” As I go through this, I need to remember that I am already crucified with Christ, as this verse says, so these temporal distractions are just that, temporary, and I don’t have to pay them so much attention. That is indeed easier said than done at times. My respect for my wife, and for others who live with chronic pain, is going up steadily! Rather than focus on the pain part of it, I need to focus on the living part of it, as she obviously does. As a pastor, I am constantly dealing with people who are focused on their emotional pain. That is just as debilitating as physical pain, if not more so. There too the cross of Christ is effective, when received and applied by faith. I need to teach people the truth of the old hymn, “Jesus paid it all; all to Him I owe.” I need to let this verse be fully operative in me so that it may in turn be operative in others.

Father, thank You for this Word, and for the circumstances that made me open to receive it. I ask for wisdom in receiving Your healing, but even more I ask that You enable me to retain the spiritual lesson You’re giving me, so that as I become a more perfect expression of Christ, more and more people would be drawn to faith, for their salvation and Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!

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