A Galatians Fourth of July: True Freedom in Christ

Happy birthday, America! I pray God’s blessings on you, for as a Christian, I am to seek the well-being of the land where God has placed me (Jeremiah 29:7). I celebrate the freedom I have found in your borders, and I remember those who fought for that freedom. For freedom is not cheap–politically or spiritually.

As I think of the freedoms of my country, I remember the bedrock of freedom I have in Christ.

galatians 5,1

And what is this freedom? True and ultimate freedom is:

  • Being out from under the curse of sin (Galatians 3:10-11)
  • Receiving God’s promise of righteousness by faith (Galatians 3:21-22)
  • Found in the Gospel of Christ, not “the different gospel–which is really no gospel at all,” (Galatians 1:6-7). A gospel driven by the approval of men, in other words, popular opinion. A changeable, socially acceptable gospel. And of these men who grant approval, Paul writes, “These people are zealous to win you over, but for no good,” (Galatians 4:17).

galatians 1, 10

  • Dying to self and living in Christ (Galatians 2:20).
  • A calling in Christ and an invitation to serve others (Galatians 5:13).

galatians 2. 20

  • Evidenced by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
  • Keeping in step with the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

galatians 5, 25

Are you grateful for freedom today–both your country’s and your spirit’s?

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Chosen

crowd

There’s nothing like being in a crowd of people to make me feel small and insignificant. As an introvert, noise, smells, and sights overload my senses until a feeling of loneliness wraps around me. The world is a large place, thick with conflict and wrought with needs. How do I fit into that? When I read Christianity Today’s article on 33 people under 33 who are making a difference–well, I feel small then, too.

And then I read Psalm 135:4.

Psalm 135, 4

Chosen. The words is full of intentionality. God doesn’t play spin the globe and point his finger. When he invites you into his kingdom, he wants you for his own. A treasured possession, not a forgotten, stuffed in the attic, piece of junk. You have his image stamped upon you. And when you invite Jesus into your heart, you have his Spirit within you–a deposit guaranteeing what is to come. How much more treasured can you be?

So next time the crowd presses in around you and you feel lost in the shuffle, remember the Chooser sees you. He treasures you. You are his.

 

Questioning Through Mark: 1:14-20

Later on, after John was arrested, Jesus went into Galilee, where he preached God’s Good News.  “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!”
One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him. A little farther up the shore Jesus saw Zebedee’s sons, James and John, in a boat repairing their nets. He called them at once, and they also followed him, leaving their father, Zebedee, in the boat with the hired men.
  1. Is your repentance tied to belief? Jesus instructed people to repent and believe. Repentance is a letting go of sin and turning from sin. Belief in the Good News is what fills the hole when we turn from sin.
  1. How is your response time to Jesus? Is it “at once?” Or is it, “Let me consider?”
  1. How has God used your past and your gifts for his kingdom? Jesus made a great play on words when he told fishermen that he would show them how to fish for men. We all have a past filled with good and bad things. When we come to Jesus, none of that is wasted. He uses who we were in a new and redeemed way.

The Almost

When I read that pregnancy test for the first time, and it said positive, fear sent my pulse skittering through my throat. Life was in me, and there was only one way out. I’ve never be the same again. For a woman who doesn’t like the unknown or doesn’t like pain, the light at the end of the nine-month pregnancy tunnel was blindingly frightening.

But the anticipation wasn’t all fear. There was hope, and excitement, and promise–all wrapped up in my expanding waistline.

I can’t help but draw parallels to our spiritual lives. The promises of God are yes and amen in Christ, but some are still in pregnancy form (metaphorically speaking). We know they will hatch into reality in God’s fulfilling time.

We all go through seasons where our hearts are pregnant with dreams, our minds pregnant with ideas, and our spirits pregnant with the seed of God’s Word. And I even daresay that we are constantly in a time of pregnancy–in some sort of way–because God is a life-changer, life-beginner, and life-fulfiller.

But it’s not always easy when you feel the weight of what you carry. Sometimes almost, is as difficult as, no.

almost

But almost means, soon. And almost means get ready.

I’m in this almost season right now (at first I typed write now). I’ve finished my first novel. I’ll be adding a fiction page to my website. I’m feeling pregnant with my writing. But I’m also feeling the almost of it. The not yet. The more-time-in-the-writing-incubator. Sometimes the birthing process is long and complicated.

Where are you, friend? Is there an almost in your life that is frustrating you? Are you ready to birth the things God has been growing in you?

Visitations

How will you respond when He comes to you?

“The LORD appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.” (Genesis 18:1-2)

“The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.’ . . . . Gideon replied, ‘Please do not go away until I come back and bring my offering and set it before you.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will wait until you return.'” (Judges 6)

“The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, ‘Samuel! Samuel!’ Then Samuel said, ‘Speak, for your servant is listening.'” (I Samuel 3:10)

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips . . .'” (Isaiah 6:1-4)

“The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the LORD and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the LORD.” (Jonah 1:1-3)

“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’  . . . When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” (Matthew 1:2off)

Hidden place

Humility: The Eyes to See Honestly

Have you ever observed something like this? In response to a compliment, someone plays down his ability, shrugs off the praise, says lightheartedly, “Ah, it’s nothing.”

We call this humility. We say, “What a humble person!”

Low self-esteem is not humility. It’s pride. Refusing gratitude from others is not humility. It’s pride. Unwilingness to receive praise is not humility. It’s pride. Any self-focus is pride. And low self-esteem is still preoccupation with the self, albeit not the usual arrogance which we attribute to pride.

True humility sees honestly. It’s okay to admit you’re good at something. When complimented, say thank you. You can also credit God for how he’s gifted you. I’m frequently complimented about my piano playing and thanked for my music at church. Sometimes I feel it’s undeserved. Maybe I didn’t play well. But I don’t discredit another’s experience by saying, “My music wasn’t really that good this morning.” If God blessed that person through my music, then I give him the glory. I recognize that God has gifted me and I feel honored to use this gift for others to draw closer to him. So I say thank you. I affirm to others how much I enjoy using my gift. I make it clear to others that God is the giver of callings and abilities.

I know the things I am good at. You know the things you are good at. I also know I have limits. I have weaknesses – even within my talents. Being honest with ourselves and others is foundational to understanding humility. Jesus didn’t shrug off who he was. If someone called him the Christ – something his disciples eventually figured out – he accepted it. Granted, Jesus’ idea of a messiah was not the disciples’ idea of a messiah.

Next time you’re complimented, say thank you. When you speak about yourself, do so with respect – of your strengths and weaknesses. And let us all be quick to compliment each other in regards to the gifts God has given. Humility germinates in the soil of praise.

The Rest of Seeking First

“Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness…”Matthew 6:33

Have you ever lost something precious? Of course you have. My five-year-old loses precious things every day, and immediately, I hear a panicked voice, “Mom, I can’t find ________.”

It seems obvious that when something is lost the answer is to look diligently. But seeking is not our instinct. As evidenced by my daughter’s worrying and complaining, seeking is something that must be learnt. Even when she thinks she is looking (one quick glance around the room she is currently in), she is really just waiting for her missing item to appear, or for me to get it for her. I usually find her item under a blanket or in her closet. You have to move things, open doors and drawers, I tell her.

Similarly, we must learn to seek the Lord and his kingdom first. Seeking takes effort. Seek means to search for, to attempt to obtain, to desire to possess, strive for, to aim. If we can’t find him in our darkness, then we look again, because he’s there. Lift up the restlessness of your heart and look underneath. Open up the drawer of business and peer within. Put your greatest heart-focus on seeking your Lord.

Seek first…not your job, your children’s wellbeing, not that perfect relationship, not your reputation. All of those things are good to seek. But what is our priority? We know what we are seeking first by how we feel. If we are seeking first his kingdom, we should be experiencing a deep, satisfying rest and joy. When we run around seeking after other things, rest eludes us. Overwhelmed is probably not an adequate word to describe the frenzy that some of us feel in life right now as we go about our duties, fulfilling our commitments, holding our heads high and gritting our teeth.

I must admit that my soul weariness is signaling some messed up priorities. I can make excuses, but when it comes down to it, I’m making choices. He may be first in my intentions, but he’s often second in my actions.

Resting in grace and aiming after God. Rest is a gift we receive when we come to Jesus and seek him first. We come and receive, that’s grace. We seek, that’s our calling.

Calling, What is It?

We talk frequently of being “called”. Called to Jesus. Called to write. Called to move across the world. Called to teach. Calling on the large-scale and calling on the personal level.

What is calling? Here’s what I don’t think it is:

1. A Passport. Like a seminary degree, calling can be used like a badge, an automatic entrance to whatever it is we feel is our place of service.

2. A Right. In America we talk of the right to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. In the Church we add the right to do what I feel called to do. And if you question me? I’ll just say the Lord called me. How can you argue with the Lord?

What is calling, if not a free pass or an entitlement?

Biblically, I think we can affirm that calling is multi-leveled:

1. Identity. This is the most fundamental part of calling. Calling, in this sense, is belonging to the Lord. It’s a state in which we exist, as opposed to a fluxing job or assignment, or a direction our life takes. It’s a calling to the inheritance of salvation: life everlasting, the presence of Jesus, a changed heart.  I wrote about this in my post You’re Called Whether You Know It or Not. It’s the hope of this calling that sustains us when the other aspects of calling are blurry or broken.

2. A career, service, gift. “Paul…called to be an apostle” (Romans 1:1). Sondra, called to be a writer. This is perhaps the most commonly recognized aspect of calling. When people tell their life stories they often include how they felt called into a career or service.

This sense of calling includes the recognition of a community. In a formal arena, this recognition may take the form of a commissioning, licensing, contracting, or ordaining. For example, if you are called to be a doctor, your skills are tested, and if others approve your gifting, you are licensed and allowed to practice. In a less formal setting, this communal recognition may simply be a verbal affirmation. For example, you may be called to teach junior high Sunday school, and you know it not just because you love it, but because your church leadership has continually asked you and told you your good and it. That’s communal affirmation.

This aspect of calling usually carries a mantle of authority. Your position requires certain things which you are held accountable to fulfill.

This aspect of calling also relates to vision. We often have an idea of how the Lord wants us to live our lives, even if we are unclear about details or even if the Lord surprises us by changing our course. We are made with certain personalities and giftings that, as we understand ourselves better, create pathways for our lives and breathe vision into our everyday routines.

3. A sense of direction. It’s the man from Macedonia saying, “Come.” We often refer to this aspect of calling as open and closed doors. The Holy Spirit speaks and we answer. This might be the most subjective part of calling. It’s fluid. It outlines spiritual seasons. We are called, for a season, to live and work in a certain city or to attend a certain church or to mentor youth in our neighborhood. We are called in the grocery store to offer prayer to someone. We are called to send a note of encouragement to a struggling friend.

Sometimes this sense of calling is accompanied by a high dose of doubt. Did the Lord really say…? And this is where the subjectivity of calling is evident. How can we be sure that what we, or another person, experience is from the Lord?

Let me offer several tests.

First, the Lord will never call us to do something that goes against what we find in the Bible. That would be contradicting himself, for he has spoken in the Word and will not change his mind about what he has already revealed. Second, if everyone in your spiritual community is disagreeing with what you believe the Lord is calling you to do, you may have misheard the Lord. Maybe. The humble listen to those around them. Third, if you step out in a direction you believe is from the Lord, you should see fruit of your obedience. Do not confuse fruit with success. Sometimes our efforts are unsuccessful in the world’s eyes, but we feel peace in our lives and are affirmed by others – that’s fruit.

In closing, let me encourage you. Recognizing that some aspects of calling shift frequently, and others remain steady in spite of circumstantial or emotional ups and downs, be bold in your following of the Lord. Do not assume that you are called only to things that are easy for you, or things which you have always been drawn to. Do assume that you will be equipped and empowered for the work to which the Lord calls you. And be assured that his presence is not fleeting or temperamental. It is unwavering and always firm.

You’re Called, Whether You Know It or Not

Sometimes our journey through life feels aimless and unclear. We don’t think about calling, we’re just trying to make it through the day! Many of us don’t feel like we are operating under any specific calling. We’re still waiting for that big moment when a bottle drops out of heaven and we find a note inside that will give our lives purpose, “Dear Christian, please spend the rest of your life growing organic rhubarb.” Or something like that. We’re unwilling to step out and do something without assurance of God’s will (that would be so presumptuous and unChristian, wouldn’t it?). At other times, we feel pushed into our life situations by chance and circumstance. We are handed our careers, like in the game of Life. It’s just what we spun. Perhaps we look around at others and ask, how am I, just an average person, called?

Most of us want more. We lack joy. Therefore, we conclude we must not be called to our particular circumstances. We must have missed something. We connect calling and fulfillment. We make synonymous calling and happiness.

Let me give you assurance.

You can know for sure you are called and you can live it out today.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ– their Lord and ours…” 1 Corinthians 1:2.

“God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.” 1 Corinthians 1:9

“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.” Galatians 5:13

“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance— now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant…” Hebrews 9:15

Calling is part of your birthmark as a Christian. It’s not a spiritual gift, given to whomever the Spirit chooses. It comes with the salvation package. And what does this calling of yours include? Purpose. Holiness. Fellowship with the Son. Freedom to serve. An eternal inheritance.

God hasn’t dropped a bottle out of heaven, but he did drop his Son – into a stable, to live a holy life, to die on a cross, to give your life purpose. So when you wake up tomorrow and go to work, or school, or start your parenting duties, or clean your house, know that you do so as one who is called, one who has opportunity to live out the aspects of that calling each moment of your day.

Beginnings and Endings

We come into this world not of our choosing, but by the actions of our parents and through the sovereign design of God. Birthdays are important celebrations of the beginning of our lives. Our celebrations of beginnings signals that we value the start-ups in our lives, be it the beginning of school, the beginning of marriage, the beginning of a new life, perhaps free from alcohol, or lived in a new house, or in a new city. Beginnings provide us a way to categorize time.

Beginnings and endings are like water and oil. They are hard to mix, but they can be shaken up and blended together for a time, causing confusion about boundaries. Calling the first day of school a beginning in turn marks the end of summer vacation, or with a five-year-old, the end of life as it’s been known. Beginnings and endings are intertwined. Consider death, mostly thought of as an ending. It can actually be an opening into a great reality, a glorious beginning.

We ultimately stand beyond the bounds of time. All of us have a beginning within time. None of us has an end. We will die in this world, but we will live eternally, with or without Jesus.

I remember as a young girl asking my father, “How old is God?” “He doesn’t have an age; he’s always been” came the answer. Jesus Christ is called the Alpha and Omega (first and last). He is before time and all things hold together in him (Colossians 1:15). As finite creatures, time weighs upon us, a heavy and unavoidable load to carry. We are propelled along by its great unavoidable arms. We are pushed into beginnings or endings we did not ask for. My husband and I were pushed into parenthood earlier than we expected. I reluctantly took a job that turned into a beautiful stage in my life. My seminary career ended differently than I would have planned.

Beginnings and endings can be beyond our control, and sometimes, even beyond our ability to sort out and understand.

Ecclesiastes 3:11, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

We may have eternity in our hearts, but we still cannot fathom God’s ways.

Called With Promise

My husband, Nate, and I made resolutions to read through the Bible this year. We chose a chronological plan, which in hindsight might not have been the best idea. We’ll be in the Old Testament until October!

Genesis 12 begins the narrative of Abraham, the first of the Patriarchs. When God calls Abram, He makes a covenant promise that becomes the foundation for the people of Israel and really, the coming of Christ. “The LORD had said to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people, and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ So Abram left, as the LORD had told him.”

God’s call to Abram came with a promise of blessing and abundance. Yahweh didn’t merely say, “Get up and go.” Purpose surrounded the command of the Lord; the purpose of bringing into being a people group through whom the savior of the world would come and die on the cross. With the command to go came the promise of blessing.

Likewise, we are called in purpose and not only with the promise of blessing, but with the Promised Blessing, Jesus Christ. Paul wrote that all promises are “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Cor. 1). Every instruction that we receive from the Lord comes with a Promise – that Person of Christ who fulfills all prophecy and provides for all needs. Whatever He asks of us we can be confident of His blessing to be with us, for the culmination of the blessing which was spoken to Abram was the gift of Jesus Christ.

We are not asked to live according to the Word of God without the promise of His blessing and His Spirit. We are, thus, without excuse when it comes to our sanctification, that process by which we are becoming more like Christ and by which the fruit of the Spirit is increasing. He who provided Christ will provide all that we need (Romans 8). We have “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1). So let us hear this charge from Peter with confidence that we can indeed live in holiness:

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled. Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy.'”