by admin on November 12, 2016

Galatians 5
Reflections for 6 November 2016

This whole election thing gives me a splitting headache. Not to worry I’m not going to dwell on it and I’m certainly not going to tell you what specifically God’s will is and what candidate is the real Christian one. Far too many preachers and other religious authorities have already done that. I am however going to register my growing concern for the rapidly diminishing civility in our nation as well as my deepest concern over this dangerous idea of being in on the special dispensation of the will of God down to the right candidate.

This goes across the Christian spectrum, from a Catholic diocese declaring voting for a Democrat a mortal sin, guaranteed to dispatch you to hell; to progressive Christians claiming that to vote for Mr. Trump is heresy and blasphemy. What’s a person to do? As one friend recently told me, “hold your nose and close your eyes when you pull the lever.”

I think this while election endeavor—exactly what our democratic republic is about—is vital and wholesome, it does gives us a superior chance to stand back and actually think about the trajectory of our own personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ. I mean, isn’t that what this is really about?

As I scour the teachings of Jesus—by that, I mean the whole Gospel record—I’m hard pressed to find his directives about any political process. He did engage in it every day of his life because he was a Palestinian Jew under the heel of the greatest army every assembled in the Middle East until we got there 20 centuries later. But he did not tell his apprentices where to put their elective X.

He did say that the way of discipleship would be narrow and would be deliberately challenging to every mores, idea, and ideology we could conjure up. Jesus arrived on the scene to show us how to live in the world. How to live in the world. Just let that sink in. How do I live in the world?

When St. Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians Christians this was exactly the question he was thrusting into their faces. He was asking a question they couldn’t refuse to answer because it literally spelled the difference between the possibility of a resurrected life and the same old same old. This was not some theoretical idea but the very way they could choose to live in the world.

The world they lived in, of course, wasn’t much different from ours. Hate to say it but we are not that unique on the spectrum of human existence. We just think we are. Terminal uniqueness has been the plague of humanity ever since that apple incident in a Garden long ago. The truth of that matter gets covered up by tons of assertions and arguments about historical fact, mythological truth or whether or not Adam and Eve had a dinosaur as a pet.

St. Paul calls this terminal uniqueness “desires of the flesh” (Message: compulsions of selfishness). While we usually think in terms of passionate emotions of which I cannot be guilty of, the reality is the deep internal desire for survival and my going to any lengths to preserve me. The problem is that when my desires and yours collide, well, someone has to lose and it sure isn’t going to be me.

Into this constant hamster wheel St Paul, speaking from his experience with Jesus, claims that there is another way to live in the world. He calls it the energy of love. Self-sacrificial love. Now you can see why this is troublesome. I’m all for you sacrificing yourself, but could I take a rain check on that?

Paul is so bold as to say that opposite our terminal uniqueness is the uniqueness of the Christian community. Pliny the Younger: “Those Christians are nuts, but you’ve got to hand it to them, they’ve got something we don’t….they love each other.”

We’ve considered chapter 5 this morning, now I’ll offer a couple of SO WHATs? And a NOW WHAT.

1. One cannot be part of Jesus Christ and something else. Paul is adamant, taking his cue from Jesus speaking about one’s own Master in life. Either you get circumcised and do that Jewish thing from start to finish, or you abandon all hope of getting right with God on your own and trust in the power of Jesus sacrificial death on the cross and the absolute freedom that give you. It’s one or the other. And it’s scary.

Remember, the upshot in the New Testament is that your life is formed around the confession of Jesus is Lord and his resurrected life is on the loose in you. You have died and your life is hidden in Christ with God, Paul says. It is not you, but Jesus Christ in you. The vision of being permeated with the Spirit is foremost in Paul’s mind.

This is what Paul can claim that there is no other salvation—no other option of understanding—outside of Jesus Christ. No other plan, philosophy, ideology, economic theory, political persuasion, you name it; can give the quality of the person that a living relationship with Jesus Christ can. That’s the absolute claim of Christ.

We get our panties in a roll to think that this exclusiveness is offensive. It is. But it is not a claim of superiority as in “we’re better than you are.” Christianity is best served not by imperialistic superiority but by humble service to the poor, hungry, disenfranchised—the outsiders—so that the world will be changed and aligned with the redemptive purposes of God. This is Heaven’s only business.

Is there a big chance that we could get the short end of the stick? Yes. Is there problem with that? If I recall Jesus seemed to get himself stuck on a stick at the end, too.

Asserting that it’s either Jesus or not is to confess with deepest humility that God is best understood as a Relationship of Love and Grace, constantly knocking at our door to invite us to dwell in a mansion so lavish that goodness and mercy overflows all the time. You can have that, or you can opt to stay stuck in the same way your solve your problems, Which from my perspective, and my own experience, hasn’t worked very well for 67 years, why do I think it will in the future?

2. Freedom is a scary idea. I usually think that in terms of “freedom from”—Bill of Rights, Four Freedoms, Constitution, 2nd amendment, political idealism and such. But New Testament freedom, freedom of Christian, is exact opposite, Free to serve. On so many occasions Paul uses the self-designation of doulos SLAVE. Yikes. In other places he says, “The Love of Christ constrains us.” That means that he lives in the world as one who is constantly alert to the possibility and opportunities of living out the Jesus’ life in the nitty gritty of every day.

This leads to a very disciplined way of living. Contrary to most thinking this doesn’t mean license, but rather deliberate and intentional aligning to God’s merciful will. This is what got Paul’s goat in Galatia. Those Christians were opting for a return to an alternative gospel and with it would come a reaction to the freedom in Christ. They were told that Paul was selling a reckless version of self-indulgence. However, he is clear to point out that what usually happens with the scrupulous adherers to codes and rules is a crack in the armor. As Nathaniel Hawthorne so beautifully pointed out in his Scarlet Letter and Young Goodman Brown—the pious always have a bias and it’s toward sin. You can’t try hard enough to be good enough. Now Paul does not say “anything goes for the love of Rose” but Trust Jesus Christ to work in you.

Christian freedom is the freedom to serve others, not self-indulgence. I am reminded of Jim Baker of the 700 Club loudly proclaiming “God wants his people to go First Class.” And then raking in the dollars for his extravagant life. The Spirit led life, Paul says in this chapter, always leads to acts of disciplined love rather than to my terminal uniqueness.

3. My third SO WHAT is stolen from Dallas Willard. God is very concerned with the quality of character we are building. The future he has planned for us will be built on the strength of character we forge by his grace. “Intelligent, loving devotion to Christ will grow in importance through eternity and never become obsolete.”

Development of character. That’s what St Paul is driving at in this whole letter. There are no sudden lapses of character. If you think about your own life messes there are usually long standing deficiencies that are hidden. Marriage therapists John and Julie Gottman call them “enduring vulnerabilities.” Divine love permeating these enduring vulnerabilities is a resource adequate to every condition when these emotional triggers get activated. It is only love. In John’s Gospel Jesus called it “a well springing up to eternal life”

Think of it this way People rarely remember what you say (Unless you have kids, that is) BUT they never forget the kind of person you are. The most important thing happening at any given moment is the kind of person we are becoming.

God’s intention is that our lives should be a seamless manifestation of the Fruit of the Spirit. And so appropriate attention must be given to the care of our souls. The Spirit means God’s empowerment and it will yield rich spiritual fruit and deliver us from the sad deeds of the flesh, or these enduring vulnerabilities that are so secretly powerful. We get have a new motivation to our character.

First Things First. Practice the presence of God. Keep Jesus story before you read, reread, revive it with your words and imagination. When you get up, in the day at night. Read the Gospels.
2. Memorize passages, not just verse. Mat 5-7; John 14-17; 1 Cor 13; Col 3; 2Cor 4. Then you have them available for use.

3. Enter life of worship not just at 10:00 on Sunday but every hour. Let worship be the constant undertone. Dallas Willard: Nothing can inform, guide, sustain pervasive and radiant goodness other than true vision of God and worship that spontaneous arise from it.

4. Open to the fullness of Joy, as opposed to happiness.

Try this out as your living in the world.

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