Wednesday, November 30, 2016

O Foolish Galatians

I recently completed a study of the book of Galatians with a group of women that I have great fellowship with. Galatians is a short book but it packs a much-needed punch. Every time I study the Word whether individually or with a group I am amazed at the new insights gained. But that's the premise of God's Word - it's never stale and will do what it is supposed to do.

The Galatians were confused by who or what to believe  - the Judaizers or Christ. The letter to the Galatians eliminated this confusion. Paul wrote this letter to lovingly correct while, at some points, he spoke very sternly to get the truth across.

After choosing to follow Christ, the Galatians were contemplating going back to a way that could not keep or sustain them as it relied solely on human effort. The book of Galatians is a declaration of independence from legalism. Legalism is following all the rules and hoping that in doing so it will get you to heaven. It's following the letter of the law but not the spirit of the law. The Law as laid out in the Old Testament is very detailed and has a rule for everything; basically, there is no way one could obey all the laws. But many tried. Failure to follow one part of the Law is a failure in following the entire Law. If your salvation depends on what you do, then we are hopeless. The Law is incomplete in that it cannot save anyone; it could only reveal your unrighteousness.

The Judaizers accepted the Gospel but claimed that no Gentile could be a Christian without first becoming a Jew by submitting to Jewish rites in particular circumcision. The doctrine of the Judaizers was a mixture of grace (through Christ) and works (through the keeping of the Law). This false doctrine was dealt with in Acts 15 and strongly condemned in the book of Galatians []. If you think about this statement, you'd realize how ridiculous it was but it held great sway at that time. False doctrine is often enticing because it has a grain of truth intertwined in it.

Because the Galatians were headed down the wrong path, Paul spoke harshly to them to get their attention and to help them realize the ramifications of their disbelief and confusion. This was literally a matter of life or death; freedom or bondage. It was the equivalent of a loving parent speaking sternly to a child; the parent speaks from a vantage point the child does not possess.

O Foolish Galatians - that's a phrase that will get anyone's attention. Oh, 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. Galatians 3:1 [NLT] Strong words that make the case for faith to accept God's grace. Strong words that should clear up any confusion on the Galatians part.
Strong words that were spoken in love.

Chapter 3 is pivotal because after this seemingly harsh statement Paul used logic and wisdom to show the Galatians (and us) why following Christ was infinitely better than trying to keep all aspects of the Law - Christ did what the Law could not do in that He died for us to make us righteous. So instead of trusting in themselves they would have to trust in God and believe that He truly died for them; that they were indeed recipients of God's grace and that it was available to them through faith. This brought freedom and unity in Christ. Paul then encouraged them to exercise their faith in daily practical living. Christianity never remains in the spirit realm - it can be applied to every aspect of our life and this is how Paul closes this book. We are free from legalism, we are free to love, we are to free to walk in the Spirit. Freedom in Christ will yield fruit and maturity; it won't always be easy but it will be rewarding.

The next time you become misguided in your beliefs like the Galatians did - go back to the Word; be open to being rebuked by the Spirit or a close spiritual mentor in your life and then make the change so that you can impact others for the kingdom and live as Christ would have you live.

What have you studied recently? What insights have you gained? How will you apply it to your life? Are you now interested in the book of Galatians?

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Book Review - Water For Elephants

I've returned with a vengeance to reading on a regular basis as it's enjoyable and provides a great escape. I was at the library, looking for one book and ended up leaving with five and Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen was one of them. I had no intention of picking this up initially but it was in the "Book Club" section; I've always wanted to be a member of a book club. I thought if this was selected for a book club which meant it produced great discussion, then it was good enough for me.

This book did not disappoint. Essentially it's a book about animals while working at a circus. This was a whole new world for me, but the story is told from the point of Jacob Jankowski who is now 93 in an assisted living facility. After a traumatic life event at 23, he finds himself at the circus while trying to find himself. So from this vantage point, it is understandable as the character and the reader learn the ways of the circus. It's also a story about animal behavior. Rosie the Elephant is almost human in how she is portrayed and it isn't a stretch to imagine her feelings dealing with the ringmaster and others. This is a well-written story with well-defined characters set in post-depression America.

But ultimately this is a story of love, that encompasses domestic violence, poverty, and animal rights; and finding yourself while being thrown into unexpected circumstances.
If you're an animal lover - the story line will appeal to you. Even if you're not, the overriding story reinforces that love always wins.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Rich Towards God; Blessed to be a Blessing

Recently my husband and I found this authentic South American restaurant in Scottsdale Arizona. We were on a weekend getaway trip that I won from being on a talk show. We knew the restaurant was authentic because they had plantain chips on the table. We immediately gobbled them up and another platter was brought out. (BTW plantain is pronounced plan tin - not plan tain....think of how you pronounce fountain the next time you're tempted to overemphasize the last syllable.)
As we were gobbling and perusing the menu, I noticed the following verse printed on the menu - When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 [NLT] I guess the rapid rate at which we gobbled up the plantain chips brought the owner over and we got to talking.

I mentioned that this was one of my favorite verses and he proceeded to share his story with us: He grew up in a South American country where his parents were missionaries. He had a fishery business and was very successful and wealthy. He used his wealth to fight for people who were being taken advantage of, but the government was not pleased and all of his assets were seized by the government. He had nothing and had to leave the country. He ended up in Arizona with a relative and was able to start the restaurant and has seen the faithfulness of God. But what he said that struck me was, "I was doing everything right, yet God allowed everything to be taken away from me. And I have seen how God was with me in the fire and I was not burned." He implied that he needed to be humbled and going through loss and restoration was indeed humbling.

For the past month or more there's been a constant theme in the messages I've heard from various pulpits - God wants to bless us, blessings encompass more than money, Christians are confused about how to approach wealth especially if you don't have it, and there is a  responsibility that comes along with blessings including wealth.

Luke 12:13-21 tells the parable of the rich fool. The fool is identified as rich - we don't know how he came about his wealth - whether by birth, work, or any other attribute but he was rich and clearly his priorities revolved around his wealth over anything else. In the parable God gave a warning to the rich fool - Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.” Luke 12:15 [NLT]

We get comfortable with our blessings and sometimes think that nothing bad will happen to us because we're blessed. But maybe God wants to test us to see where our heart lies - like Job, like the restaurant owner we met. In Luke 18 God told the rich ruler it's hard for the rich to enter into heaven; it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter into heaven. Which simply means we can get attached to our possessions and it is much easier for the rich to do so since they have more possessions. They may even think it's because of what they've done instead what God has allowed for them.

Being rich materially requires constant submission to the Holy Spirit so our hearts and attitudes are always right. Don't you love getting to know a person and then realizing that they are wealthy beyond anything you can imagine? I do. These people don't broadcast their wealth materially, nor are they pompous. But in getting to know them you see that they are generous with their time and resources and then as an added bonus you see their material blessings. Being wealthy with material goods is like an added bonus which means as a Christian you are already blessed.

Live like Christ wants you to live. Affluence lends itself to generosity, but we're not all affluent and yet we can still be a blessing to others. The church in Macedonia was very poor, but they were filled with abundant joy which overflowed in rich generosity. Their priority was how they could best serve the Lord unconditionally. In so doing they gave more than they had so that they could help those who needed their help. So great was their desire to serve Christ that they would not allow their economic situation to keep them from being involved in the Lord's work (Waldrop 1984:38).

Sometimes the wealth comes in visible portions while here on earth, sometimes invisible, but we are all blessed in some way. More exciting than that is when we get to heaven we will all know the abundance of the Lord in his fullness. No longer encumbered with this world's cares and responsibility and in a place that is more lavish than we can imagine, it's where we belong. It's why we are so dissatisfied at times with our earthly blessings and desire more.

 “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones. But if you are dishonest in little things, you won’t be honest with greater responsibilities.  And if you are untrustworthy about worldly wealth, who will trust you with the true riches of heaven? Luke 16:8-10[NLT]

None of this negates financial planning, making wise financial choices, etc. but for a Christian, it's about your most important priority - being rich towards God so that we can be a blessing to others. Let's not get hung up on material wealth but recognize our blessings because of what Christ has done for us. Let's use what he has done for us as a springboard to reap greater blessings for the Kingdom.

Are you a blessing to others? Are you rich towards God?

Friday, November 11, 2016

What the Outcome of this Election Taught ME

I was too vested in the outcome of this election; I wanted to be right as to why a different outcome made more sense, but it doesn't matter today.

This election made me realize that I took my eye off the goal; I was distracted by worldly endeavors; I was in and of the world. To be in the world is to be aware of what's going on around you; not oblivious. To be of the world is to participate in its processes as if those processes bear great weight in your life. It's easier to trust and exhibit faith when we can wrap our minds around it; when it's in line with our desires; when it's comfortable and life is good.

This election result forces me to realize that my faith will have to grow. That my faith may be tested out loud. That I'll truly have to embody the characteristics of Christ and love my enemies and bless them that curse me; that I will have to display a spirit of meekness and gentleness as I navigate what's ahead; that I should be a reconciler. The only way I can do all of this is through love. Yet it's not easy.
The Bible says - above all else, love. We are also encouraged not to grow weary in doing good.

You know how brands want bloggers to be influencers - yet it often feels so weird, especially if we've never used that brand? As an influencer, you have to use your blog and write a post that highlights the benefit of using that brand. As a result, there are benefits in store for you though it varies from brand to brand.

As Christians, we are called to be influencers for Christ. We are to let our light shine so people can see Christ in us. Our lives, actions, thoughts and everything else should be so different that others say, "I want what she has." Unfortunately, sometimes no one can tell the difference and this election highlighted that. This election underscored the divisions we have even within the body of Christ and how even Christians aren't gap-closers.

The Lord knew that this would be a complex and complicated task - being a Christian is not easy. Above all else, we are to love. Though the result of this election stuns us, it doesn't stun God - for He is all-knowing.

Have you ever studied so hard for a test, considered all variables thought you were prepared yet were devastated by your results because you didn't score well? That's how I felt about the election results.

However, this election result is the wake-up call we all needed because it will make us more vigilant and diligent about how we live; as Christians may it force us to rejuvenate our relationship with the One who holds everything in His hand.

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. Galatians 5:25, 26 [NLT]

So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. Galatians 6: 9,10 [NLT]

Does this serve as a wake-up call for you also?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Book Review - Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue resonated with me to a certain degree because it amplifies the immigrant experience of a family from Cameroon. I picked this book up and could not put it down as it captured my imagination from beginning to end. At one point, I had to know how it was going to end so I read the last 2 pages so I wouldn't be held in suspense anymore.

Basically, this book builds on the so call American Dream that many in a foreign land hear;  when they get here realize that dreams can be dashed and revived and reshaped over a long period of time. It is the story of Jendi and Neni Jonga - a husband and wife with their young family who made it to American soil.

As is the case with many, he came first, worked hard and eventually sent for her. Working hard is an understatement because he has worked menial jobs in order to save this money. He also has a cousin, who has done well - he is a lawyer and constantly looks out for Jendi. It is because of his cousin, Winston, that Jendi finds himself interviewing to be a chauffeur for a Wall Street Executive - Mr. Clark. He gets the job and making thirty-five thousand a year means he has hit the jackpot and finally arrived. This story takes place during the recent recession of 2009, so along with everyone else he loses what he has worked so hard for. Then the story takes a shift and we see how dreams do shift and can be realized anywhere.

As dreams shift we get an up close view of what this looks like in one marriage - some of it is ugly. I love the intricacies and intimacies in the way the story is told. I love seeing the inner workings of this couple's marriage as they handle all of this stress and I love the description of the Cameroon way of life in America - the holding on to traditions by finding a community of people similar to you, cooking traditional foods and inviting others to partake.

This is a tale of the American Dream intertwined with the Immigrant experience of becoming legal or getting your papers in a foreign land. This book shows how what used to be relatively easy has become quite difficult and the toll it can take.

This book is simultaneously educational and entertaining.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Book Review - I'm Judging You

I was pleasantly surprised to find I'm Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi in a local library. I follow Awesomely Luvvie's blog and knew she was writing this book, so when I saw it, I grabbed it and started reading immediately

What drew me to her blog is her humorous point of view in a way that is familiar to me. She calls herself a wacky wordsmith, but her wackiness and way with words were something I grew up with. So when I saw how she expressed herself on a variety of topics I kept reading. As an example here's a sentence from one of my favorite chapters - "I called good sense and asked if it was coming back soon and it told me not to hold my breath."

This book is a collection of essays, written in a Luvviesque style that runs the gamut from the superficial to the serious. She expounds on Relationships, Racism, Religion, Immigration & Assimilation, Body Image, Social Media and Fame and tells you how to find your "act right!"

Because that's the whole point of the book - you're being judged because you have no behavior - so get some, by reading this manual. After reading this book you'll walk away with more sense and more laughs. It's conventional wisdom or common sense (which is not so common) wrapped in humor and some strong language.

We all need to be better, so pick up this book.