Galatians

For the next few days I will ponder the book of Galatians.

Paul opens this letter with his credentials. As a scholar, I understand the importance of leading with my resume. If people are going to pay attention to my scholarship, I have to demonstrate my expertise early. That demonstration is also tailored to the audience. For me, especially right now as I look for work closer to home, it’s a matter of tailoring my cover letters to the job postings at universities. (I love my work and colleagues at UNLV, but it’s a long commute from Atlanta.) For Paul, it was a matter of reminding the Galatians that his authority was not based on his scholarship or birthright, but through Jesus Christ Himself.


Once Paul identifies his credentials, he opens with the gospel: the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us (1:4). Paul grounds what is to come in the foundation of the gospel. Paul is not about to lay down his opinion, but the plain truth. The age is evil, Jesus delivers us from it, and God gets the glory. Grace and peace are only available through the truth.

Paul was astonished (v 8) at how quickly the Galatians adopted a distorted and cheapened gospel. He may have been astonished, but Jesus explained in Matthew 13 that there would be people who turned away from Him and those who would be confused by other teachings. It still happens. There are still people who want to use christianity (lower case intentional) for their own glory and prestige. The prosperity doctrine teachers are the most obvious in this age. They teach a false gospel the Jesus wants everyone to be healthy and wealthy (but never wise). That may sound good, but it’s not Biblical. Jesus was clear that believers would suffer and struggle and live in dark times. He said he would send the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter, but never did he say that life would be comfortable (John 14:25-31). 

While the prosperity doctrine is fairly easy to recognize, I think that there are two more dangerous false teachings that find their ways into mainline and evangelical churches. I call them the gospels of extremes. On one side are the legalists who focus almost exclusively on laws, commandments, and admonitions found throughout the Bible. On the other end are the liberalists who teach only mercy and grace without dealing with the consequences of sin. Both extremes misrepresent the true gospel: all have sinned (Romans 3), sin leads to death (Romans 2), redemption is through Christ alone (Romans 3, 1 Corinthians 15, Colossians 1), and eternal reconciliation with God is established in Jesus (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 2, 2 Corinthians 5). Focusing on the laws of the Bible diminishes the work of mercy and love. Focusing on the grace of God diminishes His holiness, righteousness, and justice. The gospel is both mercy and justice, perfectly integrated in the person of Jesus. The gospel is neither a feel-good story nor a condemnation of people.


When we talk to others we must remain grounded in the gospel
in all of its fullness and mystery. Before we speak of any spiritual thing, we ought to pray, May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Then, we can speak as servants of Christ and God will be glorified.

Let justice roll

January 21, 2020

There are some days when I don’t have a solid plan for my Bible study. Having just finished Habakkuk, today was one of those days. Perhaps it was the recollection Dr. ML King’s work during yesterday’s holiday, but my eyes landed on Amos 5:24, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” And I found my lesson there.

Whenever a passage begins with “but” I go back to see the what behind it. In this case, God declared that He was not the least bit interested in rote traditions or cultural religion. In fact, He said He hated, despised, and would not look at them. He would not listen to the music, nor would He accept the offerings that came out of routine.

So I started thinking. (A dangerous pastime, I know.) What does cultural religion look like today? Why do we go to church? Is it to get out of the house? Social time (churchified as “fellowship”)? Securing a position or reputation? Because it makes us look good or feel good? To check off some imaginary box?


God is not impressed with our church attendance, our offerings, our preferred musical styles, our mission trips, or our outreaches. He wants our hearts to be connected to His will. It is so easy to fall into the habit of church and forget the mission.

Habakkuk was able to choose joy because he knew God. When we stop pursuing God, church becomes a cultural habit. Unless we actively pursue God, we will not be able to choose joy in difficult days. We will always pursue something, and if not the Lord, then what? Satisfaction? Security? Self-worth? If we go to church pursuing these things, we will not find peace or rest. We will become increasingly discontent, which leads to increasing self-centeredness.


Pursuing God means knowing His character (something we should be learning at church) and focusing on His kingdom, which manifests by the ways in which we do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly (Micah 6:8). When we love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we can truly love our neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40). THEN we can work for His Name to promote justice until it rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

Joy is a choice

January 20

Habakkuk listened to the Lord’s plan for Judah in horror and confusion, but his knowledge of God’s character helped him work out his response. Chapter 3 is Habakkuk wrapping his brain around the juxtaposition of mercy and judgment in the circumstances of imminent catastrophe in order to save. He plead with God for mercy within wrath in verse 3, then described the Holiness and Glory of God before painting the picture of the ultimate destruction of evil. And then he recognized God’s purpose in the chaos: crushing the wicked and saving His people.


Habakkuk didn’t pretend to understand the hand of God. That’s good news for us. We don’t HAVE to understand. Habakkuk said, “I hear, and my body trembles” (3:16). He was not happy about what lay ahead. He knew it was going to be bad.


And yet. And yet. And yet, he made a choice to respond with joy in the salvation and strength of the Lord.

His circumstances didn’t change. History shows that Judah was captured by the Chaldeans who were then crushed by Babylon. It was a time of darkness and hardship and despair for the people, except for those who were faithfully committed to the Lord (like Daniel and his cohort). Habakkuk left his worry at the throne of the Lord, saying, ” Yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength” (3:18-19). This is hard teaching. Does God want us to be happy? I have to say, not necessarily. He wants us to choose joy no matter what the circumstances, even when the circumstances do not make us happy. When we choose joy, we are looking beyond our current situation to God’s eternal plan, one of rich mercy, great love, and complete restoration in the fullness of time (Ephesians 2:4-9, Philippians 4:4-13; Titus 2:11-14).

Wait, what?

January 18, 2020

Wait, what? Habakkuk 1:12-2:20.


One of the things I love about the prophets is that they are just like most of us. God had just told Habakkuk that the Chaldeans were going to ransack Judah to deal with the evil people there. Habakkuk couldn’t make sense of it. He put what he knew about the character of God (everlasting, holy, pure, and righteous) next to the prophecy (righteous people swallowed by wicked, merciless conquest) and found nothing but cognitive dissonance.
While many people experiencing a similar cognitive dissonance become discouraged, despairing, or lose their faith altogether, Habakkuk chose to wait and watch for God’s explanation. He committed to standing at his watch post, standing at his tower, and looking out to see what God would say. How often do we give up on God when things are bad?

God DID answer Habakkuk. There’s no indication how long Habakkuk waited, but God’s answer came with both the ultimate fate of the Chaldeans AND the proper response of the faithful. The Chaldeans would eventually be conquered by Babylon. In the meantime, God told Habakkuk to wait for it (2:3), live by faith (2:4), be assured that the glory of the Lord will fill the earth (2:14), and that His character is unchanged (2:20). We, too, need to watch and wait for God’s long-term eternal plan to finally see true justice. It’s not easy. At all. We still ask, “how long will God stay silent while the wicked prosper?” I think part of the lesson of Habakkuk is that it’s okay to be confused. God doesn’t expect us to understand. And it’s perfectly acceptable to ask the questions, as long as we are committed to watching and waiting for the answers.

This is faith, living with insecurity while trusting God’s character. We are justified by that faith, which leads to peace even when life is hard and we can’t see how anything good can come out of our circumstances (Romans 5:1-5). Sometimes trusting God comes easily. Other times we hang on by the very tips of our fingers. We aren’t alone in questions and confusion, but when we are committed to waiting and watching, we will ultimately see God’s glory revealed (Habakkuk 2:14, Romans 8:18).

How long?

January 17, 2020

“How long?” Habakkuk asked the question sometime around 600 b.c.e. but we’re still asking. Why don’t you do something? Why do the wicked people seem to thwart justice and ignore the law without penalty?(My paraphrase of Habakkuk 1:3-4.) I read an article on Medium this morning that started with the notion that people really are pretty rotten by nature. Certainly Solomon thought so as he wrote Ecclesiastes. Our current era of anger, division, injustice, and violence is one in a steady stream of normal human affairs.

So, why doesn’t God DO something about it? That was Habakukk’s question, too. God told him, “Pay attention. It’s about to get real” (another ‘Loomisism’) and then laid out the plan. It was not exactly what Habakkuk expected (Habakkuk 1:5-11). In a nutshell, God was about to let the Marduk- worshipping, witchcraft-practicing, violence-loving Chaldeans conquer Israel. This conquest led to a Babylonian captivity that lasted a generation. Wait, what?

That doesn’t make sense (which Habakkuk says in verses 12-17), but that’s because Habakkuk (like all of us) was limited to a finite and limited understanding of human history and future.


Sometimes, when things look dismal, God’s work in our lives doesn’t line up with our expectations. It is during those moments that we need to remember that God’s thoughts and ways are so much more than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9.) The will of God is to draw each person into relationship, which can only happen through repentance (Isaiah 55:6-7). And sometimes we don’t pay attention to God’s holiness and ultimate justice until something drastic happens. It’s still really hard to wrap my brain around, to be honest. But that’s where trust in God and faith in His character has to take precedence over our own limited understanding. (Romans 3:21-26).

Rooted and grounded

January 15

Good works are always to be part of the believer’s life (James 2:14-36). So what is the difference between people who try to do the right thing and believers who walk in the will of God through their work? I think it is a matter of motivation and resource.


The natural inclination of people is to do the things that benefit them personally. Good work may make them feel good about themselves or give them a sense of moral superiority over other people. Very little of what people do is actually truly selfless. The motive for most people is personal. Humans tend to be rooted in self, drawing nourishment from sources that support their world views.

Paul, however, wrote to the Ephesians that they were to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17). And the love of which he wrote was nothing like the best kind of human love. He tried to describe the love of God, but ultimately had to acknowledge that God’s love is wider and longer and higher and deeper than any kind of love the human mind can understand.


If we who are believers are rooted in that love, we are nourished by it, and as our roots grow deeper, our work produces better and healthier results. If we stay grounded in God’s love, we are less likely to do things to glorify ourselves (less likely because we are still human). Our motives turn to the things that create unity, promote peace, and glorify God forever.

But God

But God. Two words that change everything. Circumstances, heartbreak, discouragement, and anxiety about the future might destroy us — But God.
Rich in mercy
With great love
Through immeasurable grace
Saved us, made us alive, and situated us in the heavenly places with Christ.

Ephesians 2:1-10 (ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

This gift changes our perspective on the hard times and alters our motives for continuing in our work while we journey through this life. Humans tend to work for things that they think will bring personal satisfaction: power, influence, success, renown, legacy, and good deeds. These things aren’t necessarily bad in and of themselves, but they cannot satisfy.


But God.

When we work within the gift of His grace, our motives aligned with His will, then we find an eternal purpose to the work we do. We have peace, joy, and hope that satisfies better than anything we do on our own (Romans 5:1-5).

The end of the matter

January 11, 2020

Ecclesiastes finishes with “the end of the matter”; life is short and hard, so live it well by fearing God and keeping his commandments.
Solomon offers some practical advice for making the most of our breath of a life on earth.


Be generous (11:2), be alert (11:4), be in awe of God and the mysteries only he can know (11:5), rejoice in your life no matter what the circumstances (11:8), don’t take yourself too seriously (11:10), commit your life to the Lord while you are still young and optimistic so that your faith will sustain you during the dark days (chapter 12). Solomon’s wisdom caused him distress because he was keenly aware of the difficulties in this life. He despaired because he couldn’t find a way around life’s troubles. In the end, Solomon taught that the only real satisfaction in life comes from the Giver of life Himself.

Find the joy

January 10, 2020

Ecclesiastes 8-10 is another reminder that life is hard. And unfair. And hard to understand. And ultimately everyone dies and is forgotten. Thanks, King Solomon. So, now what?

Why do bad things happen to good people? Why do wicked people prosper? (Ch8, v14). Solomon struggled with that question the same way we do, and his only answer was, “who knows? (8:1, 16-17). But, the wise know that this sojourn is temporary. Under the sun (in this lifetime), we may never see why things happen the way they do. So, find joy in the small things of daily life, do good, be grateful, enjoy relationships, work hard. These are the things that are wise. We cannot control our circumstances, but we can choose how we respond to them. Solomon says over and over again, “Choose joy.” Even when it feels impossible.


Jeremiah 15:16 suggests a place to begin, ” Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.”

Point of View

January 9

Point of view changes how people receive a message. In Ecclesiastes 7, Solomon described the folly of superficial living, saying that the day of death and sorrow are better than the day of birth and laughter. What?!? Reading a little deeper reveals what he meant: dwelling on the party and dreaming about the “good old days” ultimately leads to a meaningless life. For one thing, the “good old days” really weren’t any better (or worse) than the present. For another, the past cannot be changed. Solomon was searching for the meaning of life, which is not 42 (apologies to Douglas Adams). Living for the moment only leads to a desire for more moments rather than a desire for God. It’s like an addiction; we often seek out what FEELS good rather than what IS good.

Solomon observed that both prosperity and adversity are allowed by God, so it’s wise to learn from both, but not to dwell on either. “Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” (Eccl 7:17) Well, that’s depressing.


Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, wrote the same message, but with a different perspective. Solomon was observing the world from a place of despair in spite of worldly wealth, Paul wrote from a place of hope in spite of imprisonment. Solomon said to be happy in your work because that’s as good as life gets. Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord…and the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:4-7). Solomon proposed spending time in sorrowful places in order to think deeply about the things of God; Paul advised, “Whatever is true…honorable… commendable; if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). Solomon noted that we may as well take adversity along with prosperity because that’s just how the world is. God allows both, so just accept both. Paul said, ” I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content…I have learned the secret…I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13). The message is the same: a deep and meaningful relationship with God is possible. But what a difference the POV makes in the message!