Monthly Archives: September 2014

Isaiah 19-21; Ephesians 2

Hi… I’m a work in progress… who are you?

As part of my work with guys in men’s group, I’ve recently conducted an informal survey, of sorts, to hear the response when asking the question “… can you tell me about yourself?” Given the chance to provide anything at all about who they were as an individual, almost immediately, without hesitation, the response usually started with their job first, followed by their education, and/or their accomplishments. These men seem confident in what they do, but their response seemed to lack who they were. And this response isn’t reserved for men only… women, too, seem to identify themselves closely with “the title”… there was rarely hesitation in their responses… what they did, defined who they were… Was this really the goal? A job or degree??

The secular world has done a great job at conditioning us from when we were very young to begin the process of building our personal resume. In my opinion, there seems to be more of a pride issue going on when it comes to building that resume… after all, isn’t that what impresses others and helps to get jobs? How long and comprehensive our resume is? As adults, we get caught up in this push for the top, but, sadly, many of us are raising our children to do the same. Specifically, we want our children to go to the best schools, earn the highest grades and assessment scores, they are usually expected to excel in a sport or other trophy- or ribbon-granting activity to display for the world to see. And then after school, we typically encourage them to follow a great career path that will have great monetary consequences. This will, in turn, allow them to purchase material things that help them to identify themselves as successful… or will it? Is this really who our children are? What they’ve become?

Don’t get me wrong… there isn’t anything wrong with accomplishments based on education, career, sports, etc., but when we begin to believe the lies surrounding what we do, this can lead to an unfulfilled life of dissatisfaction at the deepest level regarding our true identify. Ultimately, this leads to a life of ongoing searching for significance. And usually, when there’s a distortion of something that, on the surface, isn’t bad, the enemy is usually close by. Satan and his demons use worldly things and our flesh against us… to draw us away from God’s purpose for our lives… to convince us that we have significance by way of our performance and the things that others say about us… having us believe that we need to meet some outside standard or level of expectation in order to feel worthy about ourselves… completely contradictory to God’s plan about who we are as individuals…

God’s word speaks to who we are in His eyes… that “…you are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:10). In this one verse, God reveals His beautiful plan for our lives. The verse doesn’t say you will become God’s workmanship once you achieve some promotion or get another degree, Paul’s words are speaking fact here… reality… you are God’s workmanship… a truth to be sought after and believed. But what does it mean to be “God’s workmanship”? When I hear these words I immediately think of an artisan… someone who can see beauty in something raw and unfinished. Just as an artisan creates beauty out of raw material, God’s ability to see beauty in us amazes me… that He continuously “chips away” to unfold unrecognized beauty in all of us!

As humans, as Christ followers, we belong to the King of kings. Our destiny, our eternal home has already been prepared for us. It is guaranteed not by what we do or what we become, but by who we are in the eyes of our Father. As we believe in who we are and allow the Holy Spirit to move through us and with us, we unknowingly fulfill our earthly purpose in His power, not our own. So, if you’re ever asked who you are, perhaps the best response is that we are a work in progress, with the goal of being something beautiful and magnificent in the eyes of our Father!

Greg (gstefanelli)

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Isaiah 16-18; Ephesians 1

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.

This is the Father who picked me out. Because of Christ, he looks at me without fault. I’ve found myself caught under the gaze of haughty eyes and judgment for so long, this kind of vision seems unreal. (It is freeing!)

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.

Generational strain … sometimes family is not a place that welcomes, loves or includes. God tells me I belong. I’m his–with great pleasure. This is family–a place of belonging.

So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son.

The world will tell me all kinds of things to devalue my worth–it will chip away at my appearance, my parenting, my ability. Glorious grace? Yes, please! Grace allows for my imperfections, loves me anyway.

He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins. He has showered his kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. Ephesians 1:4-8, NLT.

This Father who delights in me, so rich in kindness and grace. He showers kindness and wisdom and understanding, like confetti falling down upon me–an eternal celebration, glorious grace. Today I’m looking up to watch it fall and reaching out to catch hold, and I laugh with him at his joy and delight. This love, it gathers me close in the hug.

Father, thank you for waking me with these words, a reset and refocus for starting the week, an infusion of love when my tank runs low, and a glimpse of an eternal celebration of glory and grace–your love and great sacrifice to call me yours.

Courtney (66books365)

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Isaiah 13-15; Galatians 6

Isaiah 15:6 “For the green grass has withered away; The grass fails, there is nothing green.”  I dwell with words of desperation, destruction, and death.  I sink to the bottom of the river, lie on a bed of rocks and sand, and look up as the cool water runs clear and smooth over me. In the green grass or when the grass fails, a smile slips down my chin even when a gnat flies over my glass half empty.

Isaiah 13:11b “I will halt the arrogance of the proud, And will lay low the haughtiness of the terrible.” Though the promises of rest, the buoyancy for the moment makes hope spring up; the depths cry out, “Caution! Remember the tares of pride are a harbinger of a doubtful harvest.”  Now, I’ve raised a lot of gardens; I know what it takes to keep out the weeds.  It takes a continual stroke of the hoe to break up the unruly, unyielding roots of neglect. What if instead of spreading the good news of the gospel, I’m beating others with my interpretations and opinions? Isaiah 14:5, 6 The Lord has broken the staff of the wicked, The scepter of the rulers.  he who struck the people in wrath with a continual stroke, he who ruled the nations in anger is persecuted…”

I should know not to boast in anything.  Even in religion.  My Christianity has been tested and my testimony made void.  We are reminded not to boast, “except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world, (Galatians 6:14-15,” so why do we flood the earth with arrogance?

Unsettling truth: Isaiah predicts destruction of the pride of Babylon, Assyria, Philistia, and Moab. Before their pride is tied to me like a cement slab as I’m tossed into the river, I long to believe that “The whole earth is at rest and quiet… breaking forth into singing,” (Isaiah 14:7).  I long to believe that all things are purposed for my good, (Romans 8:28).  I long to believe that the news at the end of the day will set everything right, in order, and  in sync.

Paul directs us to challenge these beliefs,  “Be generous and do good; bare one another’s burdens; rule in peace and mercy.  And most of all “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”

Grace over me, grace under me, grace before me, grace from me crowding out the roots pride.

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Isaiah 10, 11, 12; Galatians 5

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.

Galatians 5:1, 13-14, 22-25

I really love delving deep into the Word, especially with passages that I have read over and over. I can easily read the Bible at its surface, which I admit I do a lot, but inevitably a word, a verse, a passage jumps out to me, as if it has been highlighted by God for me in that moment. When that happens, I have to know more, I have to understand the rhema truth hidden in the passage. I have to know why God is pointing it out.

Galatians is one of my favorite books in the Bible, and I have literally read it hundreds of times; sometimes it’s just a surface reading, but more often than not, I find myself doing word studies to gnaw more meat off the bone. Today a word that I have only casually studied before was shown in a new light to me.

This word is freedom. I’ve gone through life thinking I understood what freedom meant. I live in a ‘free’ country. I am a ‘free’ person; I am ‘free’ to be me. The simple definition I’ve always brought away from the word is that freedom is a state of liberty rather than being confined or restrained, like the difference between being in or out of jail. On a basic level, that is what it means, but I am learning that on a heart level it means so much more.

The other day while talking some things out with a friend, God gave me a picture of what freedom really is: FREEDOM=LOVE=FREEDOM=LOVE

FREEDOM=LOVE

In the moment, I took this to heart, but at its face value, intending on asking God for more. When I was able to take a moment to sit alone with Him, I felt lead to look up the etymology, the history of the English word, and as usual I was blow away by His goodness.

The English word ‘freedom’, with the base word being ‘free’ came from the Old English word that meant ‘to free or liberate,’ and also ‘to love, think of lovingly, honor’.

Paul shares that I have been called to freedom; I have been called to a place of complete liberation from slavery to the law. He reminds me that in freedom, I am called to serve others in love; and when I love others, the more freedom flourishes and produces fruit in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Freedom equals love.

Yesappa, Thank You for freedom, and thank You for love. Help me walk more and more in both. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Blessings – Julie (writing from the U.S.A.)

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Isaiah 7-9; Galatians 4

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God—or rather are known by God—how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? Galatians 4:8-9

It seems ridiculous that someone who has known the horrendous bondage of slavery would ever want to return to it. In actuality, it isn’t that uncommon. It seems to be human nature to want to turn to what we know versus the unknown, even if the known was an absolutely miserable existence. I think of the Israelites wanting to go back to Egypt and how they chose to fondly remember the leeks and cucumbers as opposed to the sadistic demands of their masters.

Am I really so different? Too easily, I relapse into diehard perfectionist, get-it-right ways. That master has left me wasted and empty. Why is it so difficult to let go and enjoy the benefits of serving the Master of grace? Too often, I am like Ahaz in thinking that God really isn’t that interested and I have to manage things entirely on my own. Through Isaiah, God tells Ahaz to expect something different, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel [God is with us].” Isaiah 7:14.

There is such beauty and freedom in the simplicity of what God is telling me through his Word. Jesus is here right now. He asks me to live with him as my master. It’s my choice. He doesn’t force himself upon me. Do I accept the fact that he bought my life with his and that my life is no longer my own? I live for his pleasure and his purposes.  God help me live that way way today.

Klueh

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Isaiah 4-6; Galatians 3

I caught up with an old friend this past week. I haven’t talked to her in years. She filled me in on what those years looked like–disillusionment, rejection, bitterness, generations-long broken relationships, heartache, wandering.  She was working through the trials when a guest speaker came to her church. She said that God impressed upon her that this speaker had a word for her. She approached him afterwards and introduced herself, telling him what she felt the Lord was prompting. This man didn’t know her story, and he said he didn’t have to–that if God had a word for her through him, that he trusted God for it. Then he began to speak to her about restoration. She told me she stood there and cried.

I read of desolation and destruction in Isaiah.

  • Now let me tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will tear down its hedges and let it be destroyed. I will break down its walls and let the animals trample it. I will make it a wild place where the vines are not pruned and the ground is not hoed, a place overgrown with briers and thorns. I will command the clouds to drop no rain on it. Isaiah 5:6-6, NLT.
  • What sorrow for those who get up early in the morning looking for a drink of alcohol and spend long evenings drinking wine to make themselves flaming drunk. 12 They furnish wine and lovely music at their grand parties—lyre and harp, tambourine and flute—but they never think about the Lord or notice what he is doing. Isaiah 5:11-12, NLT.
  • So my people will go into exile far away because they do not know me. Those who are great and honored will starve, and the common people will die of thirst. 14 The grave is licking its lips in anticipation, opening its mouth wide. The great and the lowly and all the drunken mob will be swallowed up. 15 Humanity will be destroyed, and people brought down; even the arrogant will lower their eyes in humiliation. Isaiah 5:14-15, NLT.
  • What sorrow for those who drag their sins behind them with ropes made of lies, who drag wickedness behind them like a cart! Isaiah 5:18, NLT.
  • 20 What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter. 21 What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever. 22 What sorrow for those who are heroes at drinking wine and boast about all the alcohol they can hold. 23 They take bribes to let the wicked go free, and they punish the innocent. Isaiah 5:20-23, NLT.

 

I’m reading St. Augustine’s Confessions with a group of high schoolers. While many themes emerge in the reading, one is of waste and regret turned redemption and praise.

Sometimes we’re quite aware of the desolation, and other times we live blinded and confused in places where dark is light and bitter is sweet–deceived. Certainly, when God reveals truth to us, we will see the waste and shame in sweet light of grace and restoration.

They were calling out to each other,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies!
    The whole earth is filled with his glory!” Isaiah 6:3, NLT

And it is. Glory birthed even in desolate places. He does a mighty work.

Courtney (66books365)

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Isaiah 1-3, Galatians 3

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

I don’t think I can calculate the gravity of these words and what they must have meant to the Galatians hearing them. I took a few Judaic studies classes back in college and remember learning about the complete immersive legalistic culture of the Jews. The Word was law. Law was a way of life. It was memorized, recited, lived, breathed. There was no separation between Synagogue and State. The Synagogue was at times a welfare program for widows and orphans. The family was ruled by Law through the male figure head. Even neighbor relations were dictated through the Law.

When I try to understand what hearing the words “justified by faith” must have meant to these people, I can’t draw a comparison in my own life. All I’ve known is the freedom of knowing Christ and being raised among fellow believers. I’m sure I take for granted the difficulty the Jews would have experienced transitioning to this “new life” from their old ways.

I like how Paul ties everything together for all audiences reading this letter. New believers are one in Christ and if you are a Jew, a child of Abraham, you are also one in Christ according to promise. What a wonderful promise! Made one in Christ.

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