February 29, Lenten Series- Galatians 1:17-24

Galatians 1:17-24 KJV (NIV link below)

17Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.

18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days.

19But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother.

20Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not.

21Afterwards I came into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;

22And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judaea which were in Christ:

23But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.

24And they glorified God in me.

NIV Link

In Training

(Sorry, this one is slightly longer than the other reflections.)

Although Paul was called and immediately acted upon his calling, that didn’t necessarily mean he assumed his role as a church planter and itinerant pastor right away. Instead, he went to the dessert of Arabia, and then back to Damascus, the church that he first had contact with after his calling. He reflected and studied for three years before going to meet a single apostle. It is interesting to note that Jesus, at least from what we can gather in the Gospels, spent roughly three years with his disciples. The point, however, is not a specific length of time, but that there was a time of training, and of preparation.

Now, I need to be careful at this point. Far too many Christians excuse themselves from doing any sort of service to the church because they “don’t have the training.” That is almost always a lie. You are likely better trained than you think you are. The point isn’t the delay in time, but the purposed and systematic nature that Paul took with this activity. The point is that Paul didn’t start out as the “super hero” apostle we often picture him to be. It took time and intentionality and purpose. The point is no one is born as a perfect disciple of Christ; we are made into disciples of Christ. The great commission doesn’t instruct Christians to save souls and then leave people. It says we are to “make disciples” and to “teach” in addition to “baptizing them.” So let me be clear on this one thing: being a good disciple of Christ, and faithfully following his call on your life is not a natural ability you are born with, nor is it something you immediately receive upon becoming a Christian. As with any plant (such as a vine or the fruit of the spirit), it must be cultivated. This takes time. Even once Paul began his missionary work, he still needed to grow and mature.

Once Paul finished his semi-solitary period of making this new faith his own he went to see Peter. This is particularly telling. You can’t make yourself a disciple in isolation. Paul sought out a mentor, then began to get involved in the larger community. If you don’t have, or have never had, a mentor in the Christian faith,  I encourage you to seek one out as Paul did with Peter/Cephas. These mentoring relationships may be long term or short term, but they are important. The proverbs tell us that “As iron sharpens iron so one man does another.” Typically, you should approach a Christian who is a bit older than you, seems more mature in the Christian faith, and is of the same gender. Ask them if they wouldn’t mind acting as a mentor for you. Come up with a plan. It may be a good idea to have a book or bible study you would want to go through together. Now, for those Christians who have been engaged in the church for some time, especially those who have some sort of formal training (I’m looking at you ordained ministers), be open and receptive to mentoring someone else younger in the faith. You should seek them out as well. Granted there are seasons of our lives where this is not practical, but don’t neglect the practice. Both parties can learn from the mentoring relationship. This brings us to the next phase of Paul’s spiritual journey.

After his time with Peter, Paul went and joined the greater community of Christ more publicly than had been the case at Damascus. It is important for Christians to understand that we are meant for community. We are part of a heavenly kingdom that exists now on this earth in the Church. It was established by Christ and is the continued presence of his eternal kingdom in the face of this present evil age. It is the body of Christ and the army of the Lord. You are not alone, and this community called the Church is comprised of individuals who are your family.

Finally, chapter one ends with the people praising God for what he has done in Paul. I really like the KJV translation of the text here: “they glorified God in me.” Wow! God is in you and it is your mission to let others glorify God even through your accomplishments.

Please leave your thoughts, comments, responses and questions below (Join the conversation). We can be the embodiment of the Church even online and help each other grow in our relationship. If you don’t know what to say, here are some questions to get started: If you currently have or have had a mentor, would you share what impact he or she had on your life? If you have ever mentored anyone, please share how that impacted you as well. Do you ever feel that you aren’t able to do ministry with the Church? Does knowing that it takes work and time make that easier? What are you doing now to better prepare yourself? Are you currently engaged in service anywhere while you are training?


February 27 Lent Devotional Series Galatians 1:10-12

Galatians 1:10-12 KJV (NIV link below)

10For do I now persuade men, or God? or do I seek to please men? for if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.

11But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.

12For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Link to NIV text

The Other-Worldly Gospel

Paul, after mentioning a gospel that has grace as its only content, goes on to explain the origins of that gospel. He wants to be very clear, this is not a gospel that is of human origin, nor is it one designed to win the approval of people. Indeed, if you look at Paul’s life, you’d have to be delusional to think he preached the gospel for human praise. Paul was a rising star in the Jewish world, having studied at the feet of Gamaliel, the premier rabbi of his day. He gave all of that up to preach a gospel of grace and become a servant. For Paul, human praise pales in comparison to the approval of his master, God himself, from whom this Gospel comes.

Paul could not have made up a gospel like this. This gospel defies our human logic. According to the gospel of grace, there are no prerequisites for rescue and no one is so far gone that they can elude the reach of God’s arm. There is hope for every living person. God is mighty to save whomever will come. No exceptions. This is a violation of our logic.

The Gospel declares that no one is too far off from grace during his or her life. Just as no human action can save you, no human action can put you beyond God’s reach. Now that is offensive to our sense of justice, that is beyond human reason, that can only come by the revelation of God. Nobody is off limits. However, while this is offensive to some, it is good news to those in the midst of their sin. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you are not too far off. God can (and wants to) save you. This cannot be taught or reasoned to, it can only be received as the other-worldly gospel it is. Salvation is not far off, but is near.

Leave your thoughts below and join the conversation. Here are some reflection questions if you need help getting started:

Does knowing that the gospel is available to anyone irrespective of who they are or what they’ve done make it easier to understand/accept or harder (or maybe both)? What do you think of the “out of this world” character of the gospel? Are your daily actions aimed at impressing others or glorifying God?

Lenten Devotional Series, February 24- Galatians 1:6-9

Galatians 1:6-9 KJV

6I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel:

7Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

8But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.

9As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Link to NIV text here


Just let that word wash over you a bit: Grace.

That is the heart of the gospel. Yesterday Paul greeted the Galatians with grace. Today he wonders why they don’t really believe that grace. It’s so hard for us to accept the simplicity of this gospel of grace that we are all too often tempted to add something to it. But the minute we add something to it, it stops being the gospel. Instead it’s just confusing and perverted and misses the point entirely. So central is this that Paul asks God to curse any attempt to add to this gospel. It’s all about Grace. Grace plus anything is no longer grace. It’s undeserved, unearned, and unattainable. No one and no being, of this world or another, can change that fact. That’s the gospel message.

Christ died for you.

Christ was resurrected from the dead.

Christ is coming back for you.

Because you are his. He bought you with his blood, a price ours could not pay. He proposed to marry you, even though we were in the midst of our infidelity; and he will return for his bride. There’s nothing you can do to undo it. That’s grace. And anything else is not the gospel. Don’t lose sight of that grace, because its always with you, purifying and refining you.

What do you think? Leave your comments below and join the conversation. If you need help getting started, here are some reflection questions:

What does grace mean to you? What do think about Paul’s stern condemnation against those who adding an additional requirement to the Gospel? Is there a danger in our churches of losing the grace of the gospel and replacing it with something else?

[Reminder: this is a weekday series. The next post in the series will be on Monday.]

Lent Series Day 1: Galatians 1:1-5

KJV Text (NIV link below)

1Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead;)

2And all the brethren which are with me, unto the churches of Galatia:

3Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ,

4Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father:

5To whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Link to NIV text

It seems like we’ve got an appropriate start to a Lenten study. From the very beginning of Galatians Paul is pointing his readers to the resurrection of Jesus. He wants to be clear: this thing called the church of which he is an apostle is not made by men in any way shape or form. Instead, the same power of God that raised Jesus from the dead established the Church and its apostles. Paul ends his greeting by reminding the Galatians that the grace he wishes upon them has its foundation in the death Jesus Christ. This death was not the decision of Jesus alone, but part of God’s will. Because of this, the crucifixion and resurrection, we praise him. We praise him for establishing his eternal kingdom by the crucifixion and resurrection in the face of this present evil age.

Leave your thoughts below. If you need help getting started, here are some suggested questions:

What does it mean to you to be rescued by God? What do you think of Paul’s comment about the “present evil world/age”? Christ dies according to God’s will, but is later resurrected rescuing us. Has there been a time in your life that you thought was a low point, but ended up being something amazing? If so, how do you think that reflected God’s will? Do you have any hopes for this series?

Dust You are, and to Dust you will Return: Reflection on Ash Wednesday (and announcement for Lent)

Ashes are placed on the forehead as a sign of humility and mortality

A Reflection: Death and Creation

I am a Southern Baptist, as I’ve noted here in this blog, who is part of an Anglican congregation while I’m in London. This brings up the issue of whether or not to celebrate Lent. Baptists, not being very keen on liturgy, have tended to avoid such things as Lent and most holy days (Passion Week and Christmas excepting). Nevertheless, there has been a growing movement among Baptists, particularly of the younger generations, to re-engage with the practice of Lent. For me, this year at least, it was not an issue. I was going to celebrate Lent. Now, I could give a detailed argument about why it’s appropriate for Baptists to do so and encourage those who are reluctant to nevertheless engage in the traditional practice of preparation for Easter, but that argument has been made by numerous others much more convincingly than I could deliver it here.

Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the period in the Christian calendar referred to as Lent. During Lent, for forty days, many Christians determine to fast in some way, shape or fashion. For some this means a type of food fast. For others, they forgo some sort of pleasure or distraction. They may forgo something like chocolate, ice cream, television, a form of social media or something else entirely. Whatever form the fast takes, it is a time meant to help the believer refocus on the impending time of passion week, at the end of Lent, which marks the remembrance of Christ’s crucifixion, and, ultimately, upon the Easter victory. While it is tempting to focus on the death of Christ and treat it somberly, traditionally the focus has been on an anticipation of Easter. Perhaps a (very) brief history of Lent may be in order.

In the early Church (prior to the fall of Rome), almost all new converts to the budding Christian faith were baptized on Easter Sunday. We know from various correspondences that Christians had already adopted worship, prior to work, early in the morning on “the day following Saturn’s day (Saturday),” now known as Sunday. The day was chosen because it was the day of the week when Christ rose from the dead. In this way, every Sunday, on some level, was a remembrance of Christ’s resurrection. Easter Sunday, or more correctly Resurrection Sunday, however, was given a particular significance. This was the Sunday following the Jewish celebration of Passover, and it marked the annual anniversary, in a way, of Jesus’ resurrection. For the early Church it was the resurrection that was the most foundational event for their faith, even moreso than the incarnation (Christmas) or crucifixion (Good Friday). Further, baptism is a picture of the new life that Christians receive now and at Jesus’ return both in solidarity with, and as a result of the resurrection of Jesus. Thus Resurrection Sunday (Easter) and baptism were tied together very intimately in the early Church.

Also in the early Church, new converts went through a detailed catechism (instruction) prior to being baptized. This was to fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus as they understood: “to make disciples.” This catechetical period was concluded by the baptismal candidates engaging in a period of intense prayer and fasting. Initially, this was likely done from either Good Friday or the day before (Maundy Thursday) until Easter morning. However, the period of time was gradually extended. Eventually, it was thought that the period should be set at forty days because this was the length of time that Jesus fasted in the desert prior to beginning his adult ministry. However, the period of Lent as we know it lasts 46 days. So what’s going on? Well, it was soon decided that Sundays should not be considered fasting days because they were celebrations of the resurrection. Therefore every Sunday was a break in the forty days of the fast. This leads to an interesting paradox today.

Lent is in large part a solemn season, and it focuses in large part upon the impending anniversary of the death of our Savior. Despite this, it is punctuated by these reminders that death is not the end, that a resurrection soon follows. We are also reminded that by the death of Jesus, and his subsequent resurrection, we ourselves are saved from the finality of death. The actions of Christ, which culminate in the final week of Lent, remove death’s sting and turn Satan from a roaring lion into a de-clawed kitten. Even the week of Jesus’ death itself is sandwiched between the celebrations of the Triumphal Entry (Palm Sunday) and the Resurrection. It is this odd juxtaposition of life and death or mourning and rejoicing, that make up the season of Lent. The fasts of the week are punctuated by the feasts of Sunday.

Even the service of Ash Wednesday, one of the more solemn services, has this odd juxtaposition. As ashes are spread upon the foreheads of the faithful, the ultimate symbol humility, mourning and death, the minister/vicar says something: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” On the surface this is a clear indication of our need to humble ourselves, to be reminded of our common fate of death, and to approach the impending season with an appropriate measure of solemnity. But that’s not all that’s happening. If those words sound familiar beyond that specific context, they should. As many of you likely know, these are the words of God spoken as part of the curse upon the man. But even in the curse, there is hope. God declares that one day a person will triumph over the serpent for all time. God makes a provision for the man and the woman by providing covering, in the very midst of their sin. The declaration itself is a reminder of God’s act of forming man from dust and breathing into him life itself. As we are reminded to be humble and recall our own mortality, we are simultaneously reminded of our existence as God’s specially and carefully made creation and of the life that comes from him.

“Dust you are and to dust you will return” is a reminder of our reliance upon God for our very being. Before we get too full of ourselves or think that we are somehow a “self-made” person, or that we’ve earned all our possessions by our own abilities or that we don’t owe anyone else anything, we’re reminded, “dust you are and to dust you will return.” The only difference between us and the dirt we shake off our shoes is that God has given us His breath; and even the very dust was created by Him. We are utterly reliant upon God for our very being and continued existence. Rather than something mournful, though, if we view this through the lens of God’s Kingdom, that means something wonderful. We are not abandoned. We are not an accident. We were intentionally made and God is still with us, sustaining us and preserving us. And he is faithful to bring to completion that which he begins. We are dust and to dust we will return, but God created us from dust the first time and can (and will) recreate us out of dust the second time. That’s what the resurrection means, a recreation of our very being. Although death seems to be in focus for much of Lent, death is not the end. The solemnity of the Lenten fast that is punctuated throughout by reminders of the resurrection and has an exclamation on the end: Easter Sunday!

Maybe this changes how we view the Lenten fast. Maybe it’s not merely a sacrifice of something, but a sacrifice for someone. On one level, like all our other actions, this should be viewed as an act of worship to God who has redeemed us. But on a baser level, this can mean a small measure of solidarity with brothers and sisters in Christ who have little or nothing. While empathy and solidarity are nice, however, perhaps there is something more that we can do. Less important than what you give up, at least as I see it, is the positive change you can make. Maybe it’s something little, maybe it’s a grander gesture, I can’t make that determination for you. Perhaps, though, this Lenten season you consider what you can give up not for the sake of giving it up, but for the sake of providing new life for someone else. Perhaps we should punctuate our felt losses toward providing the means for another’s celebration. After all, we are all dust in the end and the beginning.

Maybe it’s also time we make a more permanent commitment. God’s act of created humanity, while it seems to end with every human life returning to dust, nevertheless resulted in a continuous created activity. The human race keeps growing and developing and innovating. The death of Jesus, though a single event within history, had “ripple effects throughout history” as C. S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity. The resurrection, which we celebrate after Lent, was not a temporary resuscitation, but had a lasting and permanent impact. And the new creation we already are in Christ has a sustained impact, even after our return to dust. So perhaps we consider small commitment, however large or small, that we begin during Lent, and then see if we can’t continue to daily remake that commitment. Yes, there might be small hiccups along the way, but faithfulness, the type of commitment that can change the world, is about the long term, that which matters in the eternal Kingdom of God, not the immediate. So what about you? What change will you make?

Lent Announcement

Well, I’ve decided that one of the things I am going to do this Lent season is post a weekday Lent mini-devotional. So, beginning tomorrow, Thursday, I will begin to post short reflections on the book of Galatians. The schedule I will follow is below and I will be making a page on this blog that gives that schedule with links to the relevant reflection posts once they are up. I will likely continue to post other things, but the main focus during Lent will be these short reflections. I have chosen to do Galatians so that I focus on just a few verses and keep the posts relatively short. If you come back to this blog (or follow it via e-mail) everyday I’ll have a post that includes the KJV text (since it’s public domain), a link to the NIV text, and a short reflection. I’m inviting you to join the conversation. Just say how it impacts you, or what you’re confused about, or what you think it means. The bible is often read best in community. Again, these will be much shorter than my other posts, and ideally should be readable in under ten minutes. See the schedule below:

Galatians Lent Readings

Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Thursday 1:1-5 2:1-5 3:1-6 4:1-7 5:1-6 6:1-6
Friday 1:6-9 2:6-10 3:7-14 4:8-16 5:7-12 6:7-10
Monday 1:10-12 2:11-14 3:15-20 4:17-20 5:13-15 6:11-14
Tuesday 1:13-16 2:15-18 3:21-25 4:21-23 5:16-18 6:15-18
Wednesday 1:17-24 2:19-21 3:26-29 4:24-31 5:19-26 Summary