Thursday, June 23, 2016

Living like I mean it?

Yesterday, during my quiet time, God gently confronted me on one of my foremost character flaws. I say that He did so "gently," because the admonition was predicated by the fact I am by His child through faith in Jesus Christ. As a baptized believer in Christ, my old self has been drowned and my new self brought into being to live with Christ eternally. But God pointed out to me that I don't always live the faith I confess.

From Colossians 3:1-2, 5;
"You have been raised to life with Christ, so set your hearts on the things that are in heaven, where Christ sits on his throne at the right side of God. Keep your minds fixed on things there, not on things here on earth...You must put to death, then, the earthly desires at work in you..." (Good News Translation)
I journaled my response to God's Word:
I spend the greater part of each day heeding my desires, my wants, desires that are earthly: for my pleasure, my comfort, my preferences, my ambitions, etc. [Not many of them are intrinsically sinful, maybe, but are sinful in the ways I pursue them nonetheless, because they're about my will, rather than Your will.] You know this about me, Lord. But I need to acknowledge it to You.

I don't spend nearly the time needed on Your will, Your Word, or You.

My heart gets set on the things I want. I grow resentful when, after relentless praying, you don't give me the things I want, which You know I don't need.

I do this, as You know, after You've made Your will and Your answer of "no" to my prayers clear.
My heart is too divided. God, I need to be Yours completely. Remove my hypocrisy. Help me to be wholly and joyfully turned to You. Help me to focus on Your will and not my own; on Christ's call and not my pleasure. Amen

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What to pray in election seasons

While this piece was produced in the United Kingdom to advise Christians how to pray regarding the EU referendum coming there on Thursday, its simple points are good for all Christians to keep in mind during election seasons.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Americans and Our Stuff

"Possession is nine-tenths of the problem" (Dr. Winston O'Boogie, aka John Lennon)

I agree with my son who, when linking to this piece from becoming minimalist over on Facebook, said that the greatest threat to Americans, spiritually and in every other way, is our materialism.

In 21 Surprising Statistics That Reveal How Much Stuff We Actually Own, Joshua Becker catalogs some bracing facts, some that may really surprise or even shock you.

A sampling:
1. There are 300,000 items in the average American home (LA Times). [I worked for an inventory service when I was in college, counting by hand, items in grocery, discount, drug, and hardware stores from Columbus to Portsmouth, Lancaster to Nelsonville. It was tedious. But I have a feeling that counting items with the same techniques we used before the advent of bar codes and scanners would be more daunting in my own condo than counting the merchandise those stores was.]

5. The United States has upward of 50,000 storage facilities, more than five times the number of Starbucks. Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self storage space for every man, woman and child in the nation. Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self storage roofing (SSA). [I find myself chuckling almost every time I see the signs for self-storage facilities, imagining people walking into the units to store themselves overnight.]

7. 3.1% of the world’s children live in America, but they own 40% of the toys consumed globally (UCLA). [No mention is made here of how many children spend hours playing with the boxes in which their toys were packaged.]

15. Americans donate 1.9% of their income to charitable causes (NCCS/IRS). While 6 billion people worldwide live on less than $13,000/year (National Geographic). [We ignore Jesus' words, I think, to our own eternal peril: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48).]

19. Over the course of our lifetime, we will spend a total of 3,680 hours or 153 days searching for misplaced items.The research found we lose up to nine items every day—or 198,743 in a lifetime. Phones, keys, sunglasses, and paperwork top the list (The Daily Mail). [I threw this one in because I so identify with it. It's frustrating, but it really is one indicator of having too much stuff.]
Becker writes:
The numbers paint a jarring picture of excessive consumption and unnecessary accumulation. Fortunately, the solution is not difficult. The invitation to own less is an invitation to freedom, intentionality, and passion.* And it can be discovered at your nearest drop-off center.
I think that he's right. In the past few years, I've been flushing lots of my possessions, taking some to places like Goodwill, Volunteers of America, and Salvation Army, while taking books and some recordings to Half Price Books, more for the privilege of divestiture than for money, of which Half Price doesn't hand out a lot. (I also have enjoyed giving a lot of my classic vinyl records from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, to my kids.)

Possessions and all that goes with them can hold us down. My seminary professor and mentor, Pastor Bruce Schein, used to tell us to never have so much or be so rooted in a place that we weren't ready to move on a day's notice. Schein was warning us, in part, against identifying our lives too much by our stuff, houses, neighborhoods, and such.

This wasn't just advice of practical expedience for future pastors. For all of us, being so tied to what we own that we're not able to respond to what God may be calling us to do at any given time can destroy our eternal souls.

Jesus once told a man, "Follow Me." The man evidently was drawn to Jesus, but said in reply: "Lord, first let me go and bury my father” (Luke 9:59-60). What's interesting about this exchange is that we don't even know if the man's father was dead, or even sick, yet. The man was tied to a place, to a way of life, maybe to his stuff, and so, asked if he could hold off following Jesus for a while.

The man was looking for the right time. But the right time to follow Jesus is now, no matter how inconvenient or hard as it can be to do so.

I do often wonder these days whether the times I've left one place to go to another was really done at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. (I'm serving the fourth church I've pastored in thirty-two years.)

But I am sure that the unwillingness to move when Jesus says, "Follow" is wrong and often prompted by both our natural difficulty with change and our revulsion at the prospect of moving our stuff.** Sometimes, we have reason to wonder, I think, if we own our stuff or if our stuff owns us.

And that is precisely the issue Jesus confronts the disciples (both first- and twenty-first century varieties) with when He says: " is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24).

There's nothing inherently wrong with wealth. Nothing intrinsically evil about stuff.

But they both present a strong challenge to our souls in that they become the means by which we identify ourselves and the definition we put on what it means to live.

Possessions allow us to insulate ourselves from the realities that most people in the world for most of history have had to deal with, to, in a sense, become gods unto ourselves. All of our stuff makes it harder for the truth about human sin (our sin), our need of God, and our accountability to God and to our neighbor, to penetrate our minds, consciences, and wills.

Jesus once told a rich man who earnestly sought Jesus out that in order to be free--in order to grasp the outstretched hand of God that offers to change us from God's enemies to God's friends for eternity--he needed to sell all his possessions, give to the poor, and follow Jesus.

Had Jesus been approached by a poor man, He likely wouldn't have given the same prescription. To be sure, Jesus still would have told the poor man to follow Him, whether that meant hitting the road or following Jesus right where he already lived. But, it's likely that the poor man would have other things of which his soul and his life would have to be divested in order to allow him to take hold of Jesus.

But, as a member of the middle class (probably the lower middle class), I do stew about the power of stuff over my life and I stew over the power of materialism over our culture.

Materialism is a belief system, a religion that worships a false idol whose only desire to appeal to our human egos and desire for creature comforts.

As such, it drives a wedge between the God/Man Jesus Who came to save us from our sins--from our desire to "be like God" which materialism represents--and us, between life with God and us, between authenticity and us.

I think it's time for me to repent (again) of my materialism, to follow Jesus, and to clean out my closet for a trip to the local thrift store.

*I notice, with satisfaction, that Becker uses the Oxford comma.

**I wrote a song about the challenge of living with the possibility of calling us away from places where we've grown comfortable and happy, especially with the friends we've made. It starts out:
Feeling fine
Drinking wine
Spending time with my friends
Got no cares
When they're there
I hope it'll never end
But when you're talking with the Holy Spirit
He may give you a call and you'd better hear it
Following Jesus is a Jenga game
He's going to tear down your bricks
You won't be the same
(c) 2016, Mark Daniels

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

The Tracks of My Tears by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Here's a really old one. But it's a beautiful piece. I love Robinson's voice.

"I'm just a clown, ooo-yeah, since you put me down
"My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you"

Angst, baby, angst.

Let go of matter how accustomed you've grown to them

Jesus went to Galilee preaching the Message of God: “Time’s up! God’s kingdom is here. Change your life and believe the Message.” (Mark 1:14-15, The Message)

If you [God] kept a record of our sins,

    who could escape being condemned?  
But you forgive us,

    so that we should stand in awe of you. (Psalm 130:3-4) (Good News Translation)

God's promise is clear: Whoever calls on the Lord, now revealed definitively not just to Jews but to all people everywhere through Jesus Christ, will be saved (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Romans 10:13).

Let Christ conquer your sins, your errors in judgment, the hurt you've caused others and yourself, the ways you've failed to love God and others. Let Christ conquer you!

Apologize to those you've hurt. Make right what you can. (See here.) But do it all in the freedom of one who has given unconditional surrender to Christ and lives in the freedom of being God's child now and in eternity.

Today, turn from sin and turn to Christ, entrusting your life to Him.

Then do it again tomorrow.

And the next day.

For the rest of your earthly life.

You'll make mistakes. But, as you keep turning from sin and turn to Christ, your mistakes...your sins, won't master you.

Christ will master them for you.

You'll be learning to live in Christ and you'll know the truth of God's Word: "
Anyone who is joined to Christ is a new being; the old is gone, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Yay, God!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Food for though from Rushdie

Novelist Sir Salman Rushdie, you'll remember, was the subject of a fatwa, essentially a death sentence, by the Ayatollah Khomeini, supreme leader of Iran, for a novel many Muslims deemed critical of Islam.

(Thanks to Depraved Wretch, over on Facebook, for sharing this.)

Is this the optimal road trip across the Lower 48?

Highly geeky article. I'm not sure that I would identify a lot of these places as the landmarks of their states.

You can also optimize a trip in Europe, the author says.

It's neat, clear, and helpful

I was taught to use the Oxford comma. So, I have that bias. But I also think it gives clarity to a sentence containing lists.

Apparently, I'm not the only one. There's even going to be a debate about the Oxford comma this coming Friday.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Inheritance from a Father's Heart

Galatians 3:23-4:7
Several days ago, an article in The New York Times reported that Romans, chapter 1, in the New Testament of the Bible, calls for the execution of gays. Of course, this isn’t true.

I got upset. I even thought about writing a blog post or an email to The Times.

But as I reflected, I realized that reporting like this stems less from an anti-Christian bias in the media than from a larger society that is incurious about God, believes all religion is murderous, and thinks that all religions believe essentially the same things.

I told myself not to bellyache, because when I do that, I’m not doing what Jesus commissioned all believers to do: make disciples.

Our call as Jesus’ disciples isn’t to score debating points or vent our grievances.

Our call is to present the Gospel--the good news--of new life for all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus.

We’re to use our lives to help people to understand that Romans 1 does not call for the murder of gays; that all religions are not the same; and that while some people have perverted Christian faith through the years, it is not the same as Buddhism, Hinduism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Islam, the daily horoscope, or other religious systems.

Christian faith is about Jesus and Jesus, true God and true human, is different from anyone else who has ever walked on this earth.

Besides, we all have to remember that there are many who call themselves Christians just as ignorant of what it means to follow Jesus Christ as the most committed atheists. And I recognize that I myself can be ignorant and incurious about my faith in Jesus.

Let’s be clear though: Christian faith isn’t about what you know; it’s about who you know, the God revealed to all the world in the crucified and risen Jesus.

Knowing Jesus Christ is the defining passion of people committed to being His disciples.

Philippians 3:10-11 expresses this: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

As we get to know Jesus better and follow Him more closely, the Holy Spirit works faith in us and God changes us. We start to see things as Jesus sees them, see people as Jesus sees people, and share Jesus’ goal of saving our neighbors from sin, death, and hell, just as Jesus is saving us from these things.

Our lives begin to testify to the fact that God doesn’t want us to kill gays or anybody else.

The God we know in Jesus wants us to proclaim the same life-giving message of repentance for sin and faith in Christ that has saved us by grace through faith in Christ.

No flinching on calling sin sin.

No withholding of the good news that Jesus died and rose to make sinners into saints.

No good works required, just surrender to Jesus.

The good works and the changed lives won’t come from our trying to be good people, but from God transforming believers from bad people willing to be changed into Jesus people. Only Christianity proclaims this truth.

It’s a truth of which we need to be constantly reminded. Paul found that as early as 49 AD, first-generation Christians needed the same reminding.

Today is the fourth part of our series on the New Testament book of Galatians, Freedom in Christ.

Remember that shortly after Paul founded the churches in Galatia and the Holy Spirit had won Gentiles--non- Jews--to faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, some people we today call Judaizers came to them and said that Good Friday and Easter Sunday were wonderful, but that if they really wanted to be saved, they had to fulfill all the Old Testament dietary, ritual, sacrificial, and civil laws that Jesus said He already fulfilled when He died on the cross.

But this raises the question, what to do with all of those Old Testament laws? Were they all wrong? Paul tackles these questions in our second lesson, Galatians 3:23-4:7.

Please take a look at the start of the lesson. Paul begins with a history of the human race before the coming of Jesus: “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.”

Before it was possible to believe in the crucified and risen Jesus, Paul is saying, the whole human race was held in check by God’s law. Even people who had never heard of God’s law, which the Bible says, is written on every human heart [Romans 2:15].

C.S. Lewis explains this well in Mere Christianity where he says that while some cultures may say that you should only have one wife and others says you can have many, the moral code of no culture says that you can have your neighbor’s wife. And while different cultures may have different ideas of what constitutes murder, no culture says that murder is OK. Who taught us that these were the right values? No one needs to be taught God’s law; though we can’t keep it, we know it from birth.

And this law, Paul says, had an important role before Jesus came into this world. He says that before Jesus, the law was our guardian. That word, in the original Greek, is paidagogos, or pedagogue, a word that more literally means leader of a child.

In the first-century Roman world, a pedagogue was a household slave whose job it was to oversee the life and upbringing of wealthy men’s children. The pedagogue was there to keep the heirs safe and out of trouble, to preserve and prepare them for adulthood and their inheritance.

That, Paul says, was like the function of God’s law written on every heart and given to Israel through Moses.

The law paints a picture of what the kingdom of God would be like for all who turned from sin and had faith in Jesus. It would be a kingdom without idolatry, murder, lying, adultery, sexual promiscuity, or false witness, a kingdom of selflessness and love.

Once we trust in Jesus, we no longer need a pedagogue. We’re grown-ups who have claimed our inheritance in Jesus. By faith in Christ, we live in the kingdom of God.

No more anticipation; just participation!

When our children were growing up, we often prayed with them. Today, they pray for themselves, not because mom and dad expect it of them, but because as grown-ups, they believe in Jesus for themselves. We taught them about Jesus and, in a sense, we made them pray, worship, go to Catechism. We were God’s pedagogues. We were the Law. But then our children reached a point when they asked themselves, “Do I want life with Jesus?” By faith, they grasped the inheritance of life with Jesus that we pointed them to when we made them pray, worship, and go to Catechism.

So, Paul is saying, following Jesus isn’t about adding another item to your to-do list. It’s about taking your rightful inheritance through faith in Christ.

So, Paul says in Galatians 3:26-29: “ Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Paul goes on to write: “What I am saying is that as long as an heir is underage, he is no different from a slave, although he owns the whole estate. The heir is subject to guardians and trustees [the pedagogues] until the time set by his father. So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons [Paul deliberately uses this term because in the ancient world, only sons of the rich inherited the estate of the father. Through faith in Jesus, everyone who believes in Jesus--Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female--hold the position of sons, inheritors of life with God. Paul then says:], God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.’ So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.”

These are important words. They show that after Jesus, everything has changed!

In only a handful of verses in the Old Testament, God is called Father.

In popular Jewish culture, God was never called Father; it was deemed far too intimate a term for the Creator of the universe and the Giver of the Law.

But when Jesus taught His disciples, including you and me, how to pray, He taught us to refer to God as our Father.

Paul says that when we are able to approach God in this way, seeing Him as our Dad (a rough translation of the Aramaic word for father, abba, that Jesus uses in the Lord’s Prayer), the Holy Spirit bears witness that we no longer live under the constraints of God’s Law, His guardian, but are heirs set free from sin, death, and darkness.

When I was growing up, my father, though he only stood about 5'-8" tall, seemed like a giant to me. I was also a little frightened of him. When mom told me to do something, I might slack off. But when dad gave me an order, I hopped to. And though today, I think I might be able to take him, when he wants me to do something, I still hop to. But my motivation is different now. Back then, as a child, I obeyed my father because he was the law. Today though, as a grown-up, I obey his wishes because I'm grateful for all that he has done for me, for loving me.

A similar transformation in our relationship with our heavenly Father happens after we come to believe in Jesus Christ. Now, when we obey God’s Law, it isn’t to keep the guardian off our backs; it’s to express love and thanksgiving to the Father Who, through Jesus, has made us free to live as God’s grown and grateful children.

Nothing has changed in God’s Law. But it operates differently in our lives, as a guide to those who want to show love to God for Jesus.

Years ago, one of my sisters and I were talking on the phone. She was upset. A relative had told her that because she wasn’t tithing, giving the first 10% of her income to the work of Christ's Church in the world, she was going to hell. “What do you say?” she wondered.

"Think of John 3:16," I told her. "Jesus doesn’t say that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that all who believe in Him and tithe will be saved." It says that God so loved the world that all who believe in Him will be saved.

To be sure, God’s Law will call the person saved by God’s grace in Christ to tithe. And also to love God and love neighbor, to be kind to those hated by others, to keep sexual intimacy within the bounds of marriage between a man and woman, to make disciples, to refrain from covetousness and stealing, and to keep God’s other commands.

Gratitude for grace will incite us to desire the things God desires.

But we aren’t called to be God’s enforcers in the world.

And we certainly can’t perform our way into His forgiving grace.

All we can do is repent and trust in Jesus, which really just means to surrender to grace, to trust Jesus with our past, present, and future. That’s where freedom happens.

So, believers in Jesus, live in that freedom!
[This was shared with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio, during worship earlier today.]

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]

Sunday, June 12, 2016

After the Orlando killings, may we please weep together?

As a Lutheran Christian, I want to affirm this call by a Baptist Christian, Russell Moore, to all Christian congregations in the United States.

Our task as congregations or the Church at large is not to offer specific policy prescriptions in the face of another shooting tragedy, another instance of radical Islamic-based terrorism, though each of us as Christians committed to the Lord's call to be good citizens, may have our own individual opinions.

Above all, our tasks as Church boil down to a few:
  • to pray, 
  • to weep with the grieving,
  • to proclaim the truth about God revealed in Jesus Christ and the whole Bible which witnesses to Jesus, and
  • to make disciples for Jesus Christ.
The following paragraphs from the linked article are gold.
"Let’s call our congregations to pray together. Let’s realize that, in this case, our gay and lesbian neighbors are likely quite scared. Who wouldn’t be? Demonstrate the sacrificial love of Jesus to them. We don’t have to agree on the meaning of marriage and sexuality to love one another and to see the murderous sin of terrorism. Let’s also pray for our leaders who have challenging decisions to make in the midst of crisis. Let’s mobilize our congregations and others to give blood for the victims. Let’s call for governing authorities to do their primary duty of keeping its people safe from evildoers.

"And let’s bear patiently with those who jump the gun, in arguing about the politics on social media. For many of them, the jump to talk about gun control or Islam or military preparedness or any other issue isn’t so much about pontificating as it is about frustration. They, like all of us, want this horror to end, and they want to do something—even if that’s just expressing themselves on Twitter.

"As the Body of Christ, though, we can love and serve and weep and mourn. And we can remind ourselves and our neighbors that this is not the way it is supposed to be. We mourn, but we mourn in the hope of a kingdom where blood is not shed and where bullets never fly."
Read the whole thing.

[Thanks to Philip Daniels and Jeff Schultz for sharing a link to this important article over on Facebook.]

Jesus, the Only Path to Freedom

Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-24
Imagine for a moment that you’re driving to a big meeting in another state. You rent a car and are running ahead of schedule, breezing down the Interstate when, suddenly, traffic slows to a creep. You check Wayzer and it tells you that the freeway will have you creeping for a little while, but that in less than a mile, you should have smooth sailing. Suddenly though, everything stops.

As I say, you’re ahead of schedule. But you don’t like waiting! You remember that about three-tenths of a mile ahead, there’s an off-ramp, that can lead you on a back way to your destination. It will take longer than you’d planned. But you’ll be moving. You hate how out of control you feel when waiting in traffic jams.

You tear down the road on the berm and get to the exit ramp. You feel like you’re in charge of your trip again!

But as you speed down the two-lane country road, you look back to see that a hoist has moved the cause of the traffic jam out of the way and traffic on the Interstate is flowing again. “That’s okay,” you think to yourself...until you get about twenty miles down the road and see a sign: “One Lane Traffic Next 30 Miles.” And at the end of that stretch: “Detour, 5 Miles Ahead.” Your decision makes you over an hour late for your meeting.*

Our second lesson, Galatians 2:15-21, 3:10-14, has been described as “dense” by one New Testament scholar. I feel a bit dense when I read it!

But if we read it carefully, we see that God is telling us through the apostle Paul, who wrote these words back in about 49 AD, to not be impatient with God’s way of saving us through Christ, to not try to take control of our own lives after Christ has set us free to live--really live--in the freedom of God’s kingdom.

A brief reminder: Paul had founded the churches in Galatia. It had come as good news to this mostly non-Jewish (or Gentile) congregation that Jesus Christ saves from sin, death, and pointless existence all who turn from sin and trust that by the victory over death Jesus won when He died on the cross in our places, we have life with God and purpose that extends even beyond death! (It's good news for us, too, no matter how immune we may have become to it, the best news you'll hear this week or in your life!)

But shortly after Paul left, a group of people scholars call Judaizers came along and said, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, “What Jesus did on the cross and from the empty tomb is very cool. But if you really want to be saved for eternity, you need to obey Jewish ritual law.”

In other words, they were telling these new Christians that they really weren’t saved by God’s grace through their faith in Christ. That they needed to be good Jews in order to be saved.

The Judaizers were telling the Galatians that it didn’t matter if the apostles had taught them that Jesus was, in His own words, “the way and the truth and the life” and that no one comes to God except through faith in Him, they had a way that Jews had been using for centuries that, the Judaizers were sure, would make them righteous apart from Jesus.

They totally disregarded the power of the death of Jesus, morally perfect God in the flesh, taking our punishment for sin so that, after God the Father raised Jesus, He could give all who turn from sin and believe in Jesus His righteousness, His freedom from sin, death, and futility!

Paul must have felt a bit like I did on the rainy day after Ann and I had laid down zoyzsia grass in our lawn in Cincinnati and looked out to see a neighborhood kid rapidly pulling out clump after clump of the soggy sod and throwing it at a friend in fun. The freeing good news that Paul brought to the Galatians directly from Jesus Christ was being uprooted by preachers who thought that they knew better. The faith and future growth in faith of these newly minted Christians was being threatened by the allure of an off-ramp to hell.

We could spend hours on how Paul responds. We only have minutes. So, let’s take a look at just three points in this lesson from 30,000-feet, diving into a verse here and there.

The first thing Paul says that no one is made right with God (or made righteous) by keeping God’s law or by being a good person.

How often do we hear at funeral visitations, for example, “He has to be with God because he was such a good person”?

That’s wrong way thinking!

As Paul writes in Galatians 3:10-11 of our lesson: “...all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’ [That’s Deuteronomy 27:26 that Paul quotes there. Then he says, quoting Habakkuk 2:4;] Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by faith.’”

For centuries, Paul’s fellow Jews and, earlier, Paul himself, had thought that by doing good works, they were setting themselves free for life with God. And the fact is that there was nothing wrong with the law God gave His people through Moses. There was nothing wrong with the Jews' often ritualized obedience of those laws. As we stand on this side of Jesus, we no longer need the ritual/sacrificial law, but there's still nothing wrong with God's moral law--stated succinctly in the Ten Commandments.

The problem was that many of Paul's fellow Jews obeyed God's laws to the letter not because they were grateful for God's grace, but because they thought that by being good, God would be obligated to take them into His kingdom.

The truth was that by relying on their good works, they were really enslaving themselves to a system that ranked their worthiness in the eyes of God on their performance and they were moving away from God. They thought that they were in control.

Faith accepts that we aren’t in control and that, left to our own devices, we completely go the wrong way.

The second thing I want to surface from these words in Galatians is that we can only be made righteous by faith in the perfect Savior Jesus Who died in our place on the cross.

God’s law can’t save me.

But when I look at its demand that I love God totally, love my neighbor with the same passion with which I love myself, that I worship only God, that I not steal, gossip, covet, commit adultery, or use God’s name in vain, even when I only do these things within the imagination of my mind, I realize that I am a sinner in need of a Savior.

Christ makes right with God those who see their own sin and that Christ is the only way out of the eternal death my sin has earned us.

Paul writes in Galatians 2:19-20: “...through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

The third and final thing I want to emphasize is this: Watch out for the plausible sounding detour.

In our little scenario at the beginning, taking the delay-ridden back way seemed like the right thing. It made you feel good, made you feel that you were in charge. But it didn’t work out so well.

This is a lesson for us when it comes to life with God. If we think that we can rely on our goodness to save us from sin and death, to give our lives meaning and purpose, we are tragically and fatally mistaken!

There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death,” the Proverbs tell us more than once.

When, from the perspective of our sin-tinged reasoning, we think that we can make ourselves good enough to get by with God, we are definitely taking a wrong turn.

Think of it: The fact of the matter is that God only accepts people who are totally, completely, purely morally perfect into His kingdom. And God doesn’t grade on a curve. People who think that God will hear their prayers or use them in fulfilling ways because they’re nice guys are disappointed.

We would be in heap of trouble, eternally lost to God, eternally condemned in our sins, if it weren’t for one important fact. Paul puts it this way in Romans 5:6: “ just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”

When we trust in Jesus Christ and follow Him through this life, God makes us right with Himself. Jesus is the right road to follow.

At the end of our lesson, Paul summarizes this truth. Galatians 3:13-14: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.’ [That’s Deuteronomy 21:23. Then:] He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.”

The true heirs of Abraham and Sarah aren’t people who do good works, because all our good works done to impress God or other people are worthless.

The true heirs of Abraham and Sarah, the true children of God, are those who know that it’s only through faith in Christ that our lives are set on the right path, today and always.

*This little "thought experiment" was inspired by a personal story recounted by N.T. Wright in his commentary on Galatians. He used the story to make an entirely different point about the section of this lesson from Galatians 2. I love Wright!

[Blogger Mark Daniels is the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio.]