Downgrading Grace

Scripture Focus: Galatians 2.21
I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!

From John: Over the past few years, grace seems to have been downgraded, not just in soteriology, but as a mode of life. Prideful smugness is preferred. Slights and insults are the valued verbal currency. Self-righteous superiority, bluster, boasting, and striving are qualities our culture chases in our leaders. Yet Christ calls to us with simple grace. Come. Be clean. Come. Be with me. Come. Be healed. Come. Be made righteous.

May we confront our graceless culture with grace.

Reflection: Downgrading Grace
By John Tillman

Grace, once gained, can be forgotten and replaced with a smug and damaging form of self-righteousness. We can forget too easily from what Christ saved us and at what cost. This is a dangerous form of amnesia and Paul will not allow the Galatians or even the prominent leaders of the church to fall into it.

Paul shows us a model for biblical confrontation in Galatians. He is direct. He is personal. He seeks restoration.

Galatians may not seem as stridently corrective as some of the passages from the letters to the Corinthians, but Galatians is the only letter of Paul to contain all correction and no praise. Paul gets straight to the point and does not hesitate. He confronts the Galatians head on telling them that he is amazed they are abandoning the gospel of grace through which they were saved. And he relates his story of boldly opposing Peter to call out this downgrade of grace and cheapening of the gospel.

Paul got personal with the Galatians and with Peter. When confronting them about favoritism, Paul quoted Peter’s testimony from Acts 10.34 saying “God shows no favoritism.” When he confronted Peter, he discussed personal practices and details with Peter, telling him exactly what Paul considered to be wrong about what Peter was doing.

Paul never lost sight, even in a corrective mode, of the unity and grace for all found in Christ. Paul’s often-quoted passage about being “crucified with Christ, and I no longer live but Christ lives in me,” demonstrates a shared life in Christ and is a part of his dramatic speech to Peter on his visit to Antioch.

Christ’s sacrifice is at the center of Paul’s argument against any other action being any part of salvation. The sufficiency of faith in Christ cannot be reduced. Paul would not allow the council at Jerusalem or Peter or the Galatians to downgrade grace through faith. When we downgrade grace through faith, we chip away at the cross of Christ, making it an additive to our life rather than the sole source of our life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. — 2 Corinthians 4.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 12-13 (Listen 5:53)
Galatians 2 (Listen 3:44)

This Weekend’s Readings
Numbers 14 (Listen 6:15), Galatians 3 (Listen 4:39)
Numbers 15 (Listen 5:09), Galatians 4 (Listen 4:13)

Read more about On Surrender
What things inside stand as barriers between you and God’s complete possession of all that you are?

Read more about Supporting Our Work
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Defender of Grace

Scripture Focus: Galatians 1.9-10, 23-24
9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! 
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. 

23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me. 

Reflection: Defender of Grace
By John Tillman

Paul was an elite member of one of the most powerful factions of Judaism—a “pharisee of Pharisees.” He had studied under Gamaliel, one of the greatest scholars of his day. He was commissioned by the religious authorities to act on their behalf to defend the law.

It is from this charge that he turns to become the defender of grace. Paul converted from being a disciple of law to an apostle of grace. His conversion stands as one of the repeated touchstones of his teaching, his testimony, and his reasoning.

As much as Paul knew and loved the law, he knew that life did not come from the law—death did. Chares Spurgeon, in a sermon on Galatians, said, “…but while the law is glorious, it is never more misapplied than when it is used as a means of salvation.” Spurgeon continues:

“It was written on stone; as if to teach us that it was a hard, cold, stony law—one which would have no mercy upon us, but which, if we break it, would fall upon us, and dash us into a thousand pieces. O ye who trust in the law for your salvation! Ye have erred from the faith; ye do not understand God’s designs; ye are ignorant of every one of God’s truths.” 

Spurgeon concludes that the law was a tool of God to teach us to receive the better offering of God’s grace:

“It was intended by its thunders to crush every hope of self-righteousness, by its lightning to scathe and demolish every tower of our own works, that we might be brought humbly and simply to accept a finished salvation through the one mighty Mediator who has “finished the law, and made it honorable, and brought in an everlasting righteousness,” whereby we stand, complete before our Maker at last, if we be in Christ.”

We make a mistake when we think of “The Bible” as “the Law” that we must keep. The Law is in the Bible but the Bible is not the Law. The Bible contains the law as a seed. What grows from that seed, through the husbandry of Christ’s sacrifice, is the flower of grace. The Bible is the story of Christ’s flowering, fragrant, and beautiful work of grace.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
My mouth shall recount your mighty acts and saving deeds all day long; though I cannot know the number of them. — Psalm 71.15

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 11 (Listen 5:22)
Galatians 1 (Listen 3:05)

Read more about Grumbling and Doubt
No matter how deep the hole we are grumbling at the bottom of, God’s arm is not too short to reach us and lift us out.

Read more about Paul’s Stance on Gentleness
May we tear down arguments and strongholds, but never people for whom Christ died.

The Patience of Job

Scripture Focus: James 5.11
11 As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Reflection: The Patience of Job
By Erin Newton

Some English versions use the phrase, “the patience of Job.” Really? If you remember the book of Job, patience is typically not the description you had in mind. The Old Testament story of Job reveals a man in the midst of great peril and distress. He lays out his petition before God, pleading for an answer, “Why me? What did I do to deserve such suffering?” Job’s words are tense and angry. He speaks openly through his pain and spares no words.

We can look at the end of Job’s story and see that God restores him once more. We might call that “patience,” but it looks very different than what we would expect.

There is another story of Job that you might not know. The Testament of Job is a Greek version of Job’s story and was not included in the Protestant Canon. This story emphasizes the patient, long-suffering nature of Job and includes a message from Job to his children to be patient, for “patience is better than anything.”

Both stories about Job reveal the essence of patience: keeping the faith. Despite the bitterness of Job’s words in the canonical book, he proclaims, “My ears had heard of you, but now my eyes have seen you.” Patience turns hearsay faith into realized faith.

Patience has been a theme of James 5. Be patient like a farmer waiting for the Lord. Be patient in your interactions with one another. Be patient like the prophets who spoke of promises and days that they would not live to see.

What is patience? Patience is perseverance. Patience is the long and steady endurance of faith. Patience is waiting for God to answer your prayer. Patience is waiting for the healing of the sick. Patience is asking God to show a miracle and waiting years to see it happen.

The trials and struggles of life will test our perseverance. Our patience with ourselves, one another, and God will wear thin. We will speak angry words in our prayers and speak judgments on our neighbors. James understands the reality of the difficulty of patience.

James’ final words are a picture of patience that wanes during trials. When perseverance fails, a person wanders from the faith. James knows the amount of patience required for one to seek out their lost friend. Yet, we consider it a blessing to persevere for Christ and our neighbors.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Small Verse
The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow a light has shone. — Isaiah 9.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 10 (Listen 4:11)
James 5 (Listen 3:01)

Read more about Job’s Christlikeness
Job is an early “type” or example of Jesus. He demonstrates or proves God’s righteousness through suffering and death.

Read more about Lamenting With Job
Lament is frequent and important in the Bible and should be in our lives as well.

To Whom We Draw Near

Scripture Focus: James 4.7-8
7…Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you…

Reflection: To Whom We Draw Near
By John Tillman

The writing in James is tight, terse, and tense. Its short, pithy quotables, at first glance, seem disconnected from one another. But, just like in the book of Proverbs it is sometimes compared to, larger thoughts are developing and each thought shines a light on the next.

James copies the style of Proverbs often—writing a balanced statement of a good on one side, contrasted with its opposite. In James 4, his balanced statements help to contrast living as a “friend of the world” rather than a “friend of God.”

We want to be a friend of God and of the world too but James reminds us that is impossible. We are called to have a single love and to be faithful to God alone, satisfying ourselves in God and clinging to him to the exclusion of all others. If we maintain a polyamorous relationship that includes our worldly, fleshly desires, God, in response, will distance himself from us.

James calls this being double-minded rather than single-minded. Our conflicts, struggles, anger, and rage come from attempts to achieve our worldly desires—seeking wealth, seeking power, seeking pleasures. We want God’s blessings to spend on devilish pursuits. When we choose this, we are choosing enmity rather than friendship with God, war rather than peace.

We live on Earth which rightfully belongs to God, but  “the world” is the powers, systems, and spiritual forces that usurp God’s rule and authority. We are aliens and strangers in the world, not citizens. God does not acknowledge dual citizenship with a rebellious world. We cannot keep one foot in two kingdoms that are at war.

James recommends that we choose our enemies carefully, for when we choose our enemies, we are also choosing our friends. Choosing to be near to the world is choosing to be far from God. Resisting the devil will cause him to flee from us. Coming near to God will cause him to come near to us. The distance of the devil and the nearness of God are affected by our responses.

We must choose whom to resist and whom to draw close to. May we draw close to God and be safely kept in his hand. We need not fear having the world as an enemy when we have God as a friend.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Come and listen, all you who fear God, and I will tell you what he has done for me. — Psalm 66.14

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 9 (Listen 3:20)
James 4 (Listen 2:25)

Read more about Perishable and Imperishable Kingdoms
There are kingdoms of this world that are passing away. These earthly kings…ask us to shed others’ blood by endorsing, normalizing, or embracing violence.

Read more about Humble in Suffering
Keep our minds sharp and aware—awake to the dangers and threats of our enemy the devil. 

Becoming Firstborns

Scripture Focus: Numbers 8.16
16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman.

Reflection: Becoming Firstborns
By John Tillman

Levites were set apart among those set apart. God makes covenants, within covenants, within covenants.

God promised Eve, and all humanity, that her son, the snake-crushing savior, would come. (Genesis 3.13-15) Within that covenant, God promised Abraham that his children, the Israelites, would bless the entire world, (Genesis 12.2-3) becoming a priestly nation. (Exodus 19.5-6) Within that covenant, God set apart the Levites.

God chose the entire tribe of Levi as the “firstborn” of Israel to be dedicated to him. Dedicating the firstborn to the Lord was common. Usually, an animal was sacrificed and the family would take the child home as normal. But two things are unusual. Levi was not Israel’s firstborn—Reuben was. Also, life for the tribe of Levi does not go on as normal. They serve and are set apart in a unique way. 

God routinely calls those born out of order or in the wrong family to be his and act as his firstborn. Hannah’s firstborn son, Samuel, was not a Levite (1 Samuel 1.24-28) but he served in the Tabernacle for life and God called him by name. (1 Samuel 3.10) Mary’s firstborn son, Jesus, was not a Levite but he was God’s son (Luke 9.35) and was made a priest for eternity. (Hebrews 6.19-20) Jesus sacrificed himself to create a new Tabernacle into which all of us are called. (John 2.19-22; 1 Peter 2.4-5)

Jesus, our high priest, is the “firstborn” of creation and from among the dead. (Colossians 1.15-18) He is the one at the center of all of the covenants. God’s covenants narrowed, becoming more and more exclusive, until Jesus. Then the covenant exploded in exponential expansion.

In Jesus, we join a ministry greater than the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple of Solomon, or the Temple of Jesus’ day. All can now enter because the way has been opened. Despite being born in the wrong order and the wrong family, we are adopted through Jesus. Despite being unworthy, we are judged by the worth of Jesus. Despite being sinful, we are seen as sinless in Jesus. 

Jesus makes us his Levites—his priests and ministers. We are set apart in a unique way. Life does not go on as normal for us.

As servants of the snake-crushing priest, we have no battle to fight. Only a victory to announce.  We have no enemies to defeat. Only conscripted soldiers to set free.

We are set apart to proclaim that outsiders can become insiders and orphans can become firstborns.

Video:The Last Will Be First” — The Bible Project

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
God looks down from heaven upon us all, to see if there is any who is wise, if there is one who seeks after God. — Psalm 53.2

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Numbers 8 (Listen 3:37)
James 3 (Listen 2:38)

Read more about If You Can’t Say Anything Good
When we learn to control our tongues, we can bring great teaching, healing and joy to many.

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