Refusing to struggle alone: We have a place

Once upon time I had a weird tropical illness known as Dengue Fever.

I could explain what it is, how it went down, and all that business, but the important information is that I was down and out for a good three months. First, it was very scary. Then, it was painful. Mostly, it was exhausting.

Have you ever had an ailment, an illness, even a heartbreak that left you weak, weary, and in need of help?

Paul has been there. Read Galatians 4:12-15 to find out more:

Brothers, I entreat you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong. 13 You know it was because of a bodily ailment that I preached the gospel to you at first, 14 and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. 15 What then has become of your blessedness? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me.

Wow. That’s commitment.

We don’t know what Paul’s ailment was, and I think that is rather purposeful. God puts things in Scripture for a purpose, but He also leaves them out for just as much purpose, I believe.

Some of you have been there. Some of you are there every day with chronic pain, a current crisis, or an ongoing difficult relationship – an ailment is sometimes visible, and sometimes hidden way deep, underneath the layers of life, that only the individual can see.

I want to assure you that God sees. God knows.

In the context of Galatians 4, Paul uses the existence of his ailment and the prior relationship he had with the Galatians to remind them of who he is and the truth he speaks in, the gravity of the relationship that binds them together. Why should the Galatians believe Paul’s message of freedom over the Judaizers? In the early chapters of Galatians, Paul speaks to his authority given by God to proclaim truth, and here Paul speaks to the relationship of the Body of Christ that holds a certain weight in sharing the truth.

There is freedom in relationships that can share truth, isn’t there? Praise the Lord for the Body of Christ.

However, there is another layer of freedom here that I don’t want to miss:

We don’t have to struggle alone.

Yes, we live in this Body of Christ, the church on earth, and speak truth to each other, hear the truth of Christ’s sacrifice for us together, but we also struggle together.

Everyone has a place – weak, strong, in poverty and in wealth, in joy and in sorrow.

When I was sick, I couldn’t do anything, and so others did it for me. People took care of my kids, fed my husband, sat and read me magazines, prayed for me, and gave me hope. These may have seemed like small kindnesses, but they spoke great mercy into my life.

Paul honors what the Galatians have done for him, what kindness they have shown him –

and though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me… (Galatians 4:14)

…if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:15)

It’s graphic and beautiful.

We so often think of the challenges of relationship, the dynamics of relationship that burden us in this imperfect life together. Here, Paul honors the freedom of giving our lives to one another, through the mercy found in Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:13-16 speaks about God’s grace and mercy, and in that freedom, extending that grace out through our relationship with one another:

Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, 14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. 15 For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 

God works freedom on the cross once and for all. God proclaims freedom to each of us day by day, in one another, through His Spirit alive and well in us.

We do not struggle alone. There is no scorn here. No shame, no “less than” in our weakness.

When we are weak, then He is strong.

This is not the way of the world, so we may need to proclaim it to one another daily, hourly, moment by moment –

“No struggling alone.”

“I’m here.”

“God is with us. Christ is with us.”

When a brother or sister feels the yoke of aloneness, we reach in and help them lift it off in the name of Christ.

In it together. All of it.


Discussion questions:

What ailments have you had in this life? What needs did you have and how did God help meet them?

When have you felt alone in the struggles of life?

When have you seen God work through the Body to reach more and more people through someone’s ailment or struggle?

Freedom in Trust: Tearing off the masks

What kind of masks do people wear?

I can barely deal with backstabbers, with people who have chameleon qualities, acting one way around one person and another way around another. Please tell me I’m not the only one.

What kind of falsehoods do people put on to make us believe that they are trustworthy and then later we find that they are the furthest from someone we’d want to put our trust in? Why are some people so good at this, so convincing? What issues do we have deep within us that we are so easily fooled?

In Galatians 2:3-10 we see the contrast between the way the Church on earth was meant to be and what happens because of sin in the world. Do not be mistaken: The church is always worth being a part of, but Paul introduces us to one of the hardest parts of life in a community of believers – false brothers:

But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. 10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.

There are all kinds of people in this story, but it comes down to people who are trustworthy and people who are not. You would think it’s clear-cut, but it never is. People who wear masks don’t also wear sandwich boards that say, “False brother here!” (Bummer.) Instead, the masks serve a purpose: they easily fool.

Some false brothers, people pretending to be brothers in other words, pretending to be affectionate, to only want what’s best for everyone, slipped into the church in Paul’s time and demanded circumcision. What demands do people make on others in the church, today, that seem unfair? How can we spot a “false brother” in our midst without setting off Cold-War-style panic in our local congregations?

The today’s text in Galatians gives us three clues:

False brothers offer false gospel.

It’s important to remember that the Gospel never demands, it invites. Paul calls out the “spies” for bringing a form of gospel that brought slavery, not freedom. Where are the suggestions of our brothers leading people? Deeper into the Word? Filled with peace and grace in the Gospel of Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, or filled with fear for acceptance by God or by man?

True Gospel reaches a hand into the pit and pulls us out from the muck; it does not stand above the pit and point out our issues.

Psalm 103:1-4 proclaims this Gospel truth:

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and all that is within me,
    bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
    who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
    who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy... (emphasis added)

False brothers sidle up to power.

Galatians 2:6 points out the distinction –

…those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.

These false brothers were looking for power wherever they could find it, real or “seeming” influence. That screams falsehood if I’ve ever seen it. People sliding on over to bend the ear of anyone that seems important enough. Yikes. Lord, may we not be fooled.

The Jerusalem leaders, thankfully, came through with wisdom and humility rather than power – a mark of true leadership in the Lord. See the leadership’s response in Galatians 2:9:

…and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me…

The leadership perceived grace – true Gospel, entrusted to Paul and entrusted to Peter, indeed entrusted to all of God’s people.

False brothers forget that it’s a group effort.

If we’re identifying true Gospel v. falsehood, it’s pretty easy to tell who’s a team player. The person who constantly brings up their agenda, their desires, their needs, rather than others’, while may simply be immature, probably shouldn’t be given a giant measure of trust with ministry, leadership, or care in the church, but rather be put in places where teaching can still occur regularly.

Paul and Barnabas are blessed to share the Gospel with the Gentiles, Peter and others are blessed to share the Gospel with the Jews- all entrusted with the Gospel of Jesus Christ (v. 7). Different contexts, ministry together. In Galatians 2:10, Paul identifies that they all have a common goal – remembering the people who need an extra measure of care. That looks, sounds, and feels a whole lot like real Gospel.

False brothers will find their way in, but in Jesus’s words:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16 

It’s a challenge, but we cling tight to the Word. Somewhere along the way we just have to trust. Trust God to be in control and guide us. Trust Christ to fill in the gaps where we are unsure. The best way I have found to combat this struggle is this:

Look for where freedom can be given in our fellowship, rather than following fear.

More freedom, less fear among the faithful. Always in and by the power of Christ Jesus, our Lord.


Discussion questions:

What demands do people make on others in the church, today, that seem unfair?

How can we spot a “false brother” in our midst without setting off Cold-War-style panic in our local congregations? How do we deal with even these people gently and with grace?

Practically speaking – how do we identify areas of fear in our local congregations? If you have any ideas on how to alleviate fears for people and bring more freedom into our congregations, please share!

Women Encouraging Women, an I Love My Shepherd Mission Trip

We need each other.

It’s a fact. It’s a reality. God created us for this life together. We could try to go it alone, but we quickly find out it’s miserable, hard, and more than a little sad. We need encouragers, cheerleaders, listeners, insight givers, discerners, and people who love us, just for being us.

It’s time to put that belief into action in a way that I Love My Shepherd hasn’t done before.

It’s time to go.

There are women next door who need encouragement and there are women across the globe who need encouragement. I proposed lemonade parties for our neighbors. Now I’m proposing we take it wider.

I would like to invite each of you to join my friend Sue and me for the Women Encouraging Women Mission Trip to Haiti, January 18-25, 2018. We’re partnering with Ministry in Mission to join together to step outside our normal lives and learn from someone else’s.

The poverty in Haiti is world famous. Life in Haiti is far less privileged than ours and many women and families work hard just to survive day-to-day. Haiti is also so much more. Its people are heartfelt, creative, and beautiful. Opportunities like this help us to look outside of what we know and understand from our tiny corner of the earth and see through another precious child of God’s.

We are looking for women to come with us, to encourage women just like yourself, to spend time crafting with village women, to visit elderly women, and to do Bible study with local young women and mamas there.

The primary purpose of this trip is relationship, encouragement.

We won’t be getting anything done beyond that – the needed gift of encouragement – one woman to another.

The cost is $1600 for airfare, lodging, and food. You can find all kinds of details and contact information for questions in this handy PDF –
Women Encouraging Women 2018
I hope you’ll prayerfully consider joining us in the journey. Sometimes it’s not the right season or God’s answer is not right now. Sometimes His answer is- “Let’s do this.”
Let’s go be those hands and feet of the Gospel, in our neighborhoods and across the sea.