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 Fresh Ink

We are marked people.

Maybe you have a tattoo, maybe you don’t. Maybe you believe in tattoos, maybe you don’t.

Humankind has a long and complicated history with marking one another. It’s painful. Slavery has been alive in virtually every generation and I don’t think you can think of marks on human skin without considering the past.

Marking ourselves- that’s one thing. Marking another – that’s another thing entirely.

How are we marked? What is God’s link over time and history to tattoos and marking, and freedom?

This is the discussion of our week 3 podcast – Freedom in Fresh Ink. It’s a fun one. I hope you’ll join me around a warm beverage and give a listen.

And this week’s video study:

Open Your Eyes

Freedom in Promises and Plans: Order v. Life

Confession: I have a strong dislike for Robert’s Rules of Order.

A really, really strong dislike.

I can barely deal with a meeting that involves minutes, a secretary, and seconding things. I apologize ahead of time if this is your jam.

Once someone calls something “to order” and asks for a motion, I am literally itching to get out of my seat. It grates on every fiber of my being and some deep, internal part of me begins whispering and then yelling until I listen,

“Get out now!”

I jest, but some of us are not order people. I do much better in brainstorms, creative expression, and open spaces for contemplation and what-ifs.

Some of us are order people. The idea of someone being able to walk up to a microphone and spout off without concern for structure is terrifying. What in the world would happen if we just made changes to entire systems, like businesses and churches, as soon as someone came up with the idea? Okay, okay. I get why we need some strategic order in certain places. I’ll just let other people take care of all that.

Galatians 3:14-22 brings out all my meeting heebie-jeebies. Read that segment below and I think you’ll see what I mean:

 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

15To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

Paul addresses this section of Galatians in a very linear fashion with words like annul, ratification, and intermediary. It’s intimidating.

Here’s some good news:

Paul also uses the word promise seven times in Galatians 3:15-22. If you have your Scriptures open, go back and look for them.

They are little treasures in a difficult passage of big words.

v. 16 “Now the promises were made…”

v. 18 “…but God gave it to Abraham by a promise…”

v. 22 “…so that the promise…”

Those are just a few.

Precious promises – connected to a great and mighty plan:

Paul lays out layer by layer the covenantal promise God made to Abraham in Genesis 15, this great connection God made with one of His created, that Christ would come. This covenant was made so long ago, but never voided out.

Added to it was the law. Because we are trapped, Paul uses the term imprisoned by our sins (v. 22). God longed to give us more to connect each and every one of us to freedom. God defined sin in a linear way for us, a concrete way in the law.

Our little minds stop there. Ok, there’s a plan. There is order. Good to go. This was the problem the Judaizers had. They stopped short because order satisfied them…or so they thought.

Why are we so naturally content with order, when God’s promises are so much better?

Galatians 3:21 tells us all about God’s plan connected to His promises –

For if a law had been given that could give life…

No law, no rule gives life.

It gives order. It cannot give life.

Only Christ the intermediary, the go-between, the One who brings what is good and right…He brings Life.

Christ Jesus came into the world, not to abolish order, but to bring LIFE.

Would we want it any other way?

God loves order. He still gives us order in our households, in meetings, in all kinds of ways in this journey, but God’s plans and promises are bigger than order. We need order, but freedom only comes through life.

In what ways do we prop order up to be at the same level of God’s life-giving Word and forgiveness? In what ways do we, like the Judaizers, want the concrete idea for the moment, organization to our life, rather than letting God reveal His grand plan for our life over the expanse of our dusty journey on this earth?

Dear Lord, let us rest in Your plan today, rather than order. Let order have its place, but Christ, Our Savior, You are our Life and Light in every day. 


Discussion questions:

Let’s do something a little different today!

Look at a few of the Greek words found in our Scripture text today, as well as their possible translations below. Choose 1, 2, 3, or 4 of the words and answer the questions that follow. Consider the Scripture context.

athetei = Greek for sets aside – from a root word meaning to ignore, to slight, to make of no effect, or to break faith with

In what way would it be easy to set aside God’s covenant with for the law of circumcision? Consider the time line – when was the covenant given (Deuteronomy)? When was the law of circumcision given (Leviticus)? Verse 17 points out just how many years was between the covenant and the law. Do we follow laws from our forefathers 430 years ago?

kekyrōmenēn = Greek for having been ratified – from a root word meaning to confirm, assure, reaffirm, to make valid.

What amendments to the U.S. constitution have been changed over the years? As Paul says, “To give a human example…” Why is it so darn hard to change the amendments to the constitution? When things are written well, ratified by all the states, and then acknowledged over time again and again, you don’t just change it up…it takes consideration, a plan. What parts of God’s plan can you see in the writings of the Old Testament fitting together with the New Testament?

diathēkēn = Greek for a covenant – a will, a testament, an agreement between two parties (in the everyday use)

How is setting up strict rules and laws easier than following a covenant? What pitfalls are found in each?

mesitēs = Greek for a mediator – a go-between, an agent of the terms, a mediator of something good

Why would God go to the trouble to give us something/someone to mediate to begin with? How is order important even in God’s plan for an intermediary? Where in your life do you like order so much that you miss out on the Life and freedom God is giving you in our Mediator, Christ Jesus?