Restoring Belief: It’s right in front of you

Have you ever tried to get a van full of kids to school on time? Every day? For, like, 152 days out of the year?

Have you ever attempted to get someone under the age of 8 to a doctor’s appointment at a specific time when the receptionist already gave you a hard time for “fitting you into the schedule?”

About twice a week I have this conversation:

Child: Where are my shoes?

Me: Right there.

Child: Wait, where?

Me: Right by the shoe bucket.

Child: Where are my shoes?

Me: (Picking up single shoe from the pair) Right here.

Child: (Looking in the opposite direction at a Star Wars guy or the dog or cheese) I don’t see them.

Me: RIGHT HERE!!!!!

Children have a hard time seeing things, even when they are literally right in front of their face.

Literally…right there.

We aren’t much different though, at times, and the Galatians along with us.

Galatians 6:11 leaves me to imagine Paul, sitting down to pen the conclusion of the letter, with parental strokes of purpose:

See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

Large letters, right here, Galatians. Pay attention. This is stuff that matters. Focus.

We aren’t really sure why Paul wrote in large letters. Commentators tend to differ on the explanation for this verse. It was customary for Paul to use a scribe, or the fancy word for scribe, an amanuensis – the word manuscript comes from the same root in Latin – someone who takes dictation.

We find a similar verse in 1 Corinthians 16:21:

 I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand.

The scribe would normally have written the letters as Paul spoke, but it is unclear whether Paul wrote Galatians out as a whole himself, or whether he ended the letter in his own pen, which was more clearly true in other epistles, like Corinthians above, Colossians 4:18, and 2 Thessalonians 3:17.

Do we just follow what’s the norm for Paul? Is it possible that Paul wanted to write to the Galatians himself in particular? Does it matter?

I’m not sure it does, but it’s fun to contemplate. More importantly, when do we need things written in large letters?

To some degree, I think the Galatians, just like us, needed Paul to get in their face, to hold their cheeks in his hands, so to speak, look directly in their eyes and say –

This is the Gospel. Right here. Right in front of you.

Don’t miss it for all the other junk laying around. Don’t be distracted by the Star Wars guys and the cheese of today. Shift your eyes a little to the left and you’ll see freedom was there all along.

You see, the Galatians never lost their freedom. God’s freedom just is. God’s Gospel is reality for the believer.

But in our frantic search for what to believe, we can miss what God has already given us.

The Gospel is simple. This is belief:

Jesus saves. Jesus frees.

Mark 16 finds a group of women, standing before a tomb they thought had sucked up their freedom. Lord have mercy, it makes me weep to read about it. Mark 16:6-7:

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

Don’t be alarmed. He is not here. He has risen!

He was risen, even when they failed to see it. The angel wrote in large letters for them, “He told you so.”

Freedom is the same. He told us so:

Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16)

So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36)

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. (Matthew 6:31-32) 

 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever…(John 14:16)

Take these verses and tuck them into your heart.

You are free.

His promises are right in front of our faces.

Rejoice in the One who sets you free indeed! Walk out that door, two shoes on your feet or barefoot and too slap happy with freedom to notice. Freedom reigns in your heart, and in your lives.

See what large letters I write this to you:

You are free. 

Discussion questions:

What do you or your children usually miss that is right in front of your face?

Who in your life reminds you most often of freedom, rather overtly or by the freedom they live in each day?

Which Bible verse speaks freedom into your life (from any in this study or another in your heart)?

Walk barefoot on the pavement and take a moment to praise God for eyes-wide-open, large-letter freedom.

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Restoring the Garden: Better than good

Our family was driving back from Topeka, Kansas a few weeks ago and we passed one of the most ingenious inventions I have ever seen-

a greenhouse shed.

It was a little shed you put in your backyard, but with greenhouse walls. Ta-da!

Maybe not genius, but I thought it was pretty darn smart.

I wanted one. I want to grow my own stuff year-round. I want to eat so local it resides in my backyard. I want red peppers at my fingertips, a lemon tree in a pot, and zucchinis to zoodle to my heart’s content.

I had big dreams looking at that shed.

However, my earthly reality is that it takes all my energy to keep my kids and dogs alive, so growing anything else sounds fun, but plants would likely go unattended.

But that pull is there. We all have a pull to the garden…or at least the farmer’s market. 😉

We have a pull to fresh stuff, better stuff for us, even when we cave to the 9pm giant bowl of ice cream calling our name from the freezer in the basement.

Doritos are fine when you’re 15, but then you turn 24 and realize that fresh has something processed never could offer. We have the pull to something good, not just something there.

Galatians 6:6-10 affirms this natural pull to desiring good, even when we’re fully aware of the imperfect:

Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

There is a natural reaping and sowing of good in life. God designed actions to matter. Karma isn’t a thing, but reaping and sowing is. Sin will have consequences. God is not mocked. He is the author of this whole universe, so He knows best how it’s supposed to roll.

The problem is that good doesn’t always prevail in the now. The good we are drawn to, doesn’t always work out. Sowing and reaping happen, but there’s a whole realm of goings on that we do not see. Good intentions ruined by darkness. Sin soiling the purest of hearts – good discombobulated outside the garden of paradise God created for us so long ago.

Paul isn’t making an argument for karma with sowing and reaping-

Do good, good comes

Do bad, bad comes

If life worked like that, you’d think we’d all have it figured out a long time ago.

Instead, he’s concerned with where we put our trust. Where we hope to find good to begin with.

Look at Galatians 6:8 again:

For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

A little bit better is doing good, so that good comes to you.
Freedom is Hope…knowing God is good and that Good lives in us in the Spirit.

The Circumcision Party, the Judaizers, the Freedom Stealers – whatever you want to call them, of Paul’s day – they wanted the Galatians to reap and sow of the flesh, to reap and sow in this kind of Christian karma…

“I do what I’m supposed to (get circumcised). God will love me enough to give me Jesus.”

Paul pleads with the Galatians not to accept this corrupted version of Truth…

We sow and reap the Holy Spirit. End of story. Freedom in Christ. Reap away, because in Christ, it always looks like the Spirit at work –

Love becomes greater love in Christ

Darkness becomes light in Christ

Sin becomes forgiveness in Christ

Does it look like karma-style fair?

No, and that’s what trips us up every time. Shouldn’t we have to do something, answer for something, be rewarded for something?

Paul’s answer –

Freedom to take the opportunity to do good.

Good is better, yes. I love good and I’m sure Paul loved good. Be kind to a neighbor, say nicer things in traffic, help a widow, all that and more. You would never find Paul shutting down opportunities for good. Evil is just that, evil. It’s ugly and we want to turn away from it. So, we teach and we learn and we grow (Galatians 6:6). But all of that only happens by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word of Life.

Good has nothing on the Holy Spirit.

With hope in the Spirit we’re more than a little better, we’re at the ready, we’re hopeful, we’re faithful, because He is at the ready, hopeful, and faithful.

Freedom, it’s so much better than good.

Hearts wide for Him, reaping and sowing, and stretching our hearts. Freedom in Christ.

Discussion questions:

What is your favorite thing to grow yourself or to find at the farmer’s market or the produce aisle?

When have you heard the concept of karma used in everyday life? What appeal is there for do good, receive good back, do bad, receive bad back?

What ways do we actually begin to let the Spirit do its work in us? In what ways does the Spirit well up to bring good from us to our neighbor?

Shame-lifter, burden-bearer, Savior, Restorer

Shame does crazy things to us.

It keeps us in the dark, so much so that we can’t even see clearly for our own selves, much less someone else.

Shame stacks on itself also. I have shame from a past sin; I hide it deep within, trying to keep it even from those who love me most, packing it down, deep inside. This packing creates a new space. A space where new sin can come in and we won’t even see it. We’ll be blindsided. Blindsided by addiction, or depression, anxiety, or just a soft chipping away, separating us from people we love for fear they unravel the truth –

we aren’t worthy.

Or we swing the other way, holding our heads high, proclaiming in a thousand tiny ways that we know better, we have at least this part together, we’re just a tiny bit better than “them” at least.

I know I’m making this sound dramatic. Surely life isn’t this desperate, shame this commanding of our every day. And it isn’t, if you know Christ, and it is…just a little, anyway. Can you imagine life not knowing Him? Maybe you do life without Him.

Maybe you know life with no shame-bearer. If so, this blog is especially for you.

This is the language of Paul in Galatians 6:1-5 – Christ in our lives, one another sharing Christ’s love through the work of the Spirit, in order to put shame where it belongs…out of our hearts and on the cross.

Read Galatians 6:1-5 below:

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. 

Paul’s burden bearing is most often associated with suffering and the struggle of our brothers and sisters in Christ. And this is most certainly true. We are called to and we do bear with others in their suffering and their rejoicing, via the work of the Spirit (see Galatians 5) and Romans 12:15:

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

There is so much hope in Life Together.

But there is a darker side to suffering and I think Paul addresses this in Galatians 6. Sin happens. We are all sinful, all of us. Every one – you, me, and the guy sitting next to you.

God gives us one another for restoration.

We hear the grace of Christ, not from a sacred orb or a billboard we drive by, but the living, breathing person God puts in front of us. The Word does the work. The Word of God, in the Bible tells the Truth of God’s love and forgiveness, but you, my friend, are the one who changes someone’s life. It is in you the same Spirit Paul speaks of in Galatians 5 inhabits, to reach out to someone struggling in sin.

Galatians 6:3 is crystal clear –

If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.

We are not better than anyone. We have no less shame than the next person. It is so easy to hide the dark stuff, but we carry the burden of another by sharing who we really are, where we have really been, rather than the spruced up version.

Freedom in Christ looks like reaching across to someone, being real, and helping them hand that burden to Christ, because we know we’ve messed up plenty in our own time.

Greek for restoration in this passage is katartizete – to fit together, to put in its proper place, to get to its proper destination.

We aren’t here in this life for “a little bit better.” We are here for fitting together as the people of God, in the place and time God has put each of us.

Shame has no place. It doesn’t fit. Instead, God gives us restoration to free us from the weight of the burdens we each hold, whether it’s past or present.

“What are you going through?”

“What is Satan throwing in front of you today?”

“Let’s pray together.”

It is in these moments God works restoration through His Spirit, around His Word.

Dr. Curt Thompson, in his book, Soul of Shame, says it like this…

“Shame is not something we “fix” in the privacy of our mental processes; evil would love for us to believe that to be so. We combat it within conversation, prayer, and other communal, embodied activities…” (pg 17-18)

Be free – free to be a part of a life with other sinful people, just trying their best, but rejoicing that Jesus Christ fills in all the gaps.

Be free – free to love enough to share hard stuff, to lift someone else’s hard stuff and help them hand it to Christ.

Be free. Galatians 6:4-5 says we test our own actions, carry our own load. It sounds contradictory, but this is the walk of faith – examining myself, confessing my sin and shame, letting Christ wash it away, so that I can help you do the same.

It is for Freedom Christ has set us Free.

 

Discussion questions:

What methods does shame use to keep us from confession?

Tell us about a time you were able to bear someone else’s burden of sin, whether it led to confession or not? What was hard about it? What was good?

Confess one thing to a Christian brother or sister – even a seemingly tiny thing – within the safety of life together and grab ahold of the freedom of forgiveness.