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!

Ministry Moment: Connecting Kids

Making church a place where kids find grace is a challenge.

We call church a holy place, a place set apart, a place of awe and, yes, reverence.

There’s a reason we don’t play tag by the altar (although my kids have tried!), we don’t wear sweatpants there (most of the time), and we don’t smash Cheetos in our hands and rub them in the carpet (again, we’ve tried this, it’s not a good idea).

We could do all those things, but we normally don’t.

For us, these concepts seem pretty straightforward, and have a lot of wiggle room, but for a kid, this might make the church seem full of a whole lot of rules, and more must’s and should’s than we really intended.

It doesn’t mean we should start holding relay races in the sanctuary (although you could), but it does mean that we can take an extra measure of care to help kids know that the place we call church is full of sweet gospel grace, a place they want to be, a place they can be themselves and be valued just as they are- tiny little sinner/saints.

So, beyond teaching children that the church is people, more than it’s a place, what can we do?*

Kids often want to see and do, and sometimes we just need ideas in order to help them do just that; to feel like a part of something, an honored member of our church culture, not a lesser member of the Body of Christ.

Today, we’re going to get into kids’ heads and think about what they would like, where we can intersect their lives with the Gospel message so that they can hear it with three simple hands-on ideas.

Idea #1 – The Luther Rose or Cross Lego Challenge

So, if you haven’t heard, it’s almost Reformation time. This year has the bonus of being the 500th anniversary, so there’s lots of celebrations happening. You don’t have to be Lutheran to appreciate Luther, who essentially founded the modern protestant church. Luther created this really cool symbol to give an accessible overview of his theology. It makes me think of modern day graphics we design, based on our church mission statements. You could also have kids design a lego cross of any kind and see the awesome ideas they come up with!

What kid doesn’t love legos? Any opportunity to use them at church is a good one. This also helps us not compartmentalize church and Jesus. When kids play with their toys while considering theology and Christ’s gifts to us, they also learn that Jesus doesn’t just exist in one place, but is in our whole lives.

This challenge is organized by making a sample, deciding on a time period for the Lego challenge, announcing the Lego challenge turn-in date, and creating a display area for everyone to see the cool creations the kids make. I would suggest a prize for participation that is also kid friendly – an ice cream coupon, hot cocoa and chips packet, or a devotional book and cool pens; Maybe the grand prize winner gets a graphic novel Bible or Christian T-shirt. Prizes aren’t necessary, but they say – “hey, you took time and effort in this, thank you.”

I’ll even write the announcement for you – “Hey kids! Can you make the Luther’s Rose with Legos? Can you design a bold and colorful cross to share the message of Jesus? Design and build the Luther’s Rose or your cross by (insert date) and bring it into the church office. We’ll display it (insert location), so that everyone can see and hear about God’s great love for them.”

Learn more about Luther’s Rose and see a sample here

This guy created a large template! That’s some cool dedication. I believe he also has a blog called Godbricks. Very fun.

Idea #2 – Design Your Own Church Building Challenge

Obviously I like challenges. 😉 Kids do too. They say action and excitement in their world, and even if they never turn a “product” in, they learn and grow in trying or in seeing others do it.

Every kid loves to create ideas of their “dream home.” Most contain exorbitant items like bowling alleys and olympic swimming pools. If you live at our house, Wookies would reside in your dream home basement.

Imagine if children were given the opportunity to tell you what they would love to see at church. There can be boundaries like “church must included crosses” or even “church must have room for lots of people to worship.” But this gives us the opportunity to talk about church as people, not a place, and how eclectic the place we call church could look, as well as what it’s purposes are.

Give every child who would like to participate a 16×20 piece of drawing paper or a cut from a giant drawing roll, so that everyone has the same supplies and it can easily be hung up. Ask them to turn them in by a certain date and have a family night to eat and celebrate the church, aka the kiddos and people who have creativity and love Jesus!

Idea #3 – The Sing-a-Song-of-Praise Video Challenge

Kids love music and song, almost universally. They can easily join in on hymns like, I Am Jesus Little Lamb and Christ the Lord is Risen Today, or praise songs like 10,000 Reasons and Beautiful Name, in worship. They can rock a VBS song at the top of their lungs and know it perfectly within three days. They can memorize huge segments of Scripture given a song and a chance to practice.

This challenge gives kids a platform to share some music. They can film themselves or ask mom and dad to it, they could make up a song, but they can just sing one of their favorite songs they learned from church. They can do it as a Sunday School class, or a family, or on their own. It is less intimidating than a solo or even group sing in front of the church. A video could be shared each week before the beginning of worship or when announcements are given.

This teaches kids that everyone has a gift to share and the language of praise is universal. It’s fun and wonderful to share songs, and we do it for God, not for people. It gives them the chance to give a small offering to their Savior and bless all of our worship as a side benefit.

Whatever you do – just love them.

Love them strong and love them hard. Give them grace and room to grow. Speak with empathy and compassion. These children, they are gifts from the Lord and where would our churches be without them?

*You can hear more on my theological and psychosocial perspective of kids in church in the podcast below, or subscribe to the I Love My Shepherd podcast on iTunes or Stitcher.

 

I’m Done Chasing Freedom: Sign Me Up

Most days, around 5 o’clock, I want to strangle life.

I do perfectly fine from 7am-4pm. 4pm starts to get a little dicey, and then 5pm…

I’m hungry, I’m tired, and, more than any of that, I’m emotional.

For 38 years of this life, I have struggled to reign in my emotions. It’s better than it was, but I want more.

I want freedom.

Emotions are my yoke. I walk through my life, secure in the knowledge of God’s great love for me, Christ’s unmitigated sacrifice for me, and the Holy Spirit’s counsel and care for me. However, I so often look around me at the world and pick up my yoke of emotions, heaving it on to my back, and then I let it push me until my face is in the dirt. Why?

It’s painful and it’s unnecessary.

But there’s good news for me, and for you:

We’re invited to stop chasing freedom.

Galatians 5:1 blasted through my life when I was a new mom, a new pastor’s wife, in a new location, and wanting anything but the life I had:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)

God values freedom. He values my freedom. He values your freedom. He values it so much that He gave His Son and sent His Spirit. He knows my heart better than anyone and still loves me.

He knows I’ll pick up that yoke.

So, He writes freedom across the pages of my Bible again and again to help me see it as reality. It’s there, He’s there, every time I’ve picked that yoke back up.

I’m no longer chasing and I’m no longer chased by my emotions, the scars of the past, my own brokenness, the expectations of this world, my sadness, my loneliness, people’s rules, my idols…all of it. I’m throwing off that yoke, every day.

This is God’s work in me.

This is freedom, in His Word and with His people.

Will you join me? Will you join us?

Let’s stop chasing freedom together. Let’s stand in the proclamation of all He’s done for us. Let’s stand in freedom won for us.

Chasing Freedom: A Study of Galatians is a 6-Week online Bible study, right here at ilovemyshepherd.com.

It can be done on your own. It can be done in a group. It can be done on the go. You can join in one day a week, or read a study post five days a week, or anything in between. You’ll never be behind, just join in when you can, read old posts if you’d like, share with friends online easily if a post speaks to you.

Here’s how it works:

Chasing Freedom is a 6 week study starting September 18 thru October 27th.

There are 4 posts a week, Monday- Thursday.

Thursday nights you can join in the week’s Facebook Live Study with women around the country on the I Love My Shepherd Facebook page, at 8pm CST or catch the video archive, when you can, on the I Love My Shepherd YouTube channel, linked right here every Friday morning.

Look for some Chasing Freedom extras to be revealed soon too, free downloadables and visual faith tools, as well as Young Adult and podcast extras.

Ready to sign up?

Subscribe to I Love My Shepherd by email, found at the top right side of your screen or at the bottom of the page on your mobile device. The study will come directly to your email inbox! If you are already subscribed to the blog, leave us a friendly comment below so we know you’re joining us and we can celebrate. 

Invite one friend or many friends to join you by sharing. The Word is so much more full when studying and finding insights together.

Embracing Freedom, around the Word, together.

Let’s do it. Are you in?