Home

FOLLOW ME (John 1:43-51)

Leave a comment

Podcast: Follow Me

When we think of Epiphany (The revelation of Christ as The Son of God) we often overlook the obvious. Traditionally January 6 is considered the day of Epiphany. However, we see Epiphany in…The Nativity (Shepherds)…The Magi…The Baptism of Jesus (John the Baptist)…We also see it in the calling of the first few disciples in John’s gospel. John begins by telling us:

 

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples… When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  John 1:35-36

 

John (the gospel writer) had already mentioned the significance of  Jesus who John testified: The Spirit came down from heaven and remained on him/he will baptize with the Holy Spirit…John had been preaching about someone who was coming to take away sin (permanently)…someone of God’s choosing..to take away those things that separate us from God. Now we are told about one of those Disciples of John-that listened to John and began following Jesus: 

Andrew, (Simon Peter’s brother), was one of the two who heard what John had said …    John 1:40 

Andrew—in Greek-Andro which is the Greek version of the Hebrew name Adam. Andrew was the first disciple named to follow Jesus (in a sense the first Christian). Andrew had his own  Epiphany…because John (the Baptist) pointed him toward Jesus. When we think of our relationship with Jesus, who have been the ones pointing us toward Jesus? In addition to Andrew’s Epiphany, John also tells us: 

The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah”  John 1:41 

What is the 1st thing we do when we have an Epiphany?…do we tell others? particularly those closest to us? It was obvious that Andrew & Simon were close (brothers). However, we don’t hear a lot about Andrew throughout the gospels..we do hear a lot about Simon Peter. It is similar to Albert McMakin. Albert had an Epiphany. He met Jesus through a revival in a small town in North Carolina. Albert had to tell his closest friend…who happened to be named Billy Graham. Not many people have ever heard of Albert McMakin , however because he shared his Epiphany with Billy Graham countless people have come to know Jesus. Thank God for the Andrews and the Albert McMakins in our lives. Then John tells us: 

Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “You are Simon, the son of John — but you will be called Cephas”(which means Peter ).  John 1:42

 Cephas (Aramaic) left untranslated…Peter ( & Andrew were from Galilee (as was Jesus)..Jesus addressed him in a way that any Galilean would understand. Jesus speaks into our lives the same way when he calls us. God speaks to us in a way we would uniquely understand. My  own personal calling would be defined by scholarly theologians as “providing a Hermeneutical Homiletic of Theology” if that is what God said to me I would probably not have answered that call. Instead Jesus has called me to “Present the Good News of Jesus as Revealed by the Holy Spirit.”  John goes on to tell us in this text that again the Next Day…Jesus went to Galilee (followed by these 3 Disciples)…then John continues: 

Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.  John 1:43-44 

We learn the other of John the Baptist’s disciples was Philip (who was also from Galilee). The Good Part..the Fishing Village of Bethsaida (Waterfront Property). The important thing Jesus says specifically to Philip is…”Follow Me.” The only thing is…Hadn’t  Philip already “followed Him?” He left John the Baptist (to follow Jesus)…and now had followed Jesus back to Galilee. Here’s the problem. When we think of the concept of Following someone we think of walking behind…

However, we can better understand Jesus command after translating a very long compound Greek word which ultimately means… “accompany me /on the road /by being one with me” Like a parent with a young child. Hold my hand as we walk down this road together. Isn’t that what Christ calls each of us to do? So now Philip has his own Epiphany and John tells us: 

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about  whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”    John 1:45 

Philip did the same as Andrew (and even the Shepherds before that) he found someone to share his Epiphany with. He knew Nathanael might be suspect so he invoked  the name of Moses…a type of celebrity endorsement. Now first we need to realize the name Nathanael is significant (it is NOT a Greek name)..it is Hebrew meaning-Gift of God. Having said that, Nathanael’s initial response to Philip’s Epiphany according to John is: 

“Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?”     John 1:46 

Nazareth…not Lakefront  property…a primarily Gentile town …way off the beaten path…never mentioned in Hebrew Scripture)…besides the Messiah would have to come from Bethlehem…But Philip knew Nathanael needed to Encounter Christ.. before he could truly realize the significance of who He was..John tells us: 

Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” John 1:46-47

How many of us have had our own Epiphanies by an Encounter/s that began by someone inviting us to “come and see” (with our spiritual eyes as well as our physical eyes). Jesus (being who he is) realized Nathanael as being about God’s word..Being discerning by challenging claims through scripture. A True Israelite. Then John tells us how Nathanael responded to this Encounter: 

Nathanael replied, “Teacher, you are the Son of God – the King of Israel!”   John 1: 49 

Three things Nathanael realized about Jesus. He was a teacher (Rabbi)…I now defer/submit to you (and your instruction)…He was the Son of God (a term generally ascribed only to David)…and as the “New David” Jesus would be the King of Israel (The Awaited Messiah). All based on his understanding of scripture (including the law & prophecy). So as we encounter Jesus in our lives. As we have our Epiphanies. Will we invite others to “Come & See”..how to “Follow Christ” (accompany HIM /on the road /by being one with HIM). The Apostle Paul taught: 

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus   Romans 15:4-5 

May we like Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip & Nathanael..Come & See and receive that Encouragement..That Hope.. and that Spirit of Unity…In Christ Jesus and Follow Him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

USEFUL GIFTS (ROMANS 12:1-8)

Leave a comment

PODCAST: USEFUL GIFTS

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the church in Rome (even though he had never met them) wants them to understand that it is God who transforms us into a new person. We collectively are one body…with many parts..each of us has different work to do (gifts to offer). Each of us has ability to do certain things well. Some we may already know—some we need to discover (with the help of the Holy Spirit & each other). Paul states that: 

And if you have a gift for showing kindness to  others, do it gladly.   Romans 12:8 

In this translation (GK-Eleos)-is usually translated Mercy– literally the mercy God shows to those Afflicted/Illness(Sin)-those things that separate us from God. For us what are those things that separate us from God? Then for those of us given this gift of Mercy, how do we show Mercy/Kindness to those afflicted? The great news there are many that have this gift and maybe many more that do not yet realize that they do. 

I believe to understand this gift, we need to start by looking at examples of how God is merciful. I would begin by Moses reminding the Israelites: 

When you are in distress and all these things have happened to you, then in later days you will return to the LORD your God and obey him. For the LORD your God is a merciful God.  Deuteronomy 4:30-31 

Bad things happen to all of us. Difficult times for Believers and Non-Believers. The difference is how WE deal with THEM (the difficult times)…Obviously with prayer…and by showing mercy…We don’t always have The Words..We have to Be there. A passage that offers peace as we consider God’s Mercy for us: 

For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. Psalm 103:11 

So great is his Mercy (Hebrew-Chacad)- To be kind (even in Shame) which seems like a foreign concept…Then it says God is Merciful-for those who fear (Stand in awe of Him). Stand…in Awe of God—He will have Mercy. In responding to God’s call-If we are indeed God’s called People (The Ecclessia) to others in and around us there are 3 Levels of Awareness. The first is to be able to say—”I see the Need—I know how bad it is—and I know it could have been me…” The next level is to say “I see the need & It hurts me to see it… We are surrounded by people in need. Some are hungry some have other physical needs-Do we see the need? Does it hurt us to see it? The next level is when we have this Gift of Mercy…We see the need…it hurts us to see it…and we do something about it. 

There is an example of mercy The Apostle Paul shares with Timothy, writing from his imprisonment in Rome. He says:

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day!  2 Timothy 1:16-18 

This person Onesiphorus showed Paul mercy by taking the time to find him…not being ashamed…Refreshed him. Isn’t that what we are called to as an act of Mercy. Mercy especially for those in Prison. Physical, Emotional & Spiritual prisons. Then Paul shares with Titus: 

But then God our Savior showed us his kindness and love. He saved us, not because of the good things we did, but because of his mercy. Titus 3:4-5 

God does not provide his mercy because we deserve it…because of his Unconditional Love & Grace…He expects the same from us…The Gift of mercy allows us to show that same Unconditional Love God shares with us. To further this point Paul tells the Ephesian Church: 

We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God’s anger just like everyone else. But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead.      Ephesians 2:3-5 

God is so Rich in Mercy…while we were Dead in our Sins..gave us Life (Gives us Life) -when he raised Christ…Dead to Sin-Risen w/Christ. 

Maybe the best example of the gift of Mercy is found in Luke’s gospel. Jesus had just shared with a group of Pharisees, the Great Commandant (Love God/Love your Neighbor). Then Jesus goes on to tell a story of a Jewish man who is beat up & left for dead alongside of the road. A priest walks by (maybe even says to himself-that could have happened to me) and keeps on walking…then a Levite/Pharisee a religious leader passes by does the same thing (maybe even hurting for the person on the side of the road and yet continues on…then the dreaded, unclean, heathen Samaritan-stops…and does something—Took Pity—Bandaged his wounds—took him on his Donkey to an Inn and pays the Innkeeper. Then Jesus asks this Pharisees & His Disciples:    

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?“ The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”  Luke 10:36-37 

 

The Pharisee had to admit that as hated as The Samaritan’s were— this man was showing God’s mercy. So who are our neighbors on the side of the road? Maybe not physically beaten up or robbed. maybe emotionally or even spiritually beaten up. How many have forgotten or may be never heard-Jesus Loves Me…this I know… for the Bible tells me so. Who in your world needs to hear the words Jesus Loves You and so do I…Just like we do here on Sunday morning.

Peter Marshall,( the Chaplain of the U.S. Senate in the years following World War II). This is his prayer before the Senate session on Friday, June 4, 1948-He prayed… 

Lord, we are ashamed that money and position speak to us more loudly than does the simple compassion of the human heart. Help us to care, as Thou dost care, for the little people who have no spokesperson, yet  who sorely need justice. May it be the glory of our willingness as a people that not only the strong are heard, but also the weak; not only the powerful, but the helpless; not only those with influence, but also those who have nothing . 

Then he concluded: 

May we put our hearts into our work…that our work may get into our hearts. 

My this be our prayer as the Called People of God, particularly those of us who have been given this powerful Gift of Mercy.

STATUTE OF LIBERTY

Leave a comment

PODCAST: STATUTE OF LIBERTY

This week we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our nation. We all revel in the realization of freedom that the signing of the Declaration of Independence brought to us even to this very day. I want to look at another kind of Freedom the Apostle Paul spoke of in his letter to the churches in Galatia.

I remember several years ago; my wife Robin had never been to New Orleans. We decided to go for a weekend away. We stayed in French Quarter and early Saturday morning we set out on one of the highlights for me which was the restaurant Cafe Du Monde. I couldn’t wait for Robin to try the Beignets & Cafe Au Lait. Howeveron the way… just before we got there was a street preacher. This guy had a very different message.I normally don’t stop & listen to street preachers, however, this day I heard him not talking about how all the people there in Jackson Square were going to burn in Hell unless they repent. He was telling his story of how he was set Free from his addictions because of a God who loved him. He wanted everyone there to know- that same God loved them also & that was why he was there…

That is exactly where we find Paul this morning as he is addressing the churches in Galatia (in chapter 5). The 5th Chapter opens with a declaration by The Apostle Paul, as he states:

So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law Galatians 5:1

The primary purpose of this letter to the Galatian Churches is that there was a group of very religious Jewish leaders who claimed to be Christian and told the believers that they were Bound by the Law of Moses as well as The teachings of Christ. Which included specific worship requirements, dietary requirements etc. Paul wanted these people to know that Christ didn’t come to make our lives more of a burden..he came to set us Free. In fact our text opens with Paul telling these Galatians:

You, my brothers, were called to be free

The church in GK is sometimes (Synagogue-A Gathering) most of the time it is the word (Ecclesia-The Called). Paul reminds them Jesus came to set us Free. In fact Paul continues by saying:

 But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature

Same thing we struggle with in being a Free Nation—do we restrict our Freedom so we don’t make bad choices? Didn’t Jesus come in part to set us Free from the original sin of Eden??? Jesus told his Disciples in Mark’s gospel:

“It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts. They are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.” Mark 7:20-21a &23b

According to Jesus it is about controlling our hearts/thought life-keeping our focus on God. However, we are Free to make that decision. Paul continues telling the Galatians:

 Rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are told this is Jesus Greatest Commandment-Love God-Love One Another—The preacher in New Orleans learned that & transformed His Life. Another way we might look at this is later in Paul’s ministry he wrote a letter to the church in Rome…He made a point with this church to stress that he understood the law and its significance..he however is convinced it is Gods will for us to live by Grace. He told them in the 13th Chapter

Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God‘s law. Romans 13:8

I know what you’re thinking..Preacher you don’t know my neighbor!!! (Jesus: Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you…)

Maybe we should consider taking it a step further..especially in light of considering Freedom…Remembering the sacrifice Christ made for us & even considering our nations birthday the sacrifice the Men & Women in our armed forces have made for us…The Apostle John says in his Epistle:

We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for ourChristian brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16

Now that is Loving Your Neighbor….Paul continues

live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the spirit.

The Good News we have the Freedom to decide..But is it Easy???  Here is what Paul tells the Roman Church about this “Conflict.”

I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Romans 7:22-23

Even The Apostle Paul struggled…However he also wanted the Galatians to know that God’s Holy Spirit was strong enough to overcome ANY Law including God’s Original..Paul had earlier told the Galatians:

The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. Galatians 3:24-25

Notice Paul doesn’t say we need to throw it away and forget about it. We now have a “New Sheriff” As he tells The Roman Church:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and Death. Romans 8:1-2

Even though He (Paul struggles) He (& We) are set Free by The Holy Spirit the new Guardian. Paul especially exhorts the Galatians to realize their Freedom by saying 

 If You are Led By the Spirit—you are not under the Law.

There are 2 ways to be led by The Spirit. The 1st is an external leading of the Counselor (Parakletos) explained by Jesus to his Disciples in John’s Gospel: John 16:13

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes… He will guide you into all truth.

He (The Holy Spirit) guides us..into/through God’s Will. The other way we are led by The Holy Spirit is internal (being filled).Paul instructs the Ephesian Church (3:16-17a):

Out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

I like this imagery-especially when it comes to Freedom (Allowed/Not Made). Then Paul continues: By stating that the acts of sinful nature are obvious..He then goes on to list a litany of specific acts of sinful nature (yet obvious).He goes on to say: I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus put it this way (in Matthew’s Gospel):

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Matthew 21:43

Kingdom of God (now..not just when we die)..taken away (not realized)

A Nation/ A People (Israelites…Gentiles…Christians…) produce Fruit??? Is there any difference between those of us who call ourselves Christians & The rest of the world? Is it just about being a good person??? What is being Fruitful???

Paul gives us the answer by introducing The Fruit of the Spirit. The specific things we will emulate if we are living by/guided by God’s Holy Spirit. When we consider the nine individual fruits mentioned we can see they are 3 distinct groups of Graces God provides for those of us who are receptive to His Gift.

The first Group: Love, Joy & Peace are talked about a lot at Xmas. These graces are ones that are exhibited toward God when we are led, guided and walk in God’s Holy Spirit. The next set: Patience, Kindness & Goodness are exhibited toward each other. When we actually love our neighbors (especially the ones that are difficult).

The last set: Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-Control—sometimes the most difficult because they are the graces we exhibit inwardly toward ourselves.

They are truly the ones that allow us to realize our Freedom. Then Paul wraps this portion of his letter by stating:

Against such things there is no law.

When we can realize God’s Holy Spirit at work in our lives…Despite our past…Regardless of what Law or laws we have followed before (whether man-made of self inflicted) there is Freedom to Know the Unconditional Love & Grace that only comes from God.  Though the gift of His Son.

WAIT

Leave a comment

There are many things I have found in life that require patience and a considerable amount of…waiting.

Baseball: Waiting for each pitch, batters stepping out of the box, holding a runner on 1st base, and no time limit (however UK friends tell me Cricket is actually worse).

Golf: It takes 4-5 hours to play 18 holes. Waiting on: the foursome in front of you, people taking practice swings, sizing up a putt, and again..no time limit.

Then I think of the occupation of Waiters & Waitresses (Professionals). My Aunt Wanda worked for 40+ years at a well known restaurant  “Bill Bennett’s” in Downtown Houston. I remember stopping in one day and observing how she “waited’ on her customers. She was both observant and perceptive to the needs of those she served and most importantly “waited” on. This the type of example that Jesus gives to us in calling us to be “Servants.”

In Isaiah there were a number of passages known as Servant Songs where Isaiah portrays the Messiah as one who would come as A Servant (Slave-Hebrew Vernacular). It is here we get an image of what of Jesus and His idea of Servant.

The very first of the Servant Sons begins:

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring  justice to the nations     Isaiah 42:1

A description of Jesus..and ideally a description of us.

In Luke’s gospel  Jesus describes a servant and their many responsibilities. One of the things Jesus stresses is that they will be “Dressed for Service.” When I think of being dressed for service I think of a uniform. Remembering back the first uniform many of us wore was probably if we were involved in scouting. Cub Scouts, Brownies, Camp Fire Girls. I think back on my first Cub Scout uniform and how I couldn’t wait to wear it to school. To show that I belonged and that I was ready to serve. It happens when we 1st become followers of Christ.

Jesus also says that as a servant we should be “Well Prepared.” This stated after he has told his disciples that on being a servant you should…”Sell what you have and give to those in need”…by being willing to serve those in need we in turn serve God. He adds by doing this we will “store up treasure in heaven“.  The word “Treasure” in Greek is Thesaurus (which means collection of useful things). A Collection of useful things in Heaven (where God is).

In ancient times you became a servant/slave in basically one of three ways. First, you might be born into servant hood/slavery. If you were a servant/slave and had a child that child became the property of the master according to Jewish Law. Many of us learn to be servants of God by being raised in a Christian Home. Even if that is the case we need to make our own commitment to Christ; as that of our family of origin.

Secondly, many servants/slaves of that time were actually “indentured” due to debt or obligations and were required to work to pay off or meet those obligations It is especially here we see what Jesus was speaking of in serving him. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthian Church.

For he who was a slave when he was called by the LORD is the LORD’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price   1 Corinthians 7:22-23

In our relationship with Christ he cancels our debt to The World/Sin (Frees Us) from things such as Fear, Substance Abuse, Worry, Sin. He then calls us to likewise serve him by helping to free others.

The last primary way of becoming a servant/slave was as a consolation of war. The Roman Empire found this especially beneficial for implanting their culture within a people group. However, we as servants of Christ (through his victory over Sin & Death), no longer have to fight that battle. He has won our independence.

In this story, I am also reminded of farming (not that I have a lot of first-hand experience). I do know that it  begins with a lot of work preparing the soil, then planting the crops, then…Waiting. It appears that the more you plant…the more you wait…on God. The same is with the church. Ministries even within our own church. We plant and we wait…as we continue to serve God.

Jesus talks about the many different roles of an effective servant. One of the first he mentions is “Watching & Waiting.” He says: “There will be special favor for those who are ready and waiting for His (Masters) return.” In our everyday life is inviting in and anticipating The Holy Spirit.(That is definitely special favor).

It’s also important to be Prayerful as we serve God and serving others. We know that Paul told the Ephesian church “to pray on all occasions, all kinds of prayers.” This is where we find the power that only comes from God and remember it is ultimately Him that we serve.

We also need to remember to be “On Guard” when serving God. Discerning the truth and listen to His voice as we serve others in places such as the Food Pantry and  Visitation.

Jesus warns that we need to be resolve. He may come in the middle of the night or just before dawn. You must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” We need to be ready to serve Him at all times regardless of our own personal circumstances. Especially in The Darkness. If we remember the darkest hours of our lives.

Are we available to serve him? Worship Him? Is that how he is getting our attention?

There many rewards for being effective Servant. How effective are we at Waiting on God? Waiting on Others???

As effective servants we have to know that ultimately it is God who provides…Everything. Jesus tells John in his Revelation

Look! Here I stand at the door and knock. If you hear me calling and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal as friends.      Revelations 3:19-20

We usually don’t think of The Master sharing a meal with one of His Servants. That is one way where Jesus is very different. That is one of the ultimate of all rewards. To sit down and share a meal with Jesus— Intimate encounter

I am reminded in Jesus ministry of the times in which he shared this experience with some of his servants. With Zacchaeus as he tells him despite what you have done in your life come down & serve me…for I’m coming to Your House TODAY!

Then there was the Last Supper in the Upper Room with Jesus followers. Before that meal he washed the feet of everyone there as a sign & example of what it means to serve and wait on one another.

Then after Jesus resurrection He traveled to a place called Emmaus where he shared a meal with those two pilgrims who had not yet learned the lesson of serving or waiting until the very moment that Jesus broke the bread that day.

Finally we see throughout the gospels the ultimate reward of serving Christ is the relationship & praise from Jesus himself. In fact Jesus said in Matthew’s gospel of the reward that awaits effective servant hood. He said:

The master was full of praise. Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!   Matthew 25:21

Jesus celebrates with us as we Wait on him and Wait on one another.

In whatever the task He has called you today. Let the voice of Christ say to you. “Well Done…Good and Faithful Servant.”


STATUTE OF LIBERTY

Leave a comment

This week we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our nation. We all revel in the realization of freedom that the signing of the Declaration of Independence brought to us even to this very day. I want to look at another kind of Freedom the Apostle Paul spoke of in his letter to the churches in Galatia.

I remember several years ago; my wife Robin had never been to New Orleans. We decided to go for a weekend away. We stayed in French Quarter and early Saturday morning we set out on one of the highlights for me which was the restaurant Cafe Du Monde. I couldn’t wait for Robin to try the Beignets & Cafe Au Lait. However, on the way… just before we got there was a street preacher. This guy had a very different message.I normally don’t stop & listen to street preachers, however, this day I heard him not talking about how all the people there in Jackson Square were going to burn in Hell unless they repent. He was telling his story of how he was set Free from his addictions because of a God who loved him. He wanted everyone there to know- that same God loved them also & that was why he was there…

That is exactly where we find Paul this morning as he is addressing the churches in Galatia (in chapter 5). The 5th Chapter opens with a declaration by The Apostle Paul, as he states:

So Christ has really set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law Galatians 5:1

The primary purpose of this letter to the Galatian Churches is that there was a group of very religious Jewish leaders who claimed to be Christian and told the believers that they were Bound by the Law of Moses as well as The teachings of Christ. Which included specific worship requirements, dietary requirements etc. Paul wanted these people to know that Christ didn’t come to make our lives more of a burden..he came to set us Free. In fact our text opens with Paul telling these Galatians:

You, my brothers, were called to be free

The church in GK is sometimes (Synagogue-A Gathering) most of the time it is the word (Ecclesia-The Called). Paul reminds them Jesus came to set us Free. In fact Paul continues by saying: But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature

Same thing we struggle with in being a Free Nation—do we restrict our Freedom so we don’t make bad choices? Didn’t Jesus come in part to set us Free from the original sin of Eden???

Jesus told his Disciples in Mark’s gospel:

“It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts. They are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God.Mark 7:20-21a &23b

According to Jesus it is about controlling our hearts/thought life-keeping our focus on God. However, we are Free to make that decision.

Paul continues telling the Galatians: Rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

We are told this is Jesus Greatest Commandment-Love God-Love One Another—The preacher in New Orleans learned that & transformed His Life.

Another way we might look at this is later in Paul’s ministry he wrote a letter to the church in Rome…He made a point with this church to stress that he understood the law and its significance..he however is convinced it is Gods will for us to live by Grace. He told them in the 13th Chapter

Pay all your debts, except the debt of love for others. You can never finish paying that! If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill all the requirements of God‘s law. Romans 13:8

I know what you’re thinking..Preacher you don’t know my neighbor!!! (Jesus: Love your enemies & pray for those who persecute you…)

Maybe we should consider taking it a step further..especially in light of considering Freedom…Remembering the sacrifice Christ made for us & even considering our nations birthday the sacrifice the Men & Women in our armed forces have made for us…The Apostle John says in his Epistle:

We know what real love is because Christ gave up his life for us. And so we also ought to give up our lives for our Christian brothers and sisters. 1 John 3:16

Now that is Loving Your Neighbor….

Paul continues… live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the spirit.

The Good News we have the Freedom to decide..But is it Easy???  Here is what Paul tells the Roman Church about this “Conflict.”

I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another law at work within me that is at war with my mind. This law wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Romans 7:22-23

Even The Apostle Paul struggled…However he also wanted the Galatians to know that God’s Holy Spirit was strong enough to overcome ANY Law including God’s Original..Paul had earlier told the Galatians:

The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us until Christ came. So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God. But now that faith in Christ has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. Galatians 3:24-25

Notice Paul doesn’t say we need to throw it away and forget about it. We now have a “New Sheriff” As he tells The Roman Church:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and Death. Romans 8:1-2

Even though He (Paul struggles) He (& We) are set Free by The Holy Spirit the new Guardian. Paul especially exhorts the Galatians to realize their Freedom by saying  If You are Led By the Spirit—you are not under the Law.

There are 2 ways to be led by The Spirit. The 1st is an external leading of the Counselor (Parakletos) explained by Jesus to his Disciples in John’s Gospel: John 16:13

But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes… He will guide you into all truth.

He (The Holy Spirit) guides us..into/through God’s Will. The other way we are led by The Holy Spirit is internal (being filled)

Paul instructs the Ephesian Church (3:16-17a):

Out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.

I like this imagery-especially when it comes to Freedom (Allowed/Not Made). Then Paul continues: By stating that the acts of sinful nature are obvious..He then goes on to list a litany of specific acts of sinful nature (yet obvious).He goes on to say: I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus put it this way (in Matthew’s Gospel):

What I mean is that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit. Matthew 21:43

Kingdom of God (now..not just when we die)..taken away (not realized)

A Nation/ A People (Israelites…Gentiles…Christians…) produce Fruit??? Is there any difference between those of us who call ourselves Christians & The rest of the world? Is it just about being a good person??? What is being Fruitful???

Paul gives us the answer by introducing The Fruit of the Spirit. The specific things we will emulate if we are living by/guided by God’s Holy Spirit. When we consider the nine individual fruits mentioned we can see they are 3 distinct groups of Graces God provides for those of us who are receptive to His Gift.

The first Group: Love, Joy & Peace are talked about a lot at Xmas. These graces are ones that are exhibited toward God when we are led, guided and walk in God’s Holy Spirit.

The next set: Patience, Kindness & Goodness are exhibited toward each other. When we actually love our neighbors (especially the ones that are difficult).

The last set: Faithfulness, Gentleness & Self-Control—sometimes the most difficult because they are the graces we exhibit inwardly toward ourselves.

They are truly the ones that allow us to realize our Freedom. Then Paul wraps this portion of his letter by stating:

Against such things there is no law.

When we can realize God’s Holy Spirit at work in our lives…Despite our past…Regardless of what Law or laws we have followed before (whether man-made of self inflicted) there is Freedom to Know the Unconditional Love & Grace that only comes from God.  Though the gift of His Son.