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Archive for April, 2013

Sowing to the Spirit | Galatians 6:6-10

Spiritual Disciplines_3TUESDAY
Reflection 2 of 35

Reflect
Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches. Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 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. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.  Galatians 6:6-10 ESV

Receive
As we overhear Paul telling Timothy to “practice these things so everyone can see your progress,” he literally takes us to the gym with his picture of “training in OPEN_practicesrighteousness.” Our “progress” in this case would be measured in weight loss and muscle expansion, usually. That’s one image. There’s another picture we can consider when it comes to spiritual practices. We can let Paul take us out to the field and garden as he tells the Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap corruption; the one who sows to please the Spirit, will reap eternal life.” Engaging in spiritual practices is “sowing to the Spirit.” It’s doing what we can do (open our hand and scatter seed on the ground) so that we may experience what we cannot do (grow a harvest – the earth does that!). Such “sowing to the Spirit” is rooted in the soil of grace, in the true gospel of Christ that sets us free. When religious compulsion or guilt drives spiritual practices, they cease being spiritual and become oppressive. Oppressive to ourselves because we become filled either with pride or discouragement, depending on how well the practice is going; oppressive to others because when a practice is really working for us we start laying it on others as what they must do to really be in tune with God, to really grow in Christ. Such oppressive practices do not bring life, only death. True spiritual practices are unencumbered by such guilt and compulsion. Like the farmer in Jesus’ parable who scatters seed on the ground, we are able to engage in the practice – to scatter the seed – and then go to bed (see Mark 4:26-29).

Relate
Which image of spiritual practices works best for you: going to the gym or working in the garden? Why?

Respond
Lord, show me how you would have me sow to the Spirit in this season of my life with you. What seeds would you have me scatter? What spiritual practices would you have me embrace?

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

SpiritualDisciplinesSlide


The Practices | 1 Timothy 4:7-15

Spiritual Disciplines_3MONDAY
Reflection 1 of 35

Reflect
Train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. Command and teach these things. Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. 1 Timothy 4:7-15  ESV

Receive
Spiritual practices. Often we call them the “disciplines.” That can be a more intimidating word, conjuring up images of future Olympians engaging in fierce, sacrificial training OPEN_practicesat all kinds of ungodly hours. Some of us are Olympians. Most of us, not so much. Perhaps we are a little less intimidated by the word practices. Maybe this is how we can re-frame the word “discipline.” Spiritual disciplines = practices or activities within our reach that over time empower us to go beyond our current reach. It’s a runner engaging in doable runs so as to successfully complete the presently undoable marathon. The trouble is most of us try to run the marathon as the spiritual practice. Like Daniel in Karate Kid, we don’t want to “wax on, wax off.” We just want to fight. Understandably, we get deflated at the very prospect of “spiritual disciplines” when approached this way. As Brian McClaren observes in Naked Spirituality, “If the only people who can embark on a spiritual journey are those blessed with a lot of self-discipline and sufficient free time, many of us are in trouble. That’s why we need simple, doable, durable practices that can be integrated into many things we are already doing… taking a walk, commuting, cooking or eating, resting in bed, relaxing at home, taking a break at work, waiting for an appointment, enjoying a hobby.” Those are the three key words when considering spiritual practices that will actually help us to progress in Christ. Simple. Doable. Durable. Like Timothy, rather than merely being driven by the urgent and superfluous, we need to find such practices and immerse ourselves in them.

Relate
Take a personal inventory: what spiritual practices do you currently engage in? What have you found to be simple, doable, and durable in your spiritual walk?

Respond
Lord, show me what simple, doable, and durable practices you would have me pursue in my walk with you. Give me the grace to be intentional in these practices – but keep me from getting weird and religious about them.

For all of this week’s resources for this new series on Spiritual Disciplines including this week’s DG video, check out the Vineyard website.

SpiritualDisciplinesSlide


The Marks of Jesus | Galatians 6:17-18

ea_series_galatians_header_2FRIDAY
Reflection 70 of 70

Reflect
Galatians 6:17-18  |  ESV  [This Week’s Passage: Galatians 6:11-18]
17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Mike’s Authorized Version (MAV)
That’s it. I’m done. Let no one belabor the point any further, no more harassing, nagging follow-up questions or retorts. You want proof of God’s covenant in me? You want to talk about scars? Fine. Let me bare my back and show you the marks of Jesus I bear in each of those scars. Each welt, each wound will bear its own silent, final witness of what really matters.

The only thing now left to be said is, simply, my heartfelt prayer and desire that the free, forgiving and life-giving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ would not merely be understood in your mind as a theoretical, theological concept – but that it would be present to, in, and with your spirit, reshaping your inner and outer life from one end to the other, my brothers.

So say we all.

Receive
Stigmata. “A term used by members of the Christian faith (mostly Catholic in orientation) to describe body marks, sores, or sensations of pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, such as the hands, wrists, and feet,” one source says. The phenomena is actually connected with Paul’s statement here about the “marks (Greek stigmata) of Jesus.” I don’t think Paul was talking about materializing nail marks in his skin. No, I think by letter he is lifting his tunic and showing them his back – his back that would have borne the scars of so many public beatings. The troublemakers proudly boasted of their “stigmata” for God in the glorified surgery of circumcision. Paul one-ups them. In showing his back, his chest, his legs, his face, he bore stigmata that most would see as a real stigma. Most of us try to cover and cosmeticize our scars – especially if they mark the time I got beaten up in public. But for Paul they were all marks of Jesus, lines of grace through which His face is revealed. Religion masks. Jesus marks. Faith marks us. Our words and explanations become mere captions underneath what is truly the work of art to behold: Christ in me, Christ on me, Christ through me. This is the ultimate point of this entire letter to the Galatians, wrapped up nicely in Paul’s simple prayer, perhaps written with the largest letters yet: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.” Grace with our spirit. Marks of Jesus on our body. Welcome to the New Creation.

Relate
How does your life bear the marks of Jesus?

Respond
Lord Jesus, may your free, forgiving, and life-giving grace burst beyond mere theory and theology in my life. Let your grace become vitally present to, in, and with my spirit, reshaping my inner and outer life from one end to the other. Make me a marked man, a marked woman, in Christ. Let me bear on my body, in my life, the marks of Jesus, of faith, of grace, of Life. Amen.

For all of this week’s resources on Galatians including this week’s DG video on Galatians, check out the Vineyard website.

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Israel of God | Galatians 6:15-16

THURSDAY
ea_series_galatians_header_2Reflection 69 of 70

Reflect
Galatians 6:15-16  |  ESV  [This Week’s Passage: Galatians 6:11-18]
15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Mike’s Authorized Version (MAV)
To finally see straight is to see this: circumcision and being religious count for nothing – and neither does uncircumcision or being irreligious; all that matters is the New Creation, Kingdom come! To see this is to see everything. And for all who do see this and then walk it out, who walk out this line, this truth (you want to talk about keeping rules? Here’s the Rule to keep!): life restoring, soul mending, world healing peace upon them – and overflowing mercy! Now we’re talking Israel – the Israel of God.

Receive
“You can be replaced!” Sometimes we say that to each other when we are exasperated. Many suppose that God has said that about the Jewish people, that Israel has been replaced as the people of God by a primarily Gentile church (which Jews are welcome to join if they become Gentiles like us!). Others insist that Jews still have a primary status as God’s people alongside the Gentile church. Both are perhaps missing the point Paul is making here as he finishes out his “large letter” writing in this conclusion to Galatians: God doesn’t have two Israels, two peoples, two brides. On a foundational level there is, always has been, and always will be only one “Israel of God.” And it actually has nothing to do with ethnic ties, religious calendars or dietary rules; it’s not about the presence or absence of a foreskin but has everything to do with the presence of faith – a life-transforming trust that says “yes” to God as he calls us, like Abram, to step out of the familiar and pursue him into the unknown. Being “Israel” is not about meekly falling in line with religious demands, it’s about wrestling all night with the realities of God and Christ – and being marked with a limp from the struggle. Earlier in this letter, Paul called this “faith working through love.” Here he calls it a “new creation.” Kai-nay keh-tee-sis. It’s as foreign sounding in the Greek as the reality of “new creation” too often is among followers of Jesus. So easy for us to find ourselves endlessly traveling with the Galatians in the traffic circle of the old world of religion, rules, and performance. To be finally free of that roundabout is to find ourselves in the Israel of God and traveling the road of life-restoring, soul-mending, world-healing peace and mercy.

Relate
In what ways do you presently feel stuck in a roundabout? What is the key to finally getting out – to finally experiencing the “new creation”? What has this looked like for you?

Respond
Lord, show me the way out of the roundabout I find myself in – or the one that will try to pull me into its pointless cycles today. Keep me traveling free along the highway of your mercy and peace. Unfold your new creation in me. Just a bit more of it. Today. Through Jesus.

For all of this week’s resources on Galatians including this week’s DG video on Galatians, check out the Vineyard website.

bible-reading-guy-782907

 


No Trophies | Galatians 6:14

ea_series_galatians_header_2WEDNESDAY
Reflection 68 of 70

Reflect
Galatians 6:14  |  ESV  [This Week’s Passage: Galatians 6:11-18]
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Mike’s Authorized Version (MAV)
No trophies for me. None. Ever. Only the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. There, and only there will I whoop and holler, there only will I raise the roof with boastful, extravagant praise. Because it’s there this whole sick, backward world system with all of its upside down values and views has been finally and forever crucified, dead, and buried to me, and I to it.

Receive
Counting coup refers to the practice of the Plains Indians in gaining prestige by touching an enemy warrior and returning unharmed. After battle, the tribe would gather and share tales of bravery and “count coup.” We collect trophies. The Galatian troublemakers collected foreskins. And yes, that’s gross, but it’s the truth of it. Takes me back to David’s unusual dowry for Saul’s daughter Michal. He was asked to deliver 100 Philistine foreskins. He showed up with 200. Ugh. Religion really can degenerate into such a bloody business of self-promotion and trophy hunting as we try to placate others (and God!) and advance ourselves. Our ego is so wrapped up in securing bragging rights! And our temples, synagogues, and churches, intended to be sacred spaces, can so easily end up being just another dandified trophy case. Jesus catches us perfectly in his story in Luke: 

He told his next story to some who were complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’ “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’” Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.” (Luke 18:9-14 | Message)

For Paul it’s simple: No trophy but the scandalous cross; no bragging rights but Jesus. But O with what difficulty does ego depart from us!

Relate
What trophies, religious or otherwise, do you find yourself compelled to collect?

Respond
“God, have mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.” Lord teach me to pray this prayer in all the right and healthy ways. Pry my fingers off all the trophies I cling to. Let me live free and lightly in you, with you as my only ground of bragging – and being. Through Jesus.

For all of this week’s resources on Galatians including this week’s DG video on Galatians, check out the Vineyard website.

bible-reading-guy-782907


Unmasked | Galatians 6:12-13

ea_series_galatians_header_2TUESDAY
Reflection 67 of 70

Reflect
Galatians 6:12-13  |  ESV  [This Week’s Passage: Galatians 6:11-18]
12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

Mike’s Authorized Version (MAV)
Let’s revisit these troublemakers one more time. What do they really want? What are they really after? They’re all show, all externals, all outward appearance. And so why this obsessive fixation with circumcision? Why so knife-happy? Why so insistent on seeing you go under that knife? One reason and only one when it all comes down to it: they want to avoid the razor-sharp judgment, the hounding criticism of a religious culture that is totally scandalized by the cross of Christ and what it represents. You disagree? You think it’s out of sincere desire to obey God? Here’s the undeniable truth: those who zealously hold the line on circumcision fail miserably when it comes to actually living out the Law it represents. But they turn around and insist on you being circumcised and becoming just like them so they can, quite literally hold up their “pound of flesh” as a religious trophy for their wall. They’re counting coup! All show. All externals. All outward performance. Pathetic. Nauseating.

Receive
Religion can be such a bloody business of self-promotion via hacking away on or at people as a means of ingratiating ourselves to others. Pettiness and pride so frequently masquerade as piety. As Paul finishes up this letter with his own hand, he first writes large letters about the Galatian troublemakers and in doing so pulls off the mask. What from all appearances looked like hunger for God and thirst for obedience is revealed to be little more than a religious quest for personal achievement and the ultimate ego trip – or at the very least a mere effort to save their own skin  (even as they literally cut into the skin of others). Ah, but this is the risky thing we do when we start removing masks. To tinker with the masks of others is to invite attention to our own. At its root, this is the heart of what “hypocrisy” really is. Hypocrisy isn’t saying one thing and doing another. That’s actually called humanity. Hypocrisy is wearing a mask on the stage of life and playing a role. Too often, what we know as “church” is the ultimate stage performance with masks aplenty. Unholy masquerade. To truly be in Christ is to experience the ultimate unmasking. It’s as if in these final lines, Paul is saying, “Look at their mask. Now look at my face.”

Relate
What mask or masks do you wear – and where do you feel you have to wear them?

Respond
Jesus, free me from the masks I feel compelled to wear! Let me with unveiled face gaze into yours – and let me not be afraid to show it. In your name.

For all of this week’s resources on Galatians including this week’s DG video on Galatians, check out the Vineyard website.

bible-reading-guy-782907


Large Letters | Galatians 6:11

ea_series_galatians_header_2MONDAY
Reflection 66 of 70

Reflect
Galatians 6:11  |  ESV  [This Week’s Passage: Galatians 6:11-18]
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Mike’s Authorized Version (MAV)
And now that we’re getting to the end of this letter, I take the pen in hand myself to write these final signature lines – and look what fine, large signature lines they are! Hopefully in these large letters you’ll see my heart and not miss a thing.

Receive
It was ancient practice to employ scribes skilled in writing when sending documents or letters of importance. Jeremiah had his Baruch, and when writing the defining document of his life, the letter to the Romans, Paul had his Tertius (Romans 16:22). This presents us with a picture of Paul passionately dictating his thoughts as a scribe furiously wrote, trying to keep up. But Paul made a habit, as was common, in the final line or two, of taking the pen from the scribe and adding the distinctive flow of his own penmanship, saying, for example, to the Thessalonians – who evidently had dealt with some forgeries – “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand – which is the distinguishing mark in all of my letters; it’s how I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17). So here in Galatians, it’s evidently a signal that at this point, and throughout the remainder of the letter, Paul is now writing with his own hand. And though we can’t see his unique handwriting due to the fact we’re reading a translation and no one has that original letter he sent, we have to imagine his style. And it was evidently IN LARGE LETTERS. SOMEWHAT LIKE WHEN WE TYPE THINGS IN ALL CAPS. FOR US IT’S A WAY OF SHOUTING THROUGH PRINT. IT’S LOUD, BOLD, EMPHATIC, NOISY, BORDERING ON RUDE IF IT GOES ON FOR TOO LONG. Perhaps that’s how our English translations should be printed when we come to this final section of Galatians. Some imagine that as a tradesmen Paul’s hands were too fat and clumsy to write delicately, or that his “thorn in the flesh” was glaucoma or some such eye condition forced him to write with abnormally large letters. Maybe. But I get the feeling that at the end of a very passionately argued letter, this is Paul’s way of putting his own stylish exclamation point at its conclusion. He wants this to be heard and the content of the entire letter thereby underlined.

Relate
How most recently has God spoken to you in ALL CAPS? What did he say? How did you respond?

Respond
Lord, may it not take large letters from your hand to get my attention. Let me not be as the mule that needs much prodding with bit and bridle to turn and respond. Give me a heart that sees and responds to the subtlest of your movements, to the stillness of your voice?

For all of this week’s resources on Galatians including this week’s DG video on Galatians, check out the Vineyard website.

bible-reading-guy-782907