Friday, July 31, 2020
Thursday, July 30, 2020
Key verse: Ephesians 1:10
Big idea: In Christ, we have peace.
The world is a mess. I am not sure if you noticed. But families are in shambles, political division is near historic levels, and people are depressed, anxious, and isolated. We are a wealthy nation, with a lot of comforts and a lot of power. In fact, the only thing we don’t have is peace. There is no peace between us and God, there is no peace between us and each other and there is no peace within us. Is it any wonder that we have problems? At the root of all of our conflict is our sin. It separates us from God and each other. It puts turmoil into our hearts and puts all of our relationships in peril.
God’s plan is not merely to escort us out of the world and take us to dwell disembodied in Heaven forever. He is going to fix the chaos on a much deeper level than that. When the time is ripe, Jesus will put all of the pieces back together again. By His incarnation, His death and His resurrection, He overcame the barriers which prevent peace. Our sin’s penalty has been paid and the power of sin has been broken in our hearts, so we are no longer enslaved to it. The divisions of age, race, class and nationality are irrelevant when we all come to God through the cross.
But God is not through. Heaven and Earth will be brought together in Christ too, when He comes again. The tabernacle of God – the heavenly Jerusalem – will come down to the earth and we will dwell with Him forever, Heaven and earth collided. Our peace now is just a foretaste of the total peace when Jesus returns and sin is abolished once and for all.
Practically, there is a very important point to be made here. If we are in Christ, we already have peace. It is not something we need to strive for, just to recognize. The secret is to realize that peace is not in ourselves or our efforts, but in Christ. When we look for peace, we will only find more chaos. But when we rest in Christ, we will have peace. Charles Spurgeon put it well: “I looked at Christ, and the dove of peace flew into my heart; I looked at the dove of peace, and it flew away.”
Discussion idea: What does it mean when it says that Christ came at the “fullness of times”? Is the meaning the same as Galatians 4:4?
Prayer focus: Lord, help me to rest in You and find all of my meaning and satisfaction in You. Help me to trust that you are bringing all things together in Your Son and that we can have peace.
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
Big idea: In the gospel, we are a new creation.
Key verse: Galatians 6:15
In 2009, the US government launched a $3 billion program called the “Car Allowance Rebate System.” It was better known as “cash for clunkers.” A $3500 or $4500 voucher was given for old, fuel-inefficient cars, to go toward the purchase of a new vehicle. The idea was to stimulate the economy and remove old cars from the roadways; upgrading them would cost more than they were worth. The program was very popular with the public: the initial $1 billion allotment was exhausted in just 6 days. Sometimes it is better to just scrap the whole thing and start over.
The gospel includes some shocking news: our hearts are clunkers. They do not need a fresh coat of paint or some new tires. We are what your insurance agent would call totaled and it is time for a total replacement. The Law, whether circumcision, a restricted diet or observance of special holidays, cannot repair the wreckage. Going to church, being baptized or reading your Bible every day are all about as effective as a baby’s arm floats on a grown man. The burden is simply too great: we need to start fresh.
Thankfully, that is exactly what God offers us. In the gospel, we are promised that the cross of Christ has crucified us to the world and the world to us. We are made new creatures, transformed by the power of the Risen Jesus. If you have never trusted Christ as your Savior and have been gnawing at the edges, it is time to realize that your life does not need a make-over, but a do-over. If you have been born again, do not fall into the Galatian foolishness of believing that what God started with a radical transformation you are now going to finish by your works.
The whole thing is by God’s grace. As a cost of much greater than $3 billion dollars, He has purchased us to transform us fundamentally. We are new creatures, made fit for the new creation. The works of the old creation, the strength of our willpower or the might of our flesh, are already passing away. Everything that matters is ours by faith in the Risen Son.
Discussion idea: Why do you think people want to believe that their lives can be fixed by behavior modification? What does the need to be born again do to our pride?
Prayer focus: Lord, thank you for making me new. Teach me to live like the new creation that I already am, not so that I can earn your favor, but in love for you because I already have it.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Key verse: Galatians 5:13
Big idea: The freedom of the gospel is the freedom to love.
What does it mean to be free? For many people, freedom is the ability to self-indulge without being stopped. Freedom is no bedtime, no rules and no obligations. You see this worked into our political discourse all the time; I am not free unless I can do whatever I want. But the Bible calls this freedom slavery. Sure, we are not slaves to someone else in this scenario, but we are slaves to a much harsher, crueler master: ourselves. When every craving and lust is satisfied like an itch, we are carried around with the same kind of superficial liberty that an animal has. To look at it another way, if a fish more free in a tank or on a table? In one sense, the fish on the table can go anywhere and do anything, while the fish in the tank has restrictions. But the restrictions are what allow the fish to live and thrive. The appearance of freedom in this case ultimately means the loss of choices.
Paul offers a better way. God has set us free from the Law! We are no longer bound like children to all of the regulations that apply to the outside. But if we think that freedom means that we should now follow our flesh into every temptation, then we have traded a harsh but good master for a lenient but evil one. We are free, but our freedom is a chance to serve, not a chance to sin.
If you parents made your sister share a toy with you, there is some joy in that: you get something that you want. But how much better is it if on the relationship of love, your sister choses to do what she does not have to do? Some marriages are more like business partnerships, with strict divisions of labor by common agreement. But how much better is it to have a marriage where I am free to do what I wish, and I choose to lay my freedom down for the sake of love? Legalism, adding requirements to the Word of God as if they are Scripture, leaves no room for love. Libertinism, saying I can do whatever I want whenever I want, disregards love. Both are failures for the Christian and both are yokes of bondage that forget Christ has set us free.
Freedom means that the way I resist evil is by choosing to walk in the Spirit. Although the flesh may offer me a carrot to entice me to sin and the Law threatens with a stick, the Spirit calls me to choose self-denial voluntarily, not because I must but because I can.
Discussion idea: When was the last time you did something that you got no benefit from, just because of love? What opportunities do you have to do that this week?
Prayer focus: Pray for God to help you avoid temptation by walking in love.
Sunday, July 26, 2020
When you were a child, you probably had some precise rules. “Don’t touch that! Don’t go there!” As you grew older, those rules changed. The earlier rules may have seemed reversed, but with hindsight, you can see they always had a particular trajectory. “Stay away from the stove” gradually turned into learning to cook with less and less supervision. It is not that your parents were randomly changing their minds, but that we need more detailed instruction when we are children than when we are mature.
Older kids: What are some rules you used to have which have changed form? How do they follow the same intention?
Today’s text refers to a Roman custom where children were under the care of “tutors and governors” until they reached adulthood. The child did not have freedom but answered to a servant who, in modern English, was something like a nanny. His job was not to explicitly teach the boys but to discipline them and prepare them for adulthood. The child was free, and in some sense, the servant belonged to him, yet he was under the servant’s authority. So sons were treated like servants until they grew up.
Paul explains that the Law was like that. Perhaps the clearest example was when Jesus said that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man. There is no Law without humanity, so in some sense, the Law exists to serve us, not the other way around. Yet, for a period, God’s people were placed under the Law until the time to grow up came. The goal was never to stay under the rule master forever, but to grow up.
Jesus, the very Son of God, became a slave to the Law Her had made so that He could redeem us from the Law. There is no need to act like a child; the full blessings of heirs are ours. A Christian being bound by the requirements of the Law is like an adult chewing on a bottle or climbing into a crib. Jesus has set us free by the gospel, so we should not be entangled again.
Discussion idea: Why would Christians want to place themselves back in bondage? What kind of wrong thinking was leading the Galatians astray?
Prayer focus: Pray for the maturity to follow God, not by Law but by the gratitude of grace.
Friday, July 24, 2020
Older kids: Looking at only the ten commandments as an example, how many of them can you say you have kept perfectly, all the time, your whole life? If even the most basic pillars of the Law can't be kept, how could we ever be good enough to earn our way to God?
Thursday, July 23, 2020
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Monday, July 20, 2020
Friday, July 17, 2020
Discussion idea: What is an area of weakness you can praise God for? How has God used your weaknesses to make you depend on Him?
Thursday, July 16, 2020
Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
Discussion idea: What are some things you are tempted to hold tightly? Why?
Monday, July 13, 2020
Saturday, July 11, 2020
Discussion idea: Our reading today has been called "hymn-like." It contains 4 lists, striking in their vivid imagery: 9 trials, 8 blessings, 3 seemingly paradoxical circumstances, and 7 contrasts between perception and reality. Carefully note the items in the list. What stands out to you as the most challenging?
Prayer focus: Pray that God would help you to see obstacles to accepting the gospel or sharing it. Ask Him to help you tear them down and come to Him alone by faith alone.
Friday, July 10, 2020
Thursday, July 9, 2020
As I write this (just after midnight, late once again), I know that in just a few hours I will be preaching on this same text. There is a special poignancy in knowing that when we read, "if our earthly house of his tabernacle were dissolved," that is not like writing, "if I win the lottery." Death is certain, unless the Lord returns and puts an end to it, and is closer than it has ever been. Historians estimate (a slightly more respectful alternative to "guess wildly") that there have been 100 billion human deaths up to this point. Supposing for the sake of argument that this is true and that each of them is entitled to a 2.5' by 8' plot on death, and that between each grave is a 2' wide path. Such a cemetery, with no roads, no benches and no sculptures, would be about 80% of the size of the nation of Germany. If it were square, it would be well over 300 miles on a side. Of course, many of the dead of the past have long been lost. They have no home and there is no lasting memory of them. We are sliding down the same path.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
Older kids: What is a struggle in your life right now? How can the internal strength we have through Jesus help you handle it?
Prayer focus: Praise God for your weakness in some specific way, maybe going around your family and allowing each person a chance to speak, that nothing about the jar would distract from the treasure.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Key verse: 2 Corinthians 3:11
Big idea: Our weakness is overruled by the glory of Christ.
Have you ever run a magnet over a paperclip? With a little bit of patience, you can turn the paperclip into a magnet itself. It only lasts a little while, but it makes a neat trick. For a more mundane example, leave a metal spoon in a hot pot for a while and then try to pick it up. Exposure to something hot makes the spoon hot. Exposure to a magnet makes the paperclip magnetic. If things like that are true in the physical world, what should we expect will happen to us when we have been in the presence of the Living God? 2 Corinthians 3 reminds us of an Old Testament story (Exodus 33:34-35) where Moses climbed Mount Sinai and received the Law from God. But when he did so, he was changed. From being in the brightness of God, Moses' face glowed when he returned to the people. It frightened them, so he covered his face with a veil when he spoke to them.
Discussion idea: Why do you think the Israelites were afraid to look at Moses? Could that have any connection to our own reluctance to dwell in Christ?
Prayer focus: Thank God that you have access to Him, that one day you will see Him fully and ask Him to help you see Him more clearly even now.
Monday, July 6, 2020
Discussion idea: Has God ever used your weakness in a way that was unexpected and beautiful before? Is there anything in your life which seems too far for Him to use it?
Prayer focus: Pray that God will help you to recognize the sweet scent of grace in some painful part of your life today.
Friday, July 3, 2020
Why has God allowed us to be so fragile if we are to be His vessels? Paul was no stranger to it. They had faced the sentence of death and unthinkably immense suffering. Why would God let them get to the brink? Paul says that God brought them to the brink of death, stripped away all of their resources and shattered their self-reliance so that they could learn to trust in the God who raises the dead. In their greatest weakness was the greatest glory.
One of the great mysteries of the Bible is that it is better to be hurt and be comforted by God than to never hurt at all. Our despair is our greatest hope. The pain of a broken heart is the guarantee of the comforting arms of God. But even that is not the sole purpose. God comforts us so that we can comfort others, where His love flows through us and into others. That is the greatest glory of humanity; we are broken vessels, restored by God and then used by God to restore others. Our heartache is the down payment on joining with God in the greatest honor we could ever enjoy. "The pride and refuse of the universe," Pascal wrote so wisely. But what a Savior, who does not just heal us from our weakness. He transforms it into strength.