Erase the grey

Posted: September 20, 2013 by Maggie in Daily Reflections

Galatians 5: 13-26

“You my brothers were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature. Rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in one single command: love your neighbor as yourself. So I say, live by the spirit, and you will not satisfy the desires of the sinful nature.”

After the sharply rebuking the Galatians, Paul puts things in perspective: it is not hard to know when you are being drawn into the wrong company:  When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Paul is saying there is no grey are here, unless we want to create one. In other words, nobody needs to tell differentiate between right and wrong for you. If you listen to the testimony of a reformed criminal, alcoholic or anyone whose lived in the dark side, they often talk of how their conscience convicts them. But they usually numb that conscience with the pursuit of a bigger kick. Paul points out that the line between right and wrong, light and darkness, evil and good is clear as day and night. We are the ones who complicate things, who paint black and white then some grey. Often the grey is because we want to stifle the conscience a little. It is a control issue.

On the other hand, there is no doubt as to what is good. The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. No law can stand against this kind of fruit. They are universally accepted.  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there.  Paul is saying…don’t you say you didn’t know. Since you belong with Christ, erase the grey area. Leave the acts of sinful nature where they belong: at the cross of Christ. Go on, grow up to produce the kind of fruit that comes from someone who has been set free.

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Stay your course

Posted: September 19, 2013 by Maggie in Daily Reflections

Galatians 5: 1-12

“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough…”

It only takes a little yeast to raise a bowl of dough. It only takes a little of distraction to derail a train off its tracks. Some months ago, a relatively young woman won the hearts of Kenyans with her brilliant fight for a just cause. She was hailed the rising star in her profession. However that star was quickly dimmed when she was distracted from what she was really good at, into a vicious profession outside of her professional league. Once inside the unfamiliar territory she found a game where participants play by different, not so honest rules. A rabbit trail with twists and turns that ultimately cost the very prize she was after. Since then her light has dimmed from the public scene as swiftly as she had shot to fame. Who cut shot-circuited this brilliant star?

The Galatians are in a similar situation. Paul notes that previously they were doing so well in their faith. They were the model Christians, Paul’s pride, only to be lured from a straight course into a rabbit trail.  Rabbit trails (actually more like hare trails, because rabbits are domesticated creatures that only play in the pen) lead from maze upon maze. Only hares know how to skirt through their own mazes. Even dogs can’t beat a hare in his own territory. Paul makes a strong warning: Stay your course. Mark my words, if you let yourselves be dragged into a different race other than the one Christ has set for you (for Galatians, to be circumcised), you will have to play the whole game, and that by someone else rules. Do you want to be enslaved again? I don’t think so. Stay in the race that Christ has marked out for you.

There goes a Christ-ian!

Posted: September 18, 2013 by Maggie in Daily Reflections

Galatians 3: 23-4:31

“My dear children, now that you have accepted Christ, now that you have been baptized into him, now that you are no longer slaves to the sinful nature, now that you share in the blessings of Abraham, Oh that you would allow Christ to truly be formed in you!”

New born babies are cute. We love to mollycoddle, to ooh and ah, to fuss over them. We particularly make a sport of comparing their features with those of the parents. Nose this, mouth that; forehead dad, eyes mum etc. Sometime this year, a man in Nyeri walked into a hospital to see the baby that his wife had just delivered. He was shocked to be introduced an unmistakably foreign looking baby, apparently fathered by a foreigner working in road construction in the area. Of course gutter press had a field day with that one.

Paul likens his feelings for the straying Galatians to the experience of a mother during childbirth. Mixed feelings are wrapped in tender pains and joy and such longing. The words are actually sigh from somewhere deep in his heart, “Oh my dear children for whom I’m in the pains of childbirth”! His earnest desire is that these Christians will grow to resemble Christ. They should not take after the stray strangers who are misleading them to a different gospel. He says to them, “You are much-loved by Christ. You have been baptized in his name. You have been admitted into the family of God, been made heirs to God’s great promises. How can you not look like Christ? How can you take after strangers? Think about it, it doesn’t add up! You have to look like him: in his love for those who are hurting (recall all those people he healed?). His humility in the face of mockery (recall his persecutors?); in his aversion towards pride and self-aggrandizement (remember when the devil tempted him?); in his to compassion for others (remember how he forgave the sinners, how he made meals for the hungry, how he visited with outcasts?); in surrender of his own life so that the whole world would be saved (recall his death on the cross?)?”

Friends, you are not illegitimate children. Oh that Christ Jesus would be formed in you! Don’t sell yourself short to the lies of the illegitimate identity of a different gospel. If you do, you will have yourself to blame when the illusions leave you to hang out dry all by yourself. Instead, embrace your place in the family of Christ, so that anyone who looks at you says, “Wow, there goes a Christ-ian! Definitely looks like Christ! What does He give them to turn out like that?”

Don’t take on a burdensome curse

Posted: September 17, 2013 by Maggie in Daily Reflections

Galatians 3: 10-22

“All who rely under the law are under a curse…the law is not based on faith.”

In the Galatia, someone was recalling Christians to practice of the Jewish Law. At its basic, the law was issued to Jews as a refugee group that was fleeing oppressors in Egypt; it was intended as a constitution to help create a distinct community. It was to be a source of identity, distinct standards of conduct towards one another and towards God. Israel under the law was to point all the nations towards their God. But they overlooked the spirit of the constitution. Instead much of it became locked down as revered “traditions of the elders”. What was meant to be good turned into a burden. This is what the preachers of a different gospel are trying to drag the new Christians into. What confusion! Imagine trying to do sacrifices, worship festivals, complicated rules of cleanliness, boundaries of relationships in such a cosmopolitan city…what a bother! No wonder Paul  uses such strong language. Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the Law… but if you are unable to carry the whole burden, why are you trying to make others carry it?

Here is the point: if you are drawn to a different gospel (a cult, fad, secret society etc), you will find it starts easy, simple and quite enjoyable to be “with the crowd” and to get that kick for a while. But what Paul is pointing out here is that it all soon becomes a burdensome curse whose requirements you can no longer satisfy.  For unless you can practice all the demands, you won’t be satisfied. You become a slave to a yawing appetite. The recently converted musician, “Size 8” of Mateke fame testifies that her life in the world was just that, a series of unfulfilled appetites that just kept demanding more and more. Praise God she was delivered!

Keep to the straight and narrow. Don’t get sucked in. No matter what the world promises, “The whole world is a prisoner to sin” (vs 22).  It’s a big black hole. There is only one gospel (“good news”) and it is this, “By grace you have been saved, through faith in Christ, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2: 8). Therefore “Do not let any part of your body become an instrument of evil to serve sin. Instead, give yourselves completely to God, for you were dead, but now you have new life. So use your whole body as an instrument to do what is right for the glory of God. Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.” (Romans 6:12-14, NLT)

 

Steer clear of deception

Posted: September 16, 2013 by Maggie in Daily Reflections

Galatians 2: 17:-3:9

“You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed to you as crucified…are you so foolish? After beginning with the spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing, if it was really for nothing?”

There is a different between being distracted (by the things of the world) and being deceived in cultic or occult movements. Throughout history such movements seem to be like a parasite to genuine Christianity–where Christianity is thriving, deceptive movements always crop up. Some lead their people to very destructive ends, such as the Ugandan cult movement that led hundreds and hundreds to mass suicide. How do people get drawn in? Usually, a person coming with “a different gospel” will speak with such honesty, such conviction, such passion they move people to extreme commitments. They offer a different but convincing plan of salvation. Such a plan often requires members to renounce existing networks, surrender property, live exclusively. Those looking from the outside can see abnormalities, but not those within.  Paul equalizes this kind of alluring to witchcraft, “Who has bewitched you?”

That is why it is important to be part of a story that is part of the longer history of Christianity. Paul points the Galatians to the great patriarch of faith, Abraham. Although God required him to be circumcised, and to have all his descendants circumcised as a sign of covenant, Abraham began in faith, and walked with God for many years before he actually received that outward sign of faith. “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” If someone comes with a different gospel, is it part of the long biblical story of faith, of relationship, of a progression of God’s plan?  Deception is a subtle but powerful illusion, promising so much, in the end delivering so much heartache. Steer clear of it. These days the danger is real in Nairobi. Several new groups promising that extra kick have emerged. Well, hear me good. It doesn’t matter what one is deceived into, whether a new religious group or a lifestyle fad, a free-thinker’s club, a secret society: deception always ends in very dark places—substance addiction, psychological manipulation, financial loss, the occult, death, ultimately eternal hell.

Let us be on our guard and help each other to be alert. Like Paul, our anchor is this: Jesus Christ our Lord and savior. In him we live and move and have our being.  For “I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”

 

Get rooted in a story

Posted: September 15, 2013 by Maggie in Daily Reflections

Galatians 2:1-16

“I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ…so those who think they are important makes no difference to me”

In chapters 1-2, Paul tells his history at length, including his relationship with other respected apostles. Why does Paul claim authority to preach “the correct” gospel? First, he did not receive his commission from man. As it were, he was enemy number one to the early church. He persecuted the first Christians to protect his Jewish heritage. Jesus met him dramatically and changed his mission: he was to be an apostle to the gentiles. His radical turnaround shocked all. He became a staunch defender of the faith he once tried to defend. Eventually the leaders of the church approved of him as they saw God’s hand at work through him.

What does this say to us today? A lot. As our Pastor M likes to say, it is important to know the stories of your community of faith. I have a friend who comes from the Catholic tradition. Her grandparents and her parents were part of this tradition. She holds to the very strong value system that comes with this tradition, so much so that she turned down a marriage proposal from someone of a different Christian tradition. She may not be an activist like some of us, but there is something deeply admirable about the quality of her life, and that is because it is rooted in a solid tradition of faith. 

How do you connect with heritage of your Christian parents, or with the church you have attached yourself to? If you are solidly planted in an ongoing story, you are less likely to be moved by any “different gospel”, or anything that offers a quick fix. Don’t float, don’t just come to church to get a Sunday fix. Get grounded in a story. Claim a stake in that story. Who are the people in that story? What are their deeds greatness in the past? What is their track record in character, in consistency of their preaching, in leadership? Can they be trusted? If you have dependable story makers, you can always cross-check any “different gospel” with what they have taught or who they are. Your own value system will be strong if you belong with others with a good value system.

At the edge of a cliff

Posted: September 14, 2013 by Maggie in Daily Reflections

Galatians 1: 1-24

“I’m astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you, to a different gospel which is really no gospel at all! Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ….”

Paul’s letter to the Galatians is one of the sharpest (I think angriest) letters of the New Testament. Some of words must have stung the original readers. Ouch!  You know we are used to pastors who chose their words carefully even in crisis. The last thing we expect is sharp rebuke such as in Galatians. It is a book written to address a crisis within a group of churches  in the city of Galatia. The letter is also poignant with Paul’s love for these Christians. Throughout the book we will sense his deep attachment to them. It seems that he developed a very personal relationship  while he planted the church there. Thus it comes as a shock to him that while he is away, somebody comes in like a wolf in sheep’s clothing to lure the people away. This other person is so significant that confusion spreads. Unlike in the Corinthian church where excitement was because of spiritual gifts, in Galatian things are so bad that they are in danger of turning towards what we would call a cult, that “different gospel” “which is no gospel at all”  

I find these books of the New Testament rather distant from our experience. The issues can be hard to relate, especially as we really don’t know the controversies of the Jewish laws. Yet they are not so far. I think Galatians is like a sign post for danger at a cliff. If you’ve been to Lake Nakuru national park, there is a steep cliff off one side, with just such a sign post. The view off the cliff is alluringly scenic, but just one step off that edge, you hopelessly crash far down into the rocks, to your own peril.

Like the Galatians, we are as prone to being carried away by the most appealing “preachers” in town. Oh they don’t have to come in the name of religion. Some do, but these days Christians in Nairobi are as likely to lured away as are non-Christians. We especially get pulled in by those things that have a quick appeal to our looks, our feelings, our desires, our daily needs! We give away our allegiance bit by bit. While we may not entirely deny Christ, such things will hinder our effective friendship with God, and with church members. Before we know it, we are on a slippery path of backsliding. Be careful of that quick fix. It’s a deadly cliff! Don’t so quickly desert the one who called you by grace. And, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful you don’t fall!” 1 Corinthians 10: 12