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Accept No Substitutes (Part 2)

Holy Bible on black wooden bench

 “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5

The thing about original ideas is that they are usually expensive. Whoever first invents something and patents it gets to name the price. If it’s a great idea, it’s going to be expensive. Eventually someone is going to make a generic version of the same thing, but often it’s not the same. The substitute will be cheaper, but will it work the same? 

An example from years ago:  My Honda 750 motorcycle needed four new spark plug wires. The Honda dealer had only two original equipment wires from the NGK company, but he had two more wires from an after-market company. He promised me they were just as good. With no real choice I bought the two originals and the two after-market.

All four wires worked on sunny, dry days. But when it rained, the bike began to run on only two cylinders because the substitute wires short-circuited to the frame. Only the original NGK wires worked when soaking wet. I learned there was something to be said for original equipment, even when it cost a bit more.

That’s what we expect of original ideas. They’ll work but they’re going to cost more. Isn’t the wonder of the Gospel the fact that God pays the entire price for his original idea? Notice in the text that God’s Son, Son of God and born of Mary, comes to redeem us out from the burden of the law. He redeems us by paying the price himself. The purchase price of our souls would be beyond the payment plan any of us to imagine. So, God pays it entirely himself. This is another reason that the Gospel of Jesus is completely unique. Only Christians believe that we are saved completely by God’s work, God’s payment, and not our own. He doesn’t cost more. He doesn’t charge us less. God pays the entire ransom amount for us. That’s why Paul insists that we never accept a substitute belief that puts the burden of payment back on ourselves. God’s amazing original idea is to pay the entire price himself.

Heavenly Father, thank you for both the amazing plan to rescue us and for your willingness to pay the entire price. We can’t imagine the full cost of our redemption and we couldn’t come close to paying it. But thank you that you have already done this through Jesus. We pray in in his name, Amen.


Simple Life

photo of gray and black touring motorcycle on asphalt road
“I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  Galatians 2:20
Life should be so simple. I’ve been riding motorcycles since I was 14 years old—a long time ago—and I remember a motorcycle ad from the 1980’s that showed a virtually empty kitchen with only an old fridge, a plain, chrome leg kitchen table, two chairs and, in the middle of the kitchen, a beautiful new motorcycle.  The caption read:  “Life should be so simple.”
Now, I have never moved a motorcycle into the kitchen, but I understand the appeal.  Let’s get down to what matters and celebrate what we really love. 

Paul has this same direction in our verse.  He says that his life can be summed up in this one relationship.  He has joined his life with Christ and so many things that used to matter are gone.  Paul, the former Pharisee, gave up his pursuit of keeping a perfect record before God and admitted he would never achieve that.  Instead, he saw himself and his failures killed in the crucifixion of Jesus.  And the resurrection of Jesus was the resurrection of himself, a new person in God’s sight.  Good Friday was Paul’s death also and Easter was his start of a new life.

In the end, it comes down to love.  You only move the bike into the kitchen if you really love motorcycles—and you probably also live alone. Love is what makes this relationship with Christ, this new-every-day life.  Paul makes the simplest statement for us:  “The life I live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”  This is a love that doesn’t empty our lives; this love is what fills life.  Life is simple—with his love, life is full. 
Heavenly Father, thank you for the simple life.  When everything is busy and too full, thank you that you have one thing in the center of our lives.  You let us start new every day by faith with you. Make our relationship with you the one thing that matters. Fill the empty space in our lives with this truth:  You love us and have given yourself for us.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.


Accept No Substitutes (Part 1)

person holding red strawberries during daytime
“In the same way, we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:3-4
You have to wait for the right season to get the real thing. Summer fruit is wonderful when it’s fresh and right here. Strawberries you pick yourself, fresh sweet corn, and your own tomatoes are all somehow better than what we get in January. I’m glad to find blueberries in the grocery store in January, but somehow, they’re not as good as what comes in summer.

Accept no substitutes. Wait for the real thing and buy it as soon as you can. That’s good advice for summer fruit. It’s also the theme for this week with the great verses of Galatians 4:3-4. Paul says that there is nothing like the genuine Gospel of Jesus’ coming. In fact, he is absolutely insistent on this in chapter 1:8, “Even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”  What makes the Gospel of Jesus so unique that nothing else should be on the same shelf with it?

Paul would begin with the ideas of Galatians 4:4. Jesus came at the right time and was both true God and true man. The genuine article, the perfect summer fruit, for example, comes when it is time. Be patient and it will come. So, the world waited for God’s timing to be fulfilled and then Jesus came. The good news for us is that we don’t have to wait for his coming, but we can read all about it.

He came as the perfect combination of God and man, the Son of God and born of Mary. This is a combination that no other religion can claim. Only God’s grace would bring him to us and cause him to be more than a visitor. Jesus didn’t come merely to check on us or inspect us and leave. By his incarnation into the flesh, he forever is one of us as well as being truly God. Here is the completely original idea that makes our faith unique, a Gospel that only God could imagine and bring.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, remind us of the unique Gospel that comes only with your Son. Thank you that he came at the right time and for all time is now true man and true God. Help us to celebrate the uniqueness of your incarnation by which you’ve saved the world. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Lessons from the Vine (Part 3)

grapes on trunk photography

“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.”  John 15:8

There is no such thing as a useless believer.  Christians do works of service, for God and for others, as the expression of their faith.  Theologically, you can’t opt for salvation without service anymore than grape branches can change their genetic code.  Practically, Jesus wants us to take the theology we learn into the street and enjoy doing the things that people attached to Jesus do. . . things like little bursts of worship when we see beauty and blessings in our life, things like hugging hurting people (well, when we’re past covid-19, I guess) and helping those who have needs.  Connected to Jesus, the Vine, Christians bear fruit.  That doesn’t make them Christians; that demonstrates that they are Christians.  What we do to please God doesn’t make him love us; we do these things because he loves us.

Some people want to define Christians by what they don’t do, a whole list of bad behaviors.  Jesus defined his followers by what they do; and what they do is inspired and characterized by love.  God’s love for us results in a corresponding love for him and for others.  Directed toward God, that love is worship – hymns in a church or praise in our hearts, confessing a creed or testimony to a friend.  Directed toward others, that love is encouragement for the distressed and celebrating with the blessed, giving food to the hungry and giving suggestions to the wealthy, holding hands in hospice care and reminding the grieving of the eternal life won by Jesus.  Just two chapters earlier in John, Jesus told his disciples: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Our purpose in life is to glorify our heavenly Father, to make him happy, make him look good.  Come to think of it, two chapters later in John’s Gospel, Jesus said that his purpose was to glorify his Father.  Because we didn’t, he had to.  Because he did that for us, we can now do it freely, joyfully.  Scripture says that at God’s right hand there is pleasure forevermore and that we will serve him day and night.  We don’t have to wait till heaven to understand that our greatest pleasure is serving our God.

Did it ever occur to you that God finds pleasure just watching you try to sing a new hymn or praise song….no different than the pleasure a parent gets watching a small child take her first toddling steps?  God gets satisfaction from your awkward efforts at witnessing to others, just as a mother smiles when her little boy brings her a bouquet of dandelions.  But God enjoys watching his children grow up.  Jesus said it twice: we glorify our Father by bearing much fruit.

PRAYER: Be glorified, Father, in our humble efforts to worship, to witness, to love and to serve.  Because Jesus lived and died for us, we seek your help to live for him, for as he said: without him we can do nothing.  Amen.


Living Sacrifice

church interior
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:1-2

Worship.  We all have our picture of what it is.  Sitting in a pew.  Then standing.  Then sitting again.  Hymns, songs, prayers, confession-absolution, readings, creed, sermon, communion, benediction, done.  Go home. 

And do it all again next week…maybe.

But Paul would have us redefine what worship is.  More than an hour a week, it’s every hour of every week.  Worship is how we live our lives.  Paul calls it “presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice.”  A “living sacrifice” – that’s a new one.  Old Testament worship was all about sacrifices, dead ones.  Blood shed as a reminder of the seriousness of our sin.

But since Christ has sacrificed Himself, once for all people for all sins for all times, we no longer need the dead sacrifices.  Instead we ourselves are living sacrifices, witnesses to the grace of God in all our lives.

And this “living sacrifice” thing means we can’t compartmentalize our worship into an hour at church.  Rather, the time we spend with our spouse, our kids, at work, at play…it’s all worship. 

But what does that mean?  I think above all it means being mindful of God’s presence.  His closeness.  His involvement in all of our lives.  He wants us to talk to Him, to consider His Word in our daily decision-making, to talk about our faith as naturally as the weather or the Packers.

Does this mean that weekend worship at church isn’t important?  Hardly.  It’s so important.  For when we all gather together to receive his Word and Sacrament, we receive the strength and power to live our daily lives of worship.

The world sees life differently.  Which is why Paul wants us to not be conformed to this world.  God help us to be transformed by the renewal of our minds so that by testing we may discern what is the will of God.

Gracious Heavenly Father, you have called us to be living sacrifices, to worship You in all that we do every day.  Too often worship becomes something that we attend once a week.  Forgive us for compartmentalizing our faith, and help us to live out our faith each and every day as we remain close to you in Word and prayer.  For Jesus’ sake, Amen.