October 7 – Living Sacrifice – Be Transformed

Read Romans 12:2 and Galatians 1:4

August 2011 began the biggest year of my life.

I found myself in the central Florida town of Sebring at a major crossroads in my life. While I was a follower of Christ, I was, in no way, honoring the Lord through how I was living my life. There was unrepented sin in my life and my maturity level was that of, well, a 19-year-old.

Even today (29, married with a son, Mattie, and a daughter, Emma, to be born any day), I look back on that time in my life and remember how important that was for my life. It was that year when I finally released control of my life to Jesus and began cleaning up my life, moving in the direction of becoming a more fully devoted follower of Christ.

In what way has God transformed your life?

A huge part of being a living sacrifice, as this series has been teaching us, is being transformed. Romans 12:2 talks about how we need to not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds.

The first step in living transformed is to identify areas in our life where we are conforming to the world. Where are our priorities out of line? In what way are we blending in rather than standing out? While it’s different for everyone, understanding our weak points helps propel us into the transformation that needs to take place.

Secondly, Paul tells us that we need to renew our mind. Personally, I would love to know what Paul was thinking when he penned these words. What does renewing your mind look like? For me, this involved looking at my life in a whole different perspective. Instead of living in the here and now, how can I live with my future in mind? How can I begin thinking long term? What decisions do I need to make in order to put myself in the best position to be a beacon of light to people?

Next, this involved me taking action. Good thoughts don’t hold much weight if they aren’t acted upon. I needed to cleanse my life of the sin that I had allowed to creep in and I needed to begin building the foundation of my life upon Christ. Tough decisions needed to be made and battles needed to be fought. Surrounding myself with people who would help in the process, not just agree with everything I said, was huge. Honestly, I needed to start listening to loved ones who had been trying to help for so long but I never let in.

How can you live a transformed life? I would encourage you to identify areas where you are conforming; generate next steps and take action!

Paul tells us within his letter to the church in Galatia that Jesus gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age so why would we live in bondage to sin? If we have been freed, why not live transformed?

Begin the transformational process today!

Jake Lawson

July 13 – Leadership – Guarding Against Negative Influence

Read Galatians 5:7-9

Have you ever heard the saying “You are who you hang out with”?

When I’ve heard that in the past, I used to believe it was absolutely ridiculous and would say, “I don’t care what people think, I am my own person and none of my friends effect that”. I was confident that the people I was closest to didn’t change who I was. In high school, I thought I could have it all – go to church, go to parties, and be the same girl at both. After I started coming to church and started surrounding myself with a different crowd of people, I quickly learned that the people I had in my close circle did, in fact, effect me.

I had to change a few people within my inner circle so I could become the person who I knew God had created me to be.

What I have learned over the years is that, in order for me to love others and share the love of Christ with them, I need to first surround myself with people who are going to be pouring truth into my life. I can’t lead others well if I don’t first lead myself. Being a leader means that I need to be equipped to share the gospel to help others do the same. As a follower of Jesus, I am called to share the name of Jesus and to be a light in the lives of others. We’re not called to only hang out with other Christians or only church people, but rather we’re called to make disciples.

So, the question is . . . how do we do both, hang out with people who challenge us to be more like Christ and those who don’t know who Jesus is?

The best thing I’ve found is creating boundaries. For example, for my friends who don’t know who Jesus is, I am extremely cautious with how much time I spend with them so that I have a chance to influence them but limiting my time, in case I feel them beginning to influence me. Being a light in someone’s life is incredibly important but, if you’re the only light shining in a dark room, your light will begin to dim, and no one will be there to help it shine again if you’re relying on your own strength to power through.

Maybe you’re like I was in thinking that you’re strong enough to not let it effect you, but as Galatians 5:9 says, “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough”, which means that, if you’re only around those who don’t challenge you to be like Christ, it will impact who you are overtime. We could lead others to do that same, we just need to be intentional with whom we surround ourselves.

I challenge you to look at your list of friends.

Who are the people that can pour truth into your life? And what do you need to do to make sure these are the relationships that are influencing you? Who are the people that you’re able to influence, and what boundaries do you need to set in place to be a shining (not dim) light in their life? What does it look like for you to lead these people into also sharing the gospel with others in their lives?

Michelle Perrino

June 2 – Secret Sin – Encouraging others

Read Galatians 6:1-5

“If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

Bruce was in charge of a rescue mission in Barberton to help people who suffered from alcoholism. He also would spend some of his time going into local bars and trying to encourage people to get sober. He would not drink alcohol. He would hand out tracts that explain the immense importance of Christianity. He would go into a bar and tell people that Jesus loves them. Sometimes he would stand out in front of the bar and talk to people before they started drinking. It could be dangerous because some of the people in a bar are not thinking straight because they have alcohol in their systems. It was also dangerous because he had to watch himself so he would not be tempted to drink. It is a great Christian ministry. A lot of the people that Bruce talked to in bars had never talked to a Christian before about Jesus Christ. He did not try to “fix” people. He would listen, encourage and tell them about Jesus.

To gently restore a person in sin is a most loving action.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

If you can carry somebody’s moral burdens then you are fulfilling the law of Christ. Do you know someone who needs this? There are people who need a friend, a listening ear or maybe are experiencing grief. You can carry their burden by listening and looking for ways to assist them by taking a meal or offering to shovel their driveway or mow their yard or buy them groceries or actually demonstrating kindness!

“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves.”

Am I too important to help someone who is weak? Living by the spirit results in doing good (1-5) and reaping rewards from one’s work (6-10). In this way we are loving one another (2).

“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else for each one should carry their own load.”

Learn people’s “love languages,” the special ways they communicate and understand love. Especially your spouse! In his book, The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman explains that not everyone’s emotional needs are met in the same way, and that it’s important to learn to adapt ourselves to their needs. The five love languages are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

Do you know your love language?

Is there a way that you can love and care for people in the way that would help them the most?

Choose to encourage someone in your life today.

Tom Weckesser

February 28 – People of the Earth – Faith as Righteousness

Read Galatians 3:1-29

I have never been good at mathematics. In school, I would find myself doing an elaborate math problem and as it progressed, I would feel like things were going well; the numbers didn’t seem too high or low and my temper was in check. I would get an answer that I could live with and submit it, only to find out that it was wrong. “What?! I wasted all that time and I got the problem wrong?!” When I would go back and look over the problem, I would find that I forgot a single negative sign, ONE! One sign determined whether the solution was right or wrong. The whole entire math problem was made or broken by a single negative sign.  Christianity is a lot like that.

To some, it appears to be a very complicated and broad topic. Many thesis papers, books and journal articles have been written about Christianity and yet there is still more to be learned. Some people look at Christianity and are turned off because they feel there are too many rules and regulations to being a proper Christian.

While there may be a lot of debate on the topic of Christianity, it all boils down to faith.  Faith is what makes or breaks it.  Without faith,  there is no Christianity. The idea of faith is one that the church of Galatia struggled with. They were overly concerned with their actions or living under the Deuteronomic law. They were getting so bogged down by all the details that they were losing sight of the main goal.

Paul tells the Galatians in chapter 3 that anyone can come to faith in Jesus, only if they have faith. It is nothing that they can do by themselves; it is only through the faith that they possess. It is NEVER Jesus + something = salvation! It is just Jesus, faith in Who He is.

In reaching the people of the earth, while there may be some difficulties, the one thing the lost need is faith. Faith in Jesus: His life, His death, and His resurrection. That alone is what saves someone.  It is not a result of anything they can do. Knowing that anyone can be saved, we need to be good stewards of the opportunities God has given us.

Jake Lawson

December 28 – Life Verses – John 15:1-8

Read John 15:1-8

Galatians 5:16-26, Colossians 1:9-14 and James 3:13-18

I’m lacking as a gardener but my green-thumbed friend, Kristen, doesn’t seem to care. Visiting her this spring, she insisted on entrusting me with a portion of her Dahlia plants.

Nervous, yet eager to be a sensible steward of these precious, plant babies, I asked Kristen a lot of questions (I also did my fair share of Googling). I learned that Dahlia’s are high maintenance plants. Their voluminous blooms are too hefty for their spindly stalks so they have to be tied to stakes as they grow 5-6’ high.

Without connection to a stake Dahlia’s won’t produce fruit.

Without connection to Jesus; neither will I.

I remember when God seared John 15:5 into my soul as I was participating in a Bible study called Experiencing God. The Spirit began to gently unravel my stubborn independence and move me to a deeper dependence on Him.

Apart from me you can do nothing.

These words still arrest me making me humbly aware of my need to surrender and cling to the One who produces fruit in me. Often, I pray them back to Jesus as I step into the roles He has given me as I follow Him…Join me, Jesus, speak to me and though me, lead me, have your way, apart from you I can do nothing. On my not-so-great days, I barge forward forgetting my source and find myself uttering a prayer of confession…Jesus, forgive me for taking this all on myself, I didn’t pray, I didn’t wait on you.

I want to bear fruit, don’t you? I want to live a life that points to the One I cling to. As a flower expert can immediately recognize a Dahlia bloom, I want people to recognize I follow Jesus because I bear fruit that is rooted in Him…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

I also want to bear abundant fruit. Did you know the more you cut Dahlia flowers the more blooms they produce? I didn’t, until I Googled it. We are the same. We can lean in to the pruning. God is a gentle gardener we can trust with the snips and setbacks. He is making us into a glorious garden.

Cling to Jesus, friends.

Dwell in Him.

Depend on Him.

Stay connected to the Vine and fruit will come.

Shelly Eberly

November 27 – Life Verses – Galatians 6:10

Read Galatians 6: 1-10

My mom makes the most awesome cookies. Warm and soft with melted chocolate chips straight out of the oven, or cold and crunchy from a stash in the freezer, they are just one of the many ways she has shared love over the years. When Sharon and I travel to San Diego to see our son and his family, there is always a bag of “Grandma’s cookies” for them.  Missing the opportunity to take a gallon sized bag of her love to them would be unthinkable. While transporting them requires care to deliver intact cookies and not a bag full of crumbs, in one sense it’s easy because we have anticipated each trip months in advance.

Opportunity : Doing good things for others can be like that. We anticipate. We buy gifts for birthdays, weddings and special occasions. Unless we are mindful, though, it can be easy to miss the opportunities that God provides when those situations appear to pop up out of the blue.  He will provide each of us opportunities. Do you try to keep your spiritual eyes and ears open for them?

Doing good:  Mom’s cookies are delicious. But I wouldn’t be doing good if I gave a whole bag of them to someone who is diabetic or who is trying to lose weight.  With each opportunity, God also expects us to prayerfully consider what is actually most beneficial for that person.  As you pray, do you pray for wisdom in how to best respond?

All people:  Not just the people we like.  The opportunities God provides are not filtered down to just those people we are close to. They are not reserved for folks just like us. They are the “all” from every tribe, tongue and nation. “All” even includes those who want nothing to do with religion.  Who would God place in your path that you might otherwise be unlikely to encourage?

This became my life verse when God opened my eyes to the last part of today’s verse: “especially to those who belong to the family of believers”.  While doing good to “all people” is important, we, as a family, should be even more aware of and sensitive to our brothers and sisters in Christ. When our hearts beat with love, our lives will be marked with generosity and encouragement for them.

What can you do? Doing good can be meeting physical needs, but it more frequently means encouraging them spiritually, intellectually and emotionally. Each one of us can find joy in doing good because these opportunities will always be within reach of what God has already provided. Remember that only a part of those resources are financial. Encouraging others takes place in so many ways through acts of kindness, praying with and for them, being a listening ear, or things as simple as a smile and a hug. Pray today that God would use you to bring joy and encouragement into the lives of those around you – especially to your family!

Wade Karhan

February 10 – We are ALL IN!

Read Galatians 2:20

I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was 19 years old riding in a 15 passenger van in Daytona Beach, Florida when I got a call from one of my favorite people, Ben Framstad. I had recently applied to be a high school intern for the summer. A feeling of eagerness overtook me as a picked up the phone.

With my dad being a pastor, I was able to watch and learn how he did ministry and led a family. Because of him, I wasn’t turned off to ministry; I wanted more of it. I wanted to do what he did, go where he went. I wanted to emulate my hero. From an early age, I had considered it a dream to be a pastor at Grace Church.

For so long, Grace Church has been my family. I grew up through Grace Kids and Grace Students with countless people in our congregation having prayed for my family and I over the years. While I had to eventually place ALL OF ME in the hands of Christ, my heart was always at 4599 Burbank Road. While God has called me to ministry, wherever that may take me, my first choice was always and always will be Grace Church.

As I answered Ben’s call, he proceeded to tell me that they were thrilled to have me as the high school intern. I kid you not; I had tears in my eyes. A dream was coming true right in front of me.

I am eternally grateful to Ben Framstad, Tim Boucher, Nick Cleveland, Steve Kern, and Randy Moomaw (just to name a few) who have influenced my ministry and life incredibly since being here. I couldn’t be more excited for Kelly and I to continue to grow here as we bring along our son Mattie to become more like Christ.

I now serve on the Next Steps Team under the brilliant mind of Steve Kern with my main job helping to oversee our groups ministry. I LOVE seeing people take their next step and join a group. We have ~70 incredible group leaders who love to see people develop spiritually. It’s my job to make sure they are cared for, encouraged and equipped to be the best leaders they can be!

I am so jazzed about the future of Grace Church. I love that our church has an unrelenting passion to reach the lost. I love that we accept people on our campus who are broken and lost. I love that our emphasis is becoming a new person in Christ (Gal. 2:20). My passion for next steps comes out of this passage…becoming more of a reflection of Christ!

I am all in! I support our church leadership. I’m behind our vision to develop fully devoted followers of Christ. I’m for people taking next steps. I’m for the future of Grace Church.

Will you join me?

Jake Lawson

September 18: Open Letters – Dear Perfectionism

Read Galatians 1:10

Dear Perfectionism,

Really? How can I be perfect when I am human? How can I expect everybody else to be perfect when they are human? Quit bugging me!

Major League Baseball has been around for 140 years. In that span, there have been 210,000 games played and just 23 perfect games have been thrown. And you expect me to be perfect?

I see all these people on social media who seem to be perfect. Why can’t I achieve that? How can I learn to forgive myself?  I want to LEARN from my mistakes and grow as a Christian.

I am encouraged by the song, MESS OF ME, as Switchfoot sings:

“Oh, when you can’t forgive yourself!
There ain’t no drug – 
The sickness is myself.”

Are you even attainable?

I am always chasing you. But you and all your expectations are always with me. I try so hard to keep everyone happy. I try so hard to keep things in order, to make others feel good, to do things the right way, to be all that I can be – and to be who others want to see. This actually can be pretty tiring. Am I trying to do the impossible for the ungrateful? You, perfectionism, leave me discouraged and wishing I could be better.

I know God’s Word gives me great hope on how to get out from under you – you burden of perfectionism! Galatians 1:10 hits it head on: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

Excellence is the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. I will now strive for excellence, not perfection. I will discard you. Instead, I can achieve excellence. You, perfectionism, are causing me unnecessary stress. Through prayer, perseverance and learning from mistakes, I can defeat you.

Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for God, not men”.  You know what? I CAN DO THAT. AND I AM GOING TO DO THAT! Goodbye, perfectionism. Hello, excellence.

“Gentlemen, we will chase perfection, and we will chase it relentlessly, knowing all the while we can never attain it. But along the way, we shall catch excellence.”

Vince Lombardi, winning coach of Super Bowl I and II.

Tom Weckesser

March 4, 2016 – Slide Tackled in the Faith

Read Galatians 5 :

Have you ever watched a slide tackle on soccer?  An offensive player, usually running with the ball is suddenly tripped up when their opponent slides into them, usually from the side causing them to stumble, fall, and sometimes even be injured.  Even in its mildest form, the slide tackle causes the offensive person to take their eyes and mind off ball, and often stops them from scoring.

A debate had arisen in the Galatian church regarding the practice of circumcision.  It seems at first glance like a reasonable thing to potentially argue about.  Jews had been commanded by God to be circumcised.  Circumcision was the symbol the Jewish male’s willingness to obey God who does not change.  So it’s no surprise that new Christians in the young church were wrestling with the idea of circumcision and whether new Christians should submit to the practice.  Some formerly Jewish Christians said yes, and others in the church said no.

It sounds like a discussion that could be held in a bible study or Sunday school class.  Paul however did not view this as a harmless discussion at all.  In fact, Paul said that the Galatian church had gotten slide tackled by the issue of circumcision.  The church had missed the point, taken their eye off the ball.  The issue, according to Paul was not circumcision at all, the issue was freedom in Christ.  The very debate showed that they had missed the point entirely.  He sums it up in verse 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”

We tend sometimes to get caught up in the minutia of interpreting scripture specifically, getting the nuance and meaning of every word.  This is an important practice, but if all your study causes you discord with those around you, if your interpretations of the bible’s teachings cause you to become divided with other believers then Galatians 5:6 is for you and it is for me.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5 is not only a lesson in Christian freedom; it includes a warning about how to discern the difference between the flesh and the Sprit. Among other sins listed Paul includes factions.  If only the Church had listened to this warning.  I wonder how much more powerful our witness might be in the world today.  Accuracy in interpreting scripture is important; God is not ambivalent about our actions as Christian’s.  But love is the primary fruit of the spirit and without love, we simply have nothing.

Don’t get slide tackled today.

ejt

 

January 6th: Peace is a Fruit

Read Galatians 5:16-26.

What does it mean to live in peace? It means to no longer live in conflict with God.

The Apostle Paul uses the phrase, “walk by the Spirit.” (v. 16) The idea in the original language is to walk in cadence with the Spirit. Similar examples include:

–soldiers walking in cadence according to their drill instructor
–rowers rowing in cadence to their leader
–a marching band marching in cadence with their drum

In each instance, the individual sets aside their own wants and desires to go off on their own. The phrase tells us it is a step-by-step, moment-by-moment process. But our tendency is to not listen all that well and we convince ourselves we can do it on our own. That’s when we find ourselves living in conflict with the Spirit and the stress, anxiety, and loss of peace set in.

“For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (NIV, Galatians 5:17)

When we are not at peace, somehow, somewhere, we have shut out the voice of the Spirit and chosen to go our own way. From a distance, it is easy to spot a marching band member out of step, but when it is ourselves, we are often blind to it. That’s why we need to take a moment before the Lord and ask him to show us how we have gone our own way instead of following his leading.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (NIV, Galatians 5:22-23)

The peace we look for in so many places and in so many ways actually comes from the Holy Spirit. It is a spiritual fruit. It is the result of walking in step with Him.

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (NIV, Galatians 5:24-25)

Why not take a moment right now and thank God for his Spirit, and allow him to shine a light on the areas where we are living in conflict with him? Hear his voice calling out the cadence–leading, guiding, directing. Experience the peace that comes from walking in step with his Spirit.