Spiritual Insights

Or so he thought…

A guy who thought I had had a pretty successful life of ministry asked me, “How did you know God had called you? How did you know you were supposed to serve in ministry?”

I thought I should probably tell him the truth. It’s not always a good idea (people usually want a “glorious” or “spiritual” answer).

So I said, “I was reading the Bible, and it became pretty obvious, that God usually chooses unprepared men with poor character and few identifiable skills. I figured I’m just what he’s looking for.”

So far so good.

Don’t impose upon God your preconceptions, misinterpretations, or self limitations. Leave your fears and Gnosticism at the door and just walk in fear and love. There isn’t much more than that.

Just do what he asked you to do and live as he asked you to live. The judgements of the world are almost always wrong but the call of God arrives with its own provisions.

So stop complaining and whining and doubting

serve him with gladness

We can wonder why he chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise

But we can’t doubt that he does it.


Don’t you have any fight in you? The faith is not for passive brooding, otherworldly mantras, or lying around waiting for good things to happen; he trains our hands for spiritual war, for taking and holding ground, for advancing this kingdom of God. It’s a war, it’s a spiritual war fought through means of a thousand battles in minds and hearts, churches and school rooms, board rooms and courtrooms. Stand up; reach out; be willing to take a little suffering – as the cost of admission to the great and cosmic conflict the outcome of which determines the destinies of men and nations.

Life is Hard

Life can get hard, and it’s easy to get mired in feelings of insecurity, fear, doubt, anger and confusion. If we keep trying to preserve what only God can renew, we will continue to struggle. And then we won’t be able to give anything to the lost and dying world that surrounds us.

But if we go to the source Himself, if we fill ourselves daily with His living Word and refreshing presence, guess what happens? Whatever we are struggling against begins to fade away and is replaced by God’s love, joy, peace and hope.

Go to your source, Jesus Christ, today. Be refreshed in His love and grace, and then share it with a world that so desperately needs it.

Christine Caine

Good ole’ Mark

The Book of Mark gives us some insight into the personality of Jesus. It’s fun to read about him interacting with the crowds, individuals, disciples and even teachers.
Although we cannot physically walk along side Jesus down the dirt roads and between towns, the words that he felt with us are just as uplifting and encouraging today as they were when originally spoken.
“With men, it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (10:27) and “Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.” (11:24)
Let’s bring those two verses into this weekend.
On Sunday, we will witness something that was not possible by the will of man. The Downtown Campus did not come into being because men decided that it should. No, God had his hand upon the many individuals called to serve… because of God, through them, Brewbakers became a reality, the equipment became available, the volunteers felt called to serve and things fell into place.
So now I ask you… Please pray. I want you to ask for the church to be filled with those who need it the most. That can be anyone from any walk of life. I want you to believe what you pray, because if you do, those people will feel God nudging them to come on Sunday, and we will have them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Adam (4/11/14)

We are One

With the conclusion of Apple Blossom, I am reminded this is one Sunday out of the year in which we may see faces that we will not see again. We have one opportunity to show people love they might not see or feel again for a long, long time.

In this reflection, I am reminded of a speech that was never given, written by a man who never lived, and placed into book that was never written.

The universe (God) speaks in many languages, but only one voice.
It speaks in the language of hope
It speaks in the language of trust
It speaks in the language of strength and the language of compassion
It is the language of the heart and the language of the soul.
But always it is the same voice
It is the voice of our ancestors, speaking through us,
And the voice of our inheritors, waiting to be born
It is the small, still voice that says
“We are one”
No matter the blood
No matter the skin
No matter the world
No matter the star:
“We are one”
No matter the pain
No matter the darkness
No matter the loss
No matter the fear
“We are one”
Here, gathered together in common cause, we agree to recognize the singular truth and this singular rule:
“That we must be kind to one another”
Because each voice enriches us and ennobles us and each voice lost diminishes us.
We are the voice of the Universe, the soul of creation, the fire
that will light the way to a better future.
We are one.

We are one in our creators eyes. He loves each and every one of us. We have this amazing opportunity EVERY Sunday to show that love and acceptance to our fellow men and women. But this Sunday is special. This is the Sunday where Jesus love for us and our love for each other should radiate all the more.
Every person that walks through the doors must feel the love we have for them, and know that we are One Body In Christ.
We Are One.

The Bloom (redux)

Overnight, our town has been transformed from Winchester, VA into “The Bloom”. It’s an extrovert’s holiday on steroids. Every aspect of it demands that you be somewhere with people doing something with people. Be it midway, carnival, parade, or fireworks.
There is precious little refuge for those of us who are proud of being an introvert. We can’t even get from one end of town to the other in our cars without seeing the sea of green and pinked out people. Even our sacred coffee shops are not safe!
It is the one holiday that divides us and conquers us.
Some stay and go forth, some stay and hide, some go away to hide, and some come in from far away to play.

So what should we do with this pink and green monster this year?

Love it. Love everyone. Love the beauty it brings. Love the opportunities it creates. Love the chances it presents us.

This year we are to look at it through a set of pink and green colored glasses and smile. We are to smile because this is the first opportunity we have to see the ends of the earth brought to Winchester. Acts 1:8 is here and it’s a party animal.

Friday and Saturday we have the opportunity to be who we have always wanted to be. We have the opportunity to meet total strangers where they are and offer them unconditional grace and mercy and love simply by making eye contact -real eye contact- smiling at them with warmth and understanding and just being there for them. Regardless if you are a “people person” or not, there will be a person in this town that needs you.
Be there. Be there for them. Make this “The Bloom” they will always remember, not because of the party… but because of the people.

The Dawn of The Bloom

“May the odds be ever in your favor!”
Ok, so people are not about to go out and kill each other, but they will be dressed in outrageous clothing, and a lot of clowns are going to get dunked at the carnival and a lot of cones will go down at midway before the weekend is out.
No, it’s not the Hunger Games…. It’s The Bloom.
Today is the calm before the storm; enjoy the last day of being able to drive through downtown.

The Bloom brings out the best and the worst in us. We are the least tolerant of other on our roads and in our city while we indulge in the gluttony of guilty pleasures, or hide from the world and curse those who disturb our routines.

So what does The Bloom have to do with church?
Acts 1:8 sends us out to “the ends of the earth”
Well… for those of you who are new to Winchester…
During The Bloom – the ends of the earth come to Winchester!
This is our chance to make the biggest difference in the smallest ways.
This year, we get to show compassion to the ignorant. Kindness to the clueless. Patience to the persistent. Gentleness to the arrogant.

Winchester is our Home! Grace Community is our Home. Grace may be a different kind of church, but it is the church that we come home to, and we come home to it in Winchester, VA.

This year, let’s show the hordes of Bloomers what home should feel like while they are here rather then how we want it to look like after they are gone.
May the odds be ever in our favor

Defend Your Walls


Nehemiah 4:10-23 Defend Your Walls!

Recap on where we are and how we got here.

The Walls of Jerusalem were destroyed 160 years prior to these events, in those years, the enemies of Israel have run amok over the city.

Nehemiah, upon hearing this, goes into a period of deep grief and mourning and by the grace of his king is given an unlimited budget and has been sent 900 miles away to supervise and organize the Rebuilding…

Enemies from every corner are converging to destroy and wall

And two guys names Sanballat and Tobiah are trying to dissuade them, originally by mocking them, but when that didn’t work…


7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry.

8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it.

9 But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.


Now, so you do not think this is going to be a message about just a wall, let me establish this simple analogy – the wall is our lives. Every time I talk about the wall, I want you to think about a couple of things…


1 – what is your greatest obstacle in life right now (work, porn, drugs, alcohol, pills, school, peer pressure, family, an affair, finances)

2 – who is bringing you down? Family, ex the wrong friends, bad boss, corrupt co-workers, classmates,

2.5 – what have you lost because your walls are destroyed

3 – who is trying to help you – sponsor, recovery community, family, significant other, a mentor


Did you ever read chapter 3? Brad preached on it and went through the list of who did what. It’s a massive list that gives you an idea of the scope of the project. Its not a list of names. Look at the size of the wall. Look at the number of people involved. Its massive.


Not to elevate ourselves but can I give you a real world example of this real quick?

Grace Downtown. That’s where you are right now. It wasn’t always here. It used to be part of a much larger church. That church was Grace Community Church. Starting in March of this year, the church came under attack from every side, much like what the people in our story are about to experience. The difference is that Grace’s walls fell, there was a great fire, and the people were broken up into tribes and scattered. We survived and became independent and we rebuilt! But this was not without a small army of volunteers. We had to start with our gates. We built the Band Gate, the Tech Gate, the Cafe gate, the Administration Gate and the Childrens Ministry Gate.
Folks, these workers are weary, they need help, they need your help. They need your help to defend the gates. If you feel led, come to talk to me or any member of the prayer teams and we will get you plugged in. This church needs you.


With these things at the front of our minds, lets open our hearts and our Bibles to Nehemiah 4:10

I have found that the best way for me to read and understand the bible, is to read a section and then go back and break it down  verse by verse, so that is what I am going to do!

*read entire section*



10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”


11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”


12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever

you turn, they will attack us.”


13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.


14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”


15 When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.


16-18 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.


19 – 20 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall.  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”


21 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out.


22 At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.”


23 Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.


We need to rebuild our lives, no matter how much you have it together right now, there is something that you are missing, something that you have lost along the way, something you thought you can never have back, something that is a part of you. For some of us, its getting our families back, for others, its getting clean, for others still, its becoming independent again… for all of us, its drawing closer to God… and this is where we need to realize that before all things, we need to get our spiritual house in order before we can fix anything else!


When Nehemiah first found out about the wall being ruined and that his people, after 160 years did not rebuild it –
First… he wept, he grieved and he mourned.
Second… he prayed and sought God

Third… he went to work


Now, I am going to repeat myself a lot. But when I am done, you will never see this book the same way again. Not because I’m a great teacher, but because what God put into this section is truly incredible.

So lets break it down one verse at a time.

10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild.”

Stop right there. Think back to how this started. Your life is the wall. How many of you have found yourself in this situation?

Something catastrophic happens, a job loss, a death of the loved one, falling into addiction, relapse, or you have fallen so much, so many times, that your original network is gone…

“There is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild.”


What do we need to rebuild? Our faith and our lives!

Have you been there? Are you there now? Have your decisions destroyed all that you have built? Is there so much rubble, that the people who you originally had with you took a look at it and “whelp, enough of that” and declared you done for?

That’s what’s going on here.

The people who set out to rebuild the walls, they had laborers to help but after a little while, even the laborers became overwhelmed.


11 “Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” 


I don’t know about you, but there are thousands of enemies in our midst just trying to kill off our ambitions. The task of rebuilding, its mind numbing… and think about this – in the case of Nehemiah, the wall was so damaged that the rocks were burned. Yeah, that’s right, the rocks were burned… we are talking fires of over 5,000 degrees. All I know, is that I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere near there the day that Jerusalem fell.

In the case of our lives, it doesn’t matter what you are doing, so long as your doing it for God… people will come after you.

These attacks often come from the least expected places. Sometimes its sarcasm from a loved one, other times its a mentor who is no longer available. More often, I am finding people turning to alternative beliefs.
These are not from God! They are from the enemy who is trying to destroy you from the inside.

You do not have to literally die, many of these sources are not trying to really kill you, they just need to stop you from doing any good.

Virginia has the most custom license plates of any state. I drove past one that said 1COR412. Took me a while to realize it was averse. I got home, looked it up and my mind was blown – this is what it said –

And we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure
I can’t think of a better New Testament verse to go with this story.


What do we need to rebuild? Our faith and lives!

What comes against us? The enemy!


12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” 


Simply put, the people were scared. They only had part of a wall, they had only begun the process and here they were, surrounded by enemies. So scared in fact, that over ten people, independent of each other, come over to Nehemiah and are in full panic mode.

You know this feeling, this is the feeling the enemy tries to give you when you are putting your life back in order, and you have just gotten started and WHAM! you look up and you are surrounded by opposition.


How do you handle this? Cower? Give in? Run away?

NO! It’s not the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered rodent you ever set eyes on! That rabbit’s got a vicious streak a mile wide!
These are people, and they also are acting in fear… fear that you might just succeed in getting the job done.

So what did Nehemiah do?


13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 


Now were talking! Imagine what the enemies must have thought originally… their mocking didn’t work, so they decide to go with intimidation… every time they looked into the city they see people working, building, repairing… they think this is going to be an easy victory, and they next time they look… there are faced looking back at them… lots of faces, angry faces… faces that have helmets on and bows drawn at them, with spears at the ready and swords at the side….



So here he is, he knows he cannot face the enemy alone, so despite being outnumbered, out gunned and in a strategic disadvantage, he rallied his workers to defend the wall when he was at the most weak!
Learn from Nehemiah! Do you know where you are the most weak? Who is there to help defend you while you start to rebuild? Utilize your resources, use your network!


14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” 


Remember the Lord. Remember the Lord. Remember the Lord. He is great and awesome.
Do you know what the enemy fears? God. Not you, but God within you. The enemy, your enemies fear God in your life.

I cannot stress this enough – the enemy has no fear of you – the enemy fears what God can and will do through you. 
Look at the order this is placed in –
He looks over things – he surveys the situation.
He calls up his network, his friends, his family, his mentors, his elders, his spiritual advisors and he declares!

Then he does the William Wallace thing, or maybe Mel Gibson did the Nehemiah thing – 



15 “When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.” 


Who does he say that thwarted the plot? GOD!
God made it known to His people what His enemies were up to.

Do you remember what God promises us? Let me tell you – For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
God gave Nehemiah the wisdom and the plan to place the people at the low points of the wall, where the enemy could clearly see that despite being in ruin and being rebuilt, this wall, this life was not going to go down without a fight.
And you know what the enemy feared? God within His people!

Because of the fear of God, the enemy gave up it’s plan and the people went back to work.



16-18 From that day on, half of my men did the work, while the other half were equipped with spears, shields, bows and armor. The officers posted themselves behind all the people of Judah who were building the wall. Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other, and each of the builders wore his sword at his side as he worked. But the man who sounded the trumpet stayed with me.  


Nehemiah was no fool. He knew he was not allowed to be weak again, or even be seen as weak.

He divided his forces, half to defend, the other half to rebuild. He took his best warriors, his wisest strategists and applied their skills and abilities where they can be utilized to the fullest. He placed them behind the masons, the workers, the builders to watch their backs while they applied their trade.


The workers took no chances. To give you a visual of what this is like, because this is the crux of this whole message, I want to bring out a few props. First you have to defend yourself, so there is the crude, but basically effective Buckler. Great for pushing the enemy away and gaining a foot forward. Next we have the sword, the key to stay on the offensive. If we don’t, if we cease to advance, we lose! We can never stop moving forward! This is how Nehemiah built the wall, by constantly praying to God, communicating with God, putting his faith and trust in God. He had a sword in one hand, a shield on his back and a trowel in the other hand with a bucket at his feet!


This is how we are to live! This is how we are to rebuild! This is how we are to go above and beyond what we ever thought possible.
Nehemiah’s items were literal – ours are a metaphor! Have you ever heard of the armor of God?

We use the Shield of Faith to push the enemy away from us.

We use the Sword of Truth to stay on the offensive. Because with the truth, we never have to defend. The truth stands for itself, it is infallible. We use the truth to gain ground. We use the sword and shield to push back the enemy.

The trowel and the buck remind us that as we move forward, as we get stronger we build more and more. More connections, more networks, more partners, more supporters, more lives intertwined with our own until we have an army so vast, that we can defend our very own city from anything the enemy sends against it.


19 – 20 Then I said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “The work is extensive and spread out, and we are widely separated from each other along the wall.  Wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet, join us there. Our God will fight for us!”  


So where do we fight, and who do we fight for? We fight for each other whenever there is a call sent out.  Our weekly attendance is around 250 people between two services. Our Facebook page has a following of over 500. Our website is currently being built and when it is done, it will be a clearinghouse for all calls to service. It could be raising money for a missions trip, it might be a service opportunity to use your talents as laborers, teachers and musicians, or it might be an chance to serve at another chance church, or to get plugged in here at Grace downtown. Whatever it is, you will here about here before the sermon, you will see it on Facebook and you will find it at our website.

And remember wherever we go, God will fight for us!
Say that with me – God Will Fight For US! Louder now! GOD WILL FIGHT FOR US!


21 – 23 So we continued the work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn till the stars came out.  At that time I also said to the people, “Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so they can serve us as guards by night and as workers by day.” Neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me took off our clothes; each had his weapon, even when he went for water.


I want to bring this to a close with these verses, not because they are the end of the chapter, but because they are more instructions on how to live. Think about the situation they are in… rebuilding the walls

They are rebuilding the walls to stay alive and to establish a safe and healthy life for their future families.

We need to rebuild that which we have lost in order to establish a safe and healthy life for our current and future families.

How? By mourning and grieving what was lost. Remember, weeping is cast for the night, but joy… joy comes in the morning.

Next, we pray, we pray and we pray some more. We talk to God, we talk to other believers, we talk to our mentors and sponsors and friends and families. We rebuild our faith and we increase our knowledge of scripture because the only thing… the ONLY thing the enemy fears, is God inside of us.
If you don’t believe me, look at all of history… almost every one of Israel’s ancient enemies has been obliterated! When is the last time you walked by a Chaldean temple or marvelled a Babylonian style building, or worshipped at the later of a Sumerian god? THEY ARE GONE! They provoked God, opposed God, fought God, and they lost! Why? Because God will fight for us.

Anyway… how do we fight? We fight with faith, we fight with truth and we fight with love. By ourselves, we cannot win. With God, we can never lose.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes

“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him.”


When we can finally understand who our real enemy is, we can begin to understand him. When we understand him, we begin to love him, when we begin to love him, when we love him, we know that he must be destroyed.




So we gather together, as a church and as a family. We pray together, we sing together, we laugh together and we love together. We lift each other up when we are down and we defend each other when we are under attack.


Romans 12:2 says Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.


Do you know what Gods plans are for you? Do you want to know His will for your life?


If you want to get started down this path, come and pray with any of our prayer team members. They will lift you up, they will plug you in, they will start you down the path of rebuilding your life.


It doesn’t matter where you are in life right now… you lost something along the way… you made a sacrifice you should not have.. you lost yourself or your loved ones. Your lost in addiction, porn, work, sports, or a bad relationship… take the first step tonight, or take the same step you have taken a thousand times over… come, come forward and pray with us… give it to God. Let us walk with you. Let us live with you. Let us love you.

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians

This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ Himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead.

All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia. May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.

Jesus gave His life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

I am shocked that you are turning away so soon from God, who called you to Himself through the loving mercy of Christ. You are following a different way that pretends to be the Good News but is not the Good News at all. You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.

Let God’s curse fall on anyone, including us or even an angel from heaven, who preaches a different kind of Good News than the one we preached to you. I say again what we have said before: If anyone preaches any other Good News than the one you welcomed, let that person be cursed.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.

Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors. But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by His marvelous grace. Then it pleased Him to reveal His Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.

When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus. Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days.

The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie.

After that visit I went north into the provinces of Syria and Cilicia. And still the Christians in the churches in Judea didn’t know me personally. All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they praised God because of me.

Then fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas; and Titus came along, too. I went there because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing. And they supported me and did not even demand that my companion Titus be circumcised, though he was a Gentile. Even that question came up only because of some so-called Christians there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations. But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you. And the leaders of the church had nothing to add to what I was preaching. (By the way their reputation as great leaders made no difference to me, for God has no favorites.)

Instead, they saw that God had given me the responsibility of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as He had given Peter the responsibility of preaching to the Jews. For the same God who worked through Peter as the apostle to the Jews also worked through me as the apostle to the Gentiles. In fact, James, Peter, and John, who were known as pillars of the church, recognized the gift God had given me, and they accepted Barnabas and me as their coworkers.

They encouraged us to keep preaching to the Gentiles, while they continued their work with the Jews. Their only suggestion was that we keep on helping the poor, which I have always been eager to do. But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong.

When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile Christians, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. He was afraid of criticism from these people who insisted on the necessity of circumcision. As a result, other Jewish Christians followed Peter’s hypocrisy, and even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.

When I saw that they were not following the truth of the gospel message, I said to Peter in front of all the others, “Since you, a Jew by birth, have discarded the Jewish laws and are living like a Gentile, why are you now trying to make these Gentiles follow the Jewish traditions? “You and I are Jews by birth, not ‘sinners’ like the Gentiles. Yet we know that a person is made right with God by faith in Jesus Christ, not by obeying the law. And we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we might be made right with God because of our faith in Christ, not because we have obeyed the law. For no one will ever be made right with God by obeying the law.”

But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not! Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God. My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. I do not treat the grace of God as meaningless. For if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die.

Oh, foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you? For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of His death on the cross. Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ. How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain, was it? I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ. In the same way, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.” The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God.

What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would declare the Gentiles to be righteous because of their faith. God proclaimed this good news to Abraham long ago when He said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith. But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under His curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.”

So it is clear that no one can be made right with God by trying to keep the law. For the

Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” This way of faith is very different from the way of law, which says, “It is through obeying the law that a person has life.”

But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law.

When He was hung on the cross, He took upon Himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing He promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith.

Dear brothers and sisters, here’s an example from everyday life. Just as no one can set aside or amend an irrevocable agreement, so it is in this case. God gave the promises to Abraham and his child. And notice that the Scripture doesn’t say “to his children,” as if it meant many descendants. Rather, it says “to His child”—and that, of course, means Christ.

This is what I am trying to say: The agreement God made with Abraham could not be canceled 430 years later when God gave the law to Moses. God would be breaking His promise. For if the inheritance could be received by keeping the law, then it would not be the result of accepting God’s promise.

But God graciously gave it to Abraham as a promise. Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave His law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement.

But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when He gave His promise to Abraham. Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you.

Think of it this way. If a father dies and leaves an inheritance for his young children, those children are not much better off than slaves until they grow up, even though they actually own everything their father had. They have to obey their guardians until they reach whatever age their father set. And that’s the way it was with us before Christ came. We were like children; we were slaves to the basic spiritual principles of this world. But when the right time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, subject to the law. God sent Him to buy freedom for us who were slaves to the law, so that He could adopt us as His very own children. And because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, prompting us to call out, “Abba, Father.” Now you are no longer a slave but God’s own child. And since you are His child, God has made you His heir.

Before you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world?

You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws.

You did not mistreat me when I first preached to you. Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News. But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus Himself.

Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then? I am sure you would have taken out your own eyes and given them to me if it had been possible. Have I now become your enemy because I am telling you the truth?

Those false teachers are so eager to win your favor, but their intentions are not good. They are trying to shut you off from me so that you will pay attention only to them. If someone is eager to do good things for you, that’s all right; but let them do it all the time, not just when I’m with you.

Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I’m going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives. I wish I were with you right now so I could change my tone. But at this distance I don’t know how else to help you.

Tell me, you who want to live under the law, do you know what the law actually says? The Scriptures say that Abraham had two sons, one from his slave wife and one from his freeborn wife. The son of the slave wife was born in a human attempt to bring about the fulfillment of God’s promise. But the son of the freeborn wife was born as God’s own fulfillment of His promise. These two women serve as an illustration of God’s two covenants. The first woman, Hagar, represents Mount Sinai where people received the law that enslaved them. And now Jerusalem is just like Mount Sinai in Arabia, because she and her children live in slavery to the law. But the other woman, Sarah, represents the heavenly Jerusalem. She is the free woman, and she is our mother. As Isaiah said, “Rejoice, 0 childless woman, you who have never given birth! Break into a joyful shout, you who have never been in labor! For the desolate woman now has more children than the woman who lives with her husband!”

And you, dear brothers and sisters, are children of the promise, just like Isaac. But you are now being persecuted by those who want you to keep the law, just as Ishmael, the child born by human effort, persecuted Isaac, the child born by the power of the Spirit. But what do the Scriptures say about that? “Get rid of the slave and her son, for the son of the slave woman will not share the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” So, dear brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman; we are children of the free woman.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. But we who live by the Spirit eagerly wait to receive by faith the righteousness God has promised to us. For when we place our faith in Christ Jesus, there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love.

You were running the race so well. Who has held you back from following the truth? It certainly isn’t God, for He is the One who called you to freedom. This false teaching is like a little yeast that spreads through the whole batch of dough! I am trusting the Lord to keep you from believing false teachings. God will judge that person, whoever he is, who has been confusing you.

Dear brothers and sisters, if I were still preaching that you must be circumcised—as some say I do—why am I still being persecuted? If I were no longer preaching salvation through the cross of Christ, no one would be offended. I just wish that those troublemakers who want to mutilate you by circumcision would mutilate themselves. For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

But if you are always biting and devouring one another, watch out! Beware of destroying one another. So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses. 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.

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.

Pay careful attention to your own work, for then you will get the satisfaction of a job well done, and you won’t need to compare yourself to anyone else. For we are each responsible for our own conduct.

Those who are taught the word of God should provide for their teachers, sharing all good things with them. Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

NOTICE WHAT LARGE LETTERS I USE AS I WRITE THESE CLOSING WORDS IN MY OWN HANDWRITING. Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples.

As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died. It doesn’t matter whether we have been circumcised or not. What counts is whether we have been transformed into a new creation. May God’s peace and mercy be upon all who live by this principle; they are the new people of God.

From now on, don’t let anyone trouble me with these things. For I bear on my body the scars that show I belong to Jesus.

Dear brothers and sisters, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.

Thoughts of a Baby Christian – A New Year

The start of a new year always brings the promise of a fresh start, new goals, and of course, new year resolutions. Everyone has them, rather they want to admit it or not. We all know the most common ones; lose weight, eat healthier, join a gym, save money, etc. etc. etc. These are all great and noble plans, but how long will they last? We always mean well, but sometimes commitment fades. Our lives can be stressful. Things come up, emergencies happen. And sometimes, we just bite off more than we can chew.

The good thing is that God already planned the perfect new year resolution. Colossians 3:17 says, “And whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Let’s be honest, we can all be a little nicer to each other and less judgmental. We can be more understanding to those who are different from us. Instead of complaining about our horrible jobs, we can be thankful to have one. What’s going to hurt you to help the elderly lady put groceries in her car? God has called us to do more than to tolerate each other. We are to love each other and do life together! Like the song says, Love sweet love, it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.”

I pray for a safer, kinder, and more loving 2016 for each of us.