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Read Galatians 4:8-10 and Ephesians 4:32-5:2.
In this Christmas season, we celebrated the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ. We opened presents, shared meals, and gathered with family. As we find ourselves here today a few days after Christmas, we may be sensing the holiday joy wearing off. There are houses to clean, jobs to return to, and tasks to be done. We also may find ourselves falling back into our same routines of relating to God.
We are programmed to think we have to earn grace as if to say, “It was nice that Jesus came to earth, but now we have to make it up to him. We have to work harder to keep earning his love.” Thankfully, the birth of Jesus is the death of religious striving. Through faith, we now have freedom in Christ. Our relationship with him makes us free and enables us to serve, not out of “religion,” but out of love for God.
All throughout Scripture, we see the pattern of what God has done for us, and what we do in response. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:1-2, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.” We are dearly loved children because of Christ’s deep love and sacrifice for us. As a result, we walk in the way of love from this place of freedom. What we do comes from who we are, rather than vice versa.
REFLECT AND RESPOND
Today, meditate on Romans 8:38-39, which tells us nothing “in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As we come to the end of the year, let this new freedom in Christ encourage and fill you up to serve God and others.
By Billy Berglund
Read Galatians 4:19-20.
In the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32, the younger son takes his share of the estate and squanders all of his wealth. He gets to the lowest possible point, starving and desperate. At that moment, he comes to his senses and decides to return to his father. Yet, he is convinced his father will never accept him as a son after his poor choices, so he decides to ask to be a hired servant. Incredibly, when the father sees the young son approaching, he runs to him and embraces him. The younger son, despite his mistakes, brokenness, and sin, was not accepted as a hired servant, but was welcomed home as a fully loved child.
Our Savior, Jesus Christ, came into this world as a human, living a perfect life, dying on a cross for our sins to offer us new life. By faith in him, we become children of God and begin to be transformed by Jesus from the inside out. Transformation comes as the Spirit shapes us into people who live in the way of Jesus with the heart of Jesus. As Paul says in Galatians 2:20, “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.”
This Christmas, we celebrate that Christ was born, that we might be transformed. Not just behavior modification, but rather true transformation as Christ is formed in us.
Reflect + Respond:
Take a moment to really ponder these song lyrics: “I’m no longer a slave to sin, I am a child of God.” What would it look like for you to no longer live in constant fear and worry, but instead to live in freedom in Christ and his deep love for you?
By Billy Berglund
Read Matthew 5:17 and Galatians 3:19-26.
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says he fulfills the law, instead of abolishing it. The law of Moses had a specific purpose, but it was a temporary covenant and never meant to last forever. However, Jesus did not come to oppose this law or to discard it. Instead, Jesus took on human flesh, lived a perfect life, displayed the intent of the Jewish Scriptures, and became the once-for-all sacrifice for our sins.
So, why was the law given at all? First, the law increased awareness of conscious sin. This highlighted the need for a Savior, since humanity cannot keep the law perfectly. Thus, the law prepared the way for the preaching of the gospel and increased our longing for Jesus. Secondly, the law had a guardian function (Gal. 3:22-25), helping decrease sin, creating a nation designed to bring God’s love and justice to humanity. The law had a positive role as it both revealed and restrained transgressions. However, with Christ’s finished work on the cross, a new covenant has been established and we have hope in Him.
Today, we are no longer living in slavery to the law. We are justified by faith (3:24), thus granting us freedom in Christ as children of God. So how are we called to live today? Paul says in Galatians 5:16 “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” As “O Holy Night” says, “Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace.”
REFLECT AND RESPOND
Consider what it means to you personally that Jesus came to fulfill the law. Offer a prayer of thanksgiving for Christ’s sacrifice for you; thank him for fulfilling the law and ushering in a new covenant of freedom.
By Billy Berglund
3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there…
9-10: There he went into a cave and spent the night.
And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1 Kings 19:3; 9-10
“I am the only one left.” Have you ever felt this way? Completely alone, isolated, afraid. Here in 1 Kings 19, we find Elijah in this state. He is at a very low place. He has run away from community and finds himself separated from others. His internal dialogue and physical isolation have led him to a place of depression. Elijah has forgotten God’s provision for Him in the past. Now, Elijah feels defeated and discouraged. In the midst of his isolation, God asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
In my own life, I have often wondered how I got “here.” During my sophomore year of college, I went through a period of depression. I struggled to find the energy to face the day and I withdrew from others. I felt alone and afraid. I felt like I needed to be alone in order to heal. I didn’t want to let anybody in. I believed the lies that I was not valuable and no one loved me. I forgot the ways God had been faithful to me over the course of my life. Like Elijah, I chose to be in isolation. There is a difference between solitude and isolation. Solitude involves an intentional, set-aside time where we can be filled up by God and better prepared to engage with and love others. Isolation involves a decision to avoid others and not be known. By God’s grace, I was able to receive professional counseling in that time. Great friends and family also came alongside to help me through that difficult season. But that experience taught me that I can’t be healthy when I’m not in community. We need each other.
Looking back, I can see how my isolation led to a deeper place of depression. We were not designed to live this life alone. We were made to know and be known. We become healthier when we walk with others who are getting healthier, too. The enemy loves to get us alone, where we begin to believe the lies that we are unlovable and not valuable. Authentic community is beautiful, as godly men and women can point us to the truth. We can walk side by side in the midst of pain and discouragement, as well as joy and encouragement.
Today and this week, what would it look like for you to engage in the discipline of community and fellowship? Are there people in your life you could share deeply with? Could you get plugged into a life group or make a phone call to a friend? Take some time to pray for the Lord to provide a clear next step for you in this area.
By Billy Berglund
1 Peter 4:8-9: Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.
When I was growing up, I used to get in trouble on a pretty regular basis. I was the youngest of three siblings, with two old sisters. I always had plenty of eyes on me, and I was pretty rambunctious. Whenever I would get in trouble, my mom would always make me go and apologize to my sisters. I remember grumbling internally as I would stumble up to them and mumble, “I’m sorry.” Then I would get told to “Say it like you mean it!” and I would muster up the energy to sound convincing, all the while grumbling inside.
I think in some ways, this is how we can view hospitality. We may feel like we should do it and try to put on a good face, but internally we feel stressed and overwhelmed. If I am honest with myself, I sometimes feel maxed out in terms of time, money, and emotional bandwidth. After a long day or week, I am not looking to reach out to our neighbors or invite others into our home. The thought of opening up our home, or taking the time to be hospitable can cause me to grumble internally. I think we can all think of excuses or just flat out feel too tired. While it is important to have good boundaries and balance, we still can get in a rut of either avoiding our neighbors or offering hospitality, but with a grumbling heart.
Later this week, we will look at how we can leave margin in our lives and we’ll present some creative ideas to show hospitality to others. But today, really consider what comes to mind when you think about being hospitable. Does it cause angst? As Americans, we can all fall into the pattern of viewing it as an inconvenience to our calendar, cost to our bank account, and invasion of our privacy. What’s your inner narrative when you think about offering hospitality? This is not meant to bring shame, but rather to cause us to critically reflect on our lives and mindsets. What specifically is hard for you when offering hospitality? What comforts or fears are you holding onto? As you wrestle with these questions, think of a time when someone showed you love and welcomed you into their home, even if they were busy. How did that make you feel? Could you offer that same love and warmth to someone in need?
By Billy Berglund
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ Matthew 7:21-23
My wife and I enjoy watching the cooking show “Chopped.” On the show, each of the contestants has a set amount of time to utilize each of the items in a mystery basket and quickly prepare a great dish. Throughout the show, the camera pans to a previously recorded interview with each contestant. In this interview, each person shares their motive for being on the show and winning the $10,000 prize. Some want to boost their own business, while others hope to support a family member. Still others hope to make a difference in the community. Outwardly, it looks like they are all doing the same thing as they cook, but inwardly, their motives vary widely.
In Jesus’ teaching here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, he is contrasting two lives. As we saw yesterday, we are all building a life. The decisions we make and the character we develop begins to form the foundation of our “house.” On the outside, it may look like all religious people are doing the same good things. Many are prophesying, driving out demons, and performing miracles in Jesus’ name. What could be wrong with that? Why would Jesus speak so harshly and say to them, “I never knew you!”? So what makes the difference?
At our core, Jesus desires a relationship with us. As we build a life, we must build our lives on him through faith. Jesus desires that we do the will of God from a place of relationship, rather than performance. There is great danger in fixating only on our outward duty and actions. We may think we can be “good enough” on our own strength. We may do many religious things for God such as giving to the poor, serving in our communities, tithing regularly, etc . But in doing so, we may miss the point. The true question is: do we truly know Jesus? God is much more interested in our relationship with Him than our performance for Him. When we begin to understand this, we experience a renewed freedom as we experience intimacy with Christ. Our hearts begin to align with His.
Today, read through John 15. What would it look like for you to abide in Christ? To rest in His love and to enter more fully into a deep, intimate relationship with Him? Take some time to write down a few things you are learning about the personality of God from this passage.
By Billy Berglund
27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30
Fifteen years old and full of youthful fire, I had just heard a talk on purity and this was the last time. I would never again look with lust at a woman or ever look at pornography. I had stumbled across some explicit web pages through my iPod at the time, and I knew it was wrong. So one afternoon which I remember vividly, I took a giant wooden walking stick and smashed my iPod to pieces. With every strike, I promised myself it was done. I was going to try really really hard. I would never look again….Until I did.
The feeling of guilt and shame overwhelmed me. What was wrong with me? I grew up in church and I knew the passage of Matthew 5:27-30. By physically smashing my iPod, I thought I was accomplishing Jesus’ metaphorical command to tear out my eye and cut off my hand that causes me to sin. But I missed the fact that the eye and hand do not cause sin. The heart does. And I had a heart issue. My curiosity and lust went deeper than a mere physical attraction. I was searching for intimacy, for connection, for satisfaction in all the wrong places. Every time I would give in to temptation, the immediate rush would soon give way to emptiness, dissatisfaction, and sadness.
By God’s grace, I have found freedom from this fierce struggle I experienced throughout High School. This freedom began as I realized this desire for lust is something deeper within all of us. As Michael John Cusick outlines in his book titled Surfing for God, which I highly recommend, our struggle with lust and pornography is really a search for a true passion. A desire to be truly satisfied. This satisfaction can only be found in a deep, abiding, and intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. Our deepest desire is to be known and loved. We only find that fully and completely in Christ. When we are satisfied in him, we trade our temporary pleasure for a lasting peace.
That being said, we must also be proactive. But we know that we are not “trying hard” in our own strength. We are pressing into God’s work in and through us. It is much easier to talk about finding intimacy with the Lord rather than actually experiencing it. The first step in overcoming lust is being aware of our problem. We can’t ignore or diminish the issue. We must first come daily to the Lord, relying on His strength at work in us. Next, we must flee from lust. I highly recommend practical resources such as Internet filtering software on computers and smart phones. Covenant Eyes provides a great platform, which will block certain sites and send a list of sites visited to an accountability partner. Even today, knowing my own weaknesses I have to be intentional to utilize these resources and think carefully about the movies and TV shows I watch, in addition to my cell phone, computer, and Internet use.
Group support can also be an excellent resource in this arena. Celebrate Recovery at South Fellowship is a wonderful group that helps provide freedom in Christ and recovery from life’s hurts, habits, and hang-ups. It takes true strength to address our weaknesses. This side of heaven, we will always experience temptation so we must not give the devil a foothold. If we fall short, we must cling to the grace and forgiveness found in Christ.
Today, take some time to reflect. Perhaps ask the questions, what is my motivation behind my lust? What’s behind why I’m doing this? What am I truly seeking? Consider taking a proactive step utilizing one of these resources, while remembering and addressing the real heart issue at hand. Saint Augustine, a man who wrestled with deep sexual struggles in his own life, once wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”
By Billy Berglund
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Matthew 5:21-22
I don’t know about you, but I really don’t like traffic. It seems the days when I’m in the biggest hurry, the traffic is heaviest. As I sit in the long line of cars inching forward, I’ve often found my blood boiling. Anger can rise in me as cars honk, swerve, and cut me off. I feel frustrated when I miss the light or realize I’ll be late to my appointment. The anger that arises often spills over into other parts of my day as well.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we all get angry at times. We all have to deal with our anger. Perhaps for you it is daily traffic, a certain individual, a difficult work situation, or a trying time of life. But have you ever stopped to think about where that anger comes from? What do we do with it? Is it okay to ever be angry? I’ve often wondered these questions myself. In reality, there’s a big difference between righteous anger and anger we try to justify. Righteous anger can come from being outraged at injustice in the world, while justified anger stems from our own issues and insecurities. In the latter, we try to justify our poor behavior through explaining it away or blaming someone else.
In order to overcome misplaced anger in our lives, we first must be aware of it. Over the course of this week, we will be looking at being aware of anger, addressing anger, and arriving at freedom. Today, reflect on the times you regularly get angry and then notice when others were angry with you. What is at the root of your anger? What causes you to get so angry with that person?
Awareness is a crucial step in finding freedom from anger. Consider what it would look like for you to obey Paul’s words “In your anger, do not sin (Eph. 4:26).” Have you committed to bringing your anger to the Lord? Could you pray for that person instead of lashing out in anger? I know these questions really cause me to think and are convicting. Today, we have the opportunity to take one step towards dealing with the anger in our lives.
By Billy Berglund
13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:13-16
We live in a celebrity-driven society. We love to follow popular figures, we track superstar athletes’ every move, we hang on celebrities’ and politicians’ every word. When we hear the word “influence,” we often think of someone who has a large following, fame in Hollywood, or success in professional athletics. But think through your own life. Who has had the most direct impact on your journey? Who has shaped your growth and pointed you to Jesus? Chances are, that person is someone who you actually know. Someone who has sat with you, listened to you, and cared about you.
As Christians, we are called to positively impact the world, not isolate ourselves from it. In order to have a direct influence on others, we need both proximity and differentiation. We must be close to people, while also being different from them. This can prove to be a great challenge. In today’s passage, Jesus uses two metaphors to highlight the dangers of losing proximity or differentiation. Losing our saltiness refers to not being different from the world. Hiding our light means we don’t allow people to get close to us. Therefore, we lose out on the chance to influence others for Christ.
In Jesus’ day, these temptations would’ve been very prevalent for his followers. Persecution would come from the people at the top, as these leaders would feel threatened by Jesus’ countercultural teachings. Today, we are still tempted to “blend in” with the world, or to isolate ourselves from people who are different than us. We can seek comfort in the world to the point that we lose our influence. As I think through my own journey, God has brought Christians into my life who weren’t afraid to get close to me. There was something different about their life that was so attractive. This passage has motivated me to stretch out of my comfort zone and look for opportunities to do the same for others. Relationships can be difficult, time-consuming and messy, but we have the hope of Jesus living inside of us. As you think through your neighborhood, workplace, coffee shops, gym, who could God be inviting you to pursue with the hope of the gospel? Will you boldly be the salt and light of the earth?
By Billy Berglund