Paul’s letter to the Christians in Galatia reminds us of the supreme authority of the Gospel of Grace. Grace is what led these Christians to Christ in the first place (“You were called by the grace of Christ” 1:6). The grace of Christ is what re-directed Paul’s own life and now has him preaching and teaching and planting churches and writing half the New Testament (“God called me by his grace” 1:15).
God’s grace is the good news of the Gospel and it means that God justifies us, not by the Law, but by his mercy and love. It also means it’s not restricted to Jews or other people who follow certain laws or customs. God’s salvation is given to anyone who receives it by faith.
This is the very heart of Christianity, but the churches in Galatia had completely misunderstood it. They’re working their Christianity from the wrong end. They’re so worried about what they need to do to make sure they’re in God’s family and what they need to do to fulfill God’s Law. The answer is at the other end: What God has done in Christ and how he does it — by grace.
Grace is not a thing God gives — it’s not a thing at all. It’s not a noun, it’s more like an adjective. Grace describes the way God gives himself to us. It describes the relationship God establishes with us.
“When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons… You are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.” ~Galatians 4:4-7
We can’t compromise with any other way of dealing with the Law or gaining membership into God’s family. There’s no middle ground where God does his part and we do our part to be rescued.
Do Gentiles have to become Jews in order to be saved? Or course not! No! The very nature of grace eliminates anybody’s special categories.
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” ~Galatians 3:28
All of us together have the grace of Christ alone in common. And that’ more than enough.
It has been brought to my attention that my suggested name for the new AA baseball team in town, “The Amarillo Dusters,” has already been used by a now defunct arena league football team that played in our city from 2005-2009. The team went 26-54 during those five seasons and never had a winning record. There’s no way our new baseball ownership will choose a name used here not that long ago by a lousy arena football team. Sigh…
“Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age.” ~Galatians 1:3-4
People in the United States in 2018 still need to be rescued from the present evil age. Yes, we are still living in the present evil age. And it’s especially hard for us to see it because, for us, this current age doesn’t seem so bad.
I’ve got both hot and cold running water in my house. I have central air-conditioning and heating. I have cable television in four rooms on HDTVs with DVRs — unparalleled clarity in picture and sound. I’ve got a microfiber reclining couch. And I’m always either eating, just finished eating, or about to start eating.
Most of the time, for me, for all of us, this present age seems pretty sweet. What’s so evil about it?
Well, for starters, all the TVs and computers and iPhones mean that we are more aware than we’ve ever been before of just how broken this world is. It’s evil. Vulgarity and violence, racism and sexism, lying and lust — and that’s all coming from the good guys! There’s untold poverty and disease and death, weather disasters, wars and threats of more wars. In the end, ultimately, there is no place in this world where you can find a firm foundation for your hopes and dreams.
I don’t know what’s going to take you down, but something will. Something will wreck your hopes and dreams. A tornado, flood, or fire. Heart disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s. Adultery or divorce. The death of someone you can’t imagine living without. You can’t escape the disappointment. You’re either dealing with it right now or you’ve already experienced it or it’s coming.
There is no fixing what’s wrong with this present age. The world is broken and we know it. We’re broken. And all the ways we try to fix ourselves and this world are also broken.
We can argue about the things we see that ought to be changed. We can fuss about whose party and which leader should be in charge of those changes. We can spend our whole lives rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and, yeah, maybe we’ll succeed in making life a little more tolerable for our fellow passengers. But we know deep down inside that we cannot stop this ship from sinking. It’s going down. And we all need rescue.
There is only one solution for this fallen world. There’s only one thing that can fix what’s gone wrong with creation.
“Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.” ~Galatians 6:15
The answer to what’s wrong with the world is a whole new world, a brand new reality where the only law is “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Christ Jesus died and God raised him from the grave to make that new world a reality. Jesus does that. Jesus rescues. Jesus saves.
Forty years ago this summer the Texxas World Music Festival, more commonly known as the Texxas Jam, brought together eleven bands — Van Halen, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Heart, Journey, and Eddie Money among them — to perform in the first of what became the largest and longest running outdoor concert series in world history. The Texxas Jam ran for eleven years at the historic Cotton Bowl and I was there on the 120-degree floor of that stadium with over 100,000 people for the final four.
The Texxas Jam is where I learned to love rock and roll concerts. It’s where I first saw The Motor City Madman swing from a cable onto the stage wearing nothing but a loin cloth and totally command the stadium for over an hour. It’s where I saw Bon Jovi perform at 11:00 in the morning when their only hit was “Runaway.” I was there when Deep Purple did “Smoke on the Water” and Boston played every cut from their “Third Stage” album in order. I saw Sammy Hagar completely lose his voice and Van Halen’s bass player Michael Anthony step up and sing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” I saw Eddie play “Eruption.” Live. Twice. The Scorpions, Night Ranger, and Loverboy. Bachman Turner Overdrive, Whitesnake, and Poison.
The concerts are legendary. Heat strokes and fire hoses. Surprise appearances by Nugent and Hagar. The Eagles protesting weather conditions and the rough accommodations for an hour before finally taking the stage. Blown amps and stolen guitars. Fifteen hours of wall-to-wall rock and roll from some of the biggest bands in music history. There was nothing like it before and nothing like it since.
So, I was immediately interested when a chat box popped up on the sidebar of my KZEW – Vokal screen a few weeks ago advertising a 40th anniversary Texxas Jam Tribute concert at the Texas Music Museum in Irving. It was being billed as a two-day event with Texxas Jam memorabilia, documentaries, guitar contests, and several tribute bands playing the actual sets from those famous concerts. I contacted my brother Keith in Austin and we quickly decided we would buy our tickets and meet in Dallas to experience the event together.
Then the venue changed to the Longhorn Ballroom in downtown Dallas. It went from a two-day event to a one-day deal. The Heart tribute band cancelled. I contacted the promoter by email and he assured me everything was good. Their website promised “more surprises,” which gave me a great deal of pause, but the tickets were purchased, the plans had been made, and we pressed on.
We showed up Saturday at just after 12:00 noon. There were only eight or nine cars in the parking lot. And it was way too quiet. And weird. No documentaries. No memorabilia. No crowd. Keith and I felt like we had crashed a Vokal staff party. We were the only ones there who weren’t working for the show or related to members of the bands. The MC came over to us and introduced himself personally — we stood out that much! The MC was never certain of the lineup. He read fun facts about the Longhorn Ballroom from a page he printed off the internet. They thanked sponsors and touted the food truck and jewelry booth like we were at a small town arts and crafts fair. And nobody showed up.
Seven guys participated in the Eddie Van Halen guitar-playing contest which was basically a showcase of seven different ways to get into and out of “Eruption.” At one point one of the contestants flicked his guitar pick at us in the audience and it was so quiet in there we heard the pick hit the wood floor! It bounced within about 24-inches of my feet and nobody made a move. That pick just laid there on the floor for almost a minute before somebody to my right mercifully walked over to retrieve it. After they announced the winner, with all seven contestants still standing on the stage, the MC said “Hopefully we’ll do this again next year and it’ll be better.” Seriously.
During the Joan Jett tribute concert the band dropped the instruments and mics for the audience to sing the chorus to “I Love Rock and Roll!” and it was dead silence. It was incredible! The first words the MC said after the Joan Jett show were, “Now back to the tamales,” referencing the food truck he was talking about before the set.
We were took. Big time. I feel like a huge sucker. The promoter tried to make up to us by giving us free replica concert posters from the inaugural ’78 Jam. I took one and, yeah, it’s hanging up in my garage right now.
I made the drive and spent the time and money because I wanted to see the documentaries and the memorabilia. I wanted to be reminded of some of those really fun and free and wild moments from my youth, I guess. I wanted to watch the interviews and hear the stories and see the history. The last thing I would have ever done is drive more than six-hours one way to listen to some cover bands. Give me a break.
But the bands were actually really good, especially the Van Halen and Whitesnake tribute bands, VHX and Sinners and Saints. I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would — it was quite a surprise. Their music was crisp and clean and to-the-note exactly like the studio sound of the records. The lead singers have worked a long time to perfect the look, the voice, the mannerisms, and the stage quirks of David Lee Roth and David Coverdale. If you squinted your eyes and let your imagination go just a bit, these guys looked and sounded just like the bands I saw in my youth. And, as Keith mentioned a couple of times, where else are you going to hear these great songs performed live like this? Van Halen will never sing “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” with that same lineup from ’78 – ’85. Whitesnake is not doing “Here I Go Again” with Coverdale. This is it.
And it worked. For a brief moment, as insanely lame as most of it was, it worked to remind us why we love electric guitars and a driving beat. It was not a totally wasted day.
When Joshua defeated the Amorites, he prayed to God in the middle of the battle. He was running out of daylight, they were needing more time, and he prayed to God to make the sun stand still.
Joshua didn’t know the sun doesn’t move. If you’re going to get more daylight, you need to ask God to make the earth stand still, not the sun. Joshua didn’t know. He prayed for the wrong thing. He prayed with mistaken assumptions. He didn’t have all the information.
But God still gave him more daylight.
Today, we pray with mistaken assumptions. We don’t have all the information. We ask for the wrong things. But God still gives us daylight.
We engage our neighbors with the Good News, we talk to our friends at work about Christ, and we don’t have all the information. We don’t know the half of everything that’s really happening around us and inside that conversation. We speak with mistaken assumptions. But God still gives us daylight.
We’re going to get criticized no matter what we do. Our Lord Jesus didn’t do anything non-controversial. The people he touched, the places he went — there were always people talking and griping, somebody always got offended, somebody always fussed.
Jesus starts a spiritual conversation with a Samaritan woman by asking her for a drink and she says, “You’re not even supposed to be talking to me.” Peter knocks on Cornelius’ door and, when the Gentile soldier answers, Peter tells him, “You know, it’s against the law for me to even be here.”
If we’re going to get criticized anyway, let’s get criticized for doing the things Jesus did. Let’s love people. Let’s accept people. Let’s show mercy and grace to all people.
I think Billy Graham said something like: “It is God’s job to judge, it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, it’s our job to love and accept.” But sometimes I think we want to do God’s job. We’re trying to do what only God does.
You and I are not the ones who decide who gets to go to heaven. But sometimes we act like we’re the bouncers at the pearly gates. It’s like we’re standing behind some velvet church rope and checking IDs, letting some people in and kicking others out. We’re not bouncers! We’re ushers! Our God is inviting everybody to his table and we’re ushers, not bouncers. We’re grabbing people by the arm and showing them to their seats that somebody else paid for.
“I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the Law I became like one under the Law, so as to win those under the Law. To those not having the Law I became like one not having the Law, so as to win those not having the Law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the Gospel.” ~1 Corinthians 9:19-23
Do you really own the Good News of the salvation we have from God in Christ? I mean, do you really have it inside you? Do you understand that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace? Do you comprehend that your salvation is based on Jesus’ righteousness, not yours? Do you get that it’s founded on God’s holiness, not mine? Have you grasped that eternal life is an undeserved, unmerited, by-God gift?
Because, when you do, it changes everything. It rocks your priorities.
Suddenly, church traditions take a back seat to grace. My feelings and preferences defer to the needs of the lost. My idea of justice is not as important as forgiveness. Rules and regulations take their place behind mercy and patience. And love for God and love for neighbor far surpasses all of it!
“I have become all things to all people.”
Depending on circumstances and who was involved and what the issues were, the apostle Paul could come across as really inconsistent. And he was fine with that. Whatever it takes to save people! In one case, Paul insists that Timothy be circumcised and in another case he demands that Titus not be circumcised. Do you have questions and doubts about that? What about Timothy!?!
Paul would do almost anything. He would change his mind, he would adjust his methods, he’d relax his rules, and confront the traditions. He’d do anything to make sure people could hear the Good News about Jesus.
Paul was not a chameleon because he had no conviction; he had a conviction about the Gospel that allowed him to be a chameleon. He would do anything to win people to Christ.