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Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Vandalizing Lady Liberty


Introduction
            This is the last in this series of blogs about true freedom as Paul shared in his Epistle to the Galatians.  Christ has set us free! Free from the impossible burden of trying to be perfect so as to please God. Free from the fear that God does not love us, or will not love us, or will ever stop loving us. Free to love others just like God loves us through Jesus Christ.
            The title of this blog is "Vandalizing Lady Liberty".  The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of freedom to people all over the world. But did you know it has been vandalized many times?  Recently, a group protesting Trump hung a banner on the statue saying, “Refugees welcome.”  Others, over the years, have used spray paint to damage the monument—for no good reason at all other than meanness.  Who would do such a thing?
            Well, we have to be careful we do not vandalize the freedom Christ won for us on the cross.  Some have said that because Christ won forgiveness for our sins on the cross, we can live however we want.  I know of a husband who said something like that to his wife when she reproached him for his unchristian behavior.  He actually said, he could do whatever he wanted because Christ had already forgiven him!  Others may not say as much, but they live that way.  We have a term called a "sinning baptist" to describe someone who appears all holy on Sunday morning at church, but sins like the Devil Monday through Saturday.  
             Is this true? Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God? This is the subject of this final blog about freedom from the letter to the Galatians.

Galatians 5:16-23
16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 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. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 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.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

Galatians 5:16 - A Verse Full of Meaning
            Verse 16 is packed full of meaning.  It says: “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.”  So what does that tell us?  First of all, it says the Holy Spirit will guide you.  Everyone who puts their faith in Jesus Christ has the Holy Spirit of God living inside them.  This is the same spirit that has no beginning and no end--the Spirit is infinite.  And God's Holy Spirit lives inside those who put their faith in Christ and speaks to us and guides in how to live righteously before God.
            However, verse 16 also reminds us we still have a sinful nature.  And our sinful natures craves the wrong stuff.  So, there is a war within us.  The Holy Spirit guides us to do the right thing, but our old sinful nature urges us to do the opposite.  Before we trust in Christ, we are powerless to fight our sinful nature.  In fact, Scripture tells us we are enslaved to it.  However, Galatians 5:16 lets us know that Christ won your freedom from the power of sin.  It no longer has the power to control us if we listen and obey the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, you have to listen to the Holy Spirit instead of your sinful nature.

How Do I Know if I’m Following the Holy Spirit or My Sinful Nature?
            Galatians 5:19-21 says, When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.”
            Notice, these are primarily issues of morality, based on God’s holy nature.  These are not civil codes about how to build a proper fence or what to do if a neighbor is gored by your ox.  Nor are these religious ceremonial laws about how to sacrifice or circumcision or what foods make you clean or unclean.  These are moral laws; some would argue (I would argue) they are universal laws.  Almost everyone—accept those whose conscious is seriously clouded—can agree that the immoral behaviors listed in verses 19-21 are unwholesome, unholy, and harmful to both individuals and the Body of Christ.  Anyone with a basic common sense would not want to go before the throne of God and brag that they had engaged in any of these behaviors.
            Now there is still an immature, sinful nature that lives inside us all that still craves these immoral things.  Now, maybe sexual immorality isn’t your vice (I don’t know).  But how many struggle with jealousy?  How many of you just want to vent your anger and really give somebody a piece of your mind from time to time?  How many of you are full of selfish ambition and feel tempted to compromise your integrity to get something you really want?  How many of us talk about how upset we are that America is so divided, and yet we eat up news stories that fan the flames of quarreling, dissension, and division?  (We might as well make a bowl of popcorn as we sit down to be "entertained" by it all.  You see, there is still a sinful nature in us all.  But you don’t have to follow it.  Jesus gave you the freedom to follow God’s Holy Spirit instead.

What happens when you follow the Holy Spirit?
            Galatians 5:22-23 says,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!”  Now, is there anything in that list that seems out of place?  Do you see anything that you would not like to have as part of your character?  Is there anything here that you feel would not be pleasing to God?  These are all virtues that bring healing and wholeness.  They make our world a better place.  They make our own lives more wholesome.  They draw us close to God—the source of Life. 
            The more you listen to and obey the voice of the Holy Spirit, the more these fruits become part of your life.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but through a lifetime of faithful cooperation with God’s Spirit, you find yourself become more and more like Christ—who exhibited all of these spiritual fruits perfectly and abundantly.

Repent and be Washed Clean of Sin
In closing, I want to return to the question I posed at the beginning:  Does our freedom in Christ give us a license to live however we please--to sin as much as we like without fear of judgment from God?  The clear answer is no! No, because it is not good for us.  No, because it is destructive to our spirit and to the Church Christ established.  No we cannot go on breaking the clear moral laws of God because it is an affront to our Holy God who sent His only begotten Son so that anyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  To take Christ’s death on the cross as a license to sin as much as we please would be worse than vandalizing the statue of liberty.  It would be infinitely worse than desecrating the American flag.  It would be like walking up to the foot of the cross, where the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, who died to take away your sins hangs bleeding and dying, and pick up another nail and pound it into him while he cries out “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” 
            If that’s how you’ve been living, you can make a change today.  The mercy and love and grace of God through Jesus Christ is so infinite that even you can be forgiven today!  Won’t you fall on your knees before Christ today, say you’re sorry, and ask forgiveness?
            Or perhaps today, you want to start opening you ears to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  You want to let God's Holy Spirit produce more spiritual fruit in you--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness. amd self-control.  Pray to the Lord and ask Him to help you.
            Next week, I will begin a new series that looks at each of these spiritual fruits listed In Galatians 5:22-23.  I hope you will join me for the journey.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Babysitter

Introduction
            Babysitters are some of the most unsung heroes of our lives.  We have Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day, even Grandparents' Day; don’t you think we should have a Babysitters' Day?  (Actually, there is!  Every year, the Saturday before Mothers' Day is Babysitters' Day!  Who knew?)
            I have 3 kids.  They were each spaced about four years apart.  That means we have had precious babysitters helping us manage spanning throughout our lives going all the way back to 1998--that's twenty years!  Since our youngest, Abigail, turned 11 this year, we have mostly moved
beyond babysitters (though we still need them occasionally when we are gone overnight).  Abigail is old enough and mature enough to stay at home alone for long periods of time by herself.  Plus, she has older siblings that are mature enough to supervise her (and can even drive her to school or church or other places if needed).
            That was not always the case for our family.  We couldn't have made it through without so many sweet and helpful people who pitched in to babysit our kids through the years.  Sometimes it was our family--grandmas, aunts, and uncles.  However, since we have usually lived to far away from family, it was more often our friends at church who stepped up to watch over our kids when we couldn't.
            Did you know that the Apostle Paul talked about babysitters in Galatians?  As he spoke about freedom to the Galatians, Paul likened the Old Testament Jewish Law to a babysitter watching over minor children.  Listen to what he said. 

Galatians 4:1-7
1Think 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.

The Babysitter
The Apostle Paul originally used two greek words in verse 2 that the New Living Translation translates as guardians:  Epitropos and Oikonomos.  An Epitropos was a tutor for children.  An Oikonomos was a household manager whose duties would also include watching over children.  Families often used these tutors and managers as guardians or babysitters for minor children.  And, if the parents died, the epitropos and oikonomos would serve as guardians for minor children until they were old enough to live on their own.
            What is Paul talking about?  He’s talking about the function of the Old Testament Law in relationship to Christians.  Before Christ came, the Old Testament Law served as humanity’s spiritual babysitter.  What does a babysitter do?  Many things.  A babysitter keeps kids safe and keeps kids out of trouble.   A babysitter keeps kids safe from each other, keeps the house safe from the kids.  A really good babysitter might help kids with their homework or help them have fun or even comfort them if they miss their mommy or daddy.  Kids can sometime develop strong bonds with their babysitters.  Yet no matter how good a babysitter is, they are only a temporary substitute for the parents.  Children want and need their parents. 

Christ Freed Us for Adoption as God's Children
            There is another theme that Paul is teaching here.  There is the theme of adoption.  Before Christ, humanity was like an orphan with no spiritual Father.  Sin separated people from God.  They could not hear the voice of God's Spirit.   People were spiritual orphans.  The Law of the Old Testament serves like a babysitter in an orphanage to guard people who don't know Christ, to keep them out of trouble, to keep them safe, and keep them from hurting each other (or at least it tries).  But living in an orphanage is never the ideal, is it?  We want to be part of a family.
            What do you think of when you think of an orphanage?  The United Methodist Children's Home started out as an orphanage for children who'd lost their parents and had no one else to care for them.  Millions of children and families have benefitted from their care.  Parentless children is an even tougher problem in other parts of the world.  The Chinese government says there are about 600,000 orphans in their country.  China is filled with orphanages with children wanting and needing to be adopted.
            Whereas parents might hire a babysitter for a few hours, Orphans require guardians to watch over them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  A really good orphanage—like the UMCH—does their best to provide a safe, loving environment.  Unfortunately, even a good orphanage is a poor substitute for being part of a family.
            Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5 – “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.”  Isn’t that amazing!  All who place their faith in Jesus Christ have been adopted as God’s own children!
            Now, I have known several families who have adopted children.  Some adoptions came through mixed families--through a marriage, step children were adopted into a new family.  Other times, children started out in a foster care situation that turned into a permanent adoptions.  Other times, people specifically went out seeking to adopt a child who needed a family.  Some families who adopt already had children of their own, but the glorious truth is the children they adopted are loved and cared for just as much as their natural born children.
            Now if human parents—who are by nature flawed and imperfect—can love their adopted children just as much as their natural born kids, how much more can a perfect God love His adopted children—those who put their faith in Jesus Christ?  Isn’t it an amazing thought that God loves us just as much as He loves His Son Jesus?

Maybe It’s Time to Grow Up
            Young children need a guardian, a babysitter, to watch over them.  However, kids aren’t meant to stay children forever.  They are meant to grow up into mature adults who know right from wrong and choose to do the right thing.  Similarly, humanity was never meant to remain under the Law (our spiritual babysitter) forever.  We were meant to grow into mature spiritual beings.
            Before Christ came, people needed a babysitter to keep us in line.  However now, because of Christ, we can grow and mature.  If we trust in Christ and seek to follow him as our Lord, we don’t need a babysitter to keep us safe anymore.  With God’s help, with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can know right from wrong and choose to do right.  We don’t need the Law to supervise us.  Everyone who put’s their faith in Jesus Christ has the Spirit of God living in them.  The Spirit guides us to do God’s will.  And so, now we can live—not as immature children who need a babysitter to keep them safe—but as mature adults who choose every day to follow Christ and love God and love our neighbor. 

How do you need to respond today?
            Maybe, you still feel like an orphan.  Maybe today, you would like to let God adopt you as His very own son or daughter—to know that God loves you just as much as He loves His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.
            Maybe today, you realize you are a Christian, but you need to grow up and mature in the faith.  Perhaps, you need to move beyond a faith that merely relies on rules and religion to babysit you and keep you out of trouble.  Maybe today, you need to realize Jesus set you free so you could follow the Holy Spirit and live as mature sons and daughters of God.
            Maybe the Lord has spoken to you in another way.  I invite you to respond however the Spirit leads you.

 

Monday, July 16, 2018

No Longer A Slave

Introduction
            What are some of the things that make you afraid that God does not love you?  Maybe you don’t feel like you're good enough.  Maybe you worry you don’t know enough about the Bible or your don't read the Bible enough or you don't pray enough; you worry that God is upset with you.  Maybe you struggle with an addiction--alcohol, drugs, food addiction, an addiction to internet porn, or something else.  Your bad habit might make you fear God has given up and turned His back on you.  You think, "God just couldn’t love me because…"
            Fear can make you a slave.  I am so thankful Jesus came to set us free from fear!  We are no longer have to be slaves to fear or anything else.  Jesus sets us free, so don't go back and let fear or anything else enslave you again.
 
Galatians 3:1-4
1 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 new 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?
 
The Galatians
            The Apostle Paul came and preached the God News about Jesus Christ to the Galatians--a group who believed in many different pagan gods.  They believed you had to make sacrifices and perform certain religious ceremonies in order to manipulate the gods into doing favors for you.  But Paul preached that God already loves us and sent Jesus Christ as the only sacrifice that was able to atone for our sins.  So we no longer need to be afraid of GOd, because through Christ we are forgiven and restored. 
            Through the Apostle Paul, the Galatians were set free.  Unfortunately, some false teachers arrived after Paul moved on to another city and started teaching the Galatians they must follow the Old Testament laws in order to be “real” Christians.  Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to counteract the evil spell of these false teachers.
            The message of Galatians is this:  Jesus set us free from the impossible burden of the Old Testament Law (or any religious laws).  We are save by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ and not by following the Law.  You are no longer a slave.  Therefore, don’t let anyone lead you to be enslaved again.
 
Freedom
Jesus came to set you free:
    Free from the impossible burden of trying to do everything perfect. 
      Free from the requirement to follow all of the Old Testament laws. 
         Free from the fear that you aren’t good enough and that God won’t love you. 
           Free from the unreasonable expectation other people (and even society) place upon you.

            If Jesus sets you free, you are free indeed. (John 8:36)  But just like the Galatians, we sometimes listen to lies that tell us our faith in Jesus is not enough, that we must do something more or else God won’t really love us.
            What voices are telling you that you aren’t good enough?  That God doesn’t really love you?  That you don’t measure up?  What voices are confusing you?  Making you doubt Jesus and his love?  Discouraging you, making you want to give up?  You need to understand, that's not the voice of God or His Son Jesus.  That may be the voice of Satan trying to mislead and discourage and destroy you.  Learn to distinguish between the voice of Satan and the voice of Jesus.

Here are some ways you can tell the difference:
 
Satan’s Voice
Jesus’ Voice
Rushes you
Pushes you
Frightens you
Confuses you
Discourages you
Worries you
Obsesses you
Condemns you
Stills you
Leads you
Reassures you
Enlightens you
Encourages you
Comforts you
Calms you
Convicts you
 
            Did you notice that last one on the list?  Condemn vs. Convict?  People often confuse these.  To be sure, no one likes to be convicted; it doesn't feel good, but it is healthy when we need it.  Satn would condemn you and tell you there is no hope for you, you have messed up and you are no longer loved and you will be punished and there's nothing you can do about it.  But the voice of Jesus doesn't condemn you; Jesus convicts you.  Conviction says, "You messed up and I love you so I want you to know, but if you repent I forgive you and we will move on together."  So Jesus may convict you, but he does it out of love.  He doesn't condemn you.
            Whenever you hear someone or some thought making you doubt God’s love for you, remind yourself:  I’m no longer a slave to fear.  I am a child of God. 
Repeat it to yourself until you believe it. 

Jeremiah 1:5 – “I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.”
            Did you know God chose you before you were born and set you apart for something special.  God’s Holy Spirit has walked beside you your entire life—even if you never  thought about Him once—in hopes that you would one day receive His gift of salvation.  In fact, God loved you so much that He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to leave the glory of Heaven to come down to earth in search of you. 
            In John 15:16, Jesus said, “You didn’t choose me. I chose you.”  Jesus loved you so much he willingly died on the cross to set you free.  So now you are no longer a slave—if you trust in Jesus Christ.  If you trust in Jesus Christ, you are born again into the family of God. 
            Consider this—Jesus blood flows through your veins!  You are indeed a child of God!  Galatians 3:26 says, "For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus."  God’s Spirit lives inside you and we can call God “Daddy”, “Papa”, “Pops”, or whatever else you would call a loving father with whom you had a deep, intimate, and trusting relationship.  (Galatians 4:6)
            Who is Jesus to you?  Is he a myth?  A man in a book?  A historical figure?  Do you think he is a great prophet or religious leader?  Is he the Son of the Living God?  Jesus said he is your best friend!  Jesus said:  I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are my friends, since I have told you everything the Father told me.” (John 15:15)  Isn't that wonderful! 

I Want You to Know at the Very Core of Your Being that God Loves You!
            Whenever you begin to doubt or feel unworthy or guilty or ashamed or unloved, I want you to feel the loving arms of our Father surrounding you in a loving embrace.  When our sin and guilt and shame was a like an impassable Red Sea, Jesus split the Sea so we could walk right through it.  Walk through to freedom!  When the enemies of your fear and doubt chase you trying to drag you back into slavery, God sends the seas crashing back in to drown them with perfect love while you walk through to freedom unscathed! 
You’ve been liberated from bondage!  Don’t spend your time thinking about or worrying about the past.  Surround yourself with songs of deliverance and people of deliverance!  Sing praises together to God about your freedom!

Invitation
            If you are a Christian, I want you to know that you are set free.  You are no longer a slave.  You are a child of God.
            But perhaps today, you are not sure if you are a Christian.  Maybe you know that you are not because you've never put your faith in Jesus.  Why not start today?  Do you want to be set free from your fear?  Do you want to know your sins are forgiven?  Do you want the freedom Christ brings?  Do you want to become a child of God?  Them I invite you to become a follower of Christ today.  Put your faith in Him.  Repent of your sin and trust Jesus as your Lord and Savior from this day forward.  All you have to do is pray to God and ask him to save you.  You can pray something like this:

Dear Father in Heaven,
I know Jesus is Your precious Son,
And that he died on the cross for my sin,
And that he rose from the dead and is living again. 
Lord I confess my sin.
Forgive me. I trust You to save me.
Please come take control of my life. 
Thank you for setting me free to know Your amazing grace and love.
Amen.

If you became a Christian today, I would love for you to email me and share your story so I can pray for you.  Would you email me at ReverendChrisMullis@Hotmail.com?

Now, click here for a song to sing whenever you start to doubt if God really loves you or if you've really been set free.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Christmas Stands for Freedom

It's Christmas in July
            At my church, our tradition is to have a Christmas in July service every year.  It's a way to do something special in the middle of July, which can sometimes be an off month while so many families are away on vacation.  I also enjoy the Christmas in July service because we get to hear the Christmas story and sing Christmas songs, without all the business and stress normally associated with the holiday in December.  And really, any time is a good time to celebrate Christmas because Christmas is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ.  The Good News goes on to tell us how Jesus lived, how he died on the cross for our sin, and how he rose again on the third day.  Today, I want to explain how Jesus did all this to win our freedom.  (Click here to watch a really cute and funny retelling of the Christmas story by the kids of Southland Christian Church.)

Galatians 2:19-21
19 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. 20 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. 21 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.

There are 613 Old Testament Laws
            Some of the 613 Old Testament laws are moral laws.  They forbid things like murder, theft, adultery, sexually immoral, etc....  These moral laws seem to be universal across all cultures throughout history.  You almost don't need to be told not to do these things.  For instance, people just inherently seem to know you shouldn't murder--that killing another human being is abhorrent.  Even the most uncivilized cultures have known this.  (People still commit murder, but they know it's wrong or use some twisted reasoning to justify it.)
            Other laws in the Old Testament are civil laws.  They were designed to help the Hebrew/Israelite people living together in society get along.  Anytime you get a lot of people living together, it seems you need rules so everyone can get along.  Many of those civil laws are obsolete for us today, because we don't live in ancient Israel and most of us aren't farmers (and if we are, we don't do it the way they did it back then).  So many of the civil laws of the Old Testament no longer apply to us today.
            A third set of laws were ceremonial (or religious) laws.  These were rules about religious festivals and ceremonies designed to help people practice their religion.  These are law about what kinds of food will make you unclean if you eat them and how to sacrifice animals to atone for sin, etc. 
            Moral laws are universal principles of right and wrong (which we know in our heart, unless we are mentally ill or just choose to ignore our conscious).  The Old Testament civil laws are pretty much obsolete because we are so far removed from the context and culture they addressed.  And Jesus came and set us free from the religious, ceremonial laws. 

What is the Purpose of All these Laws?
            God gave the Law for a reason.  We have already mentioned some practical functions of the various laws.  However, in Romans 3:20, Paul tells us the main purpose of the Law.  He said, “No one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”  The Law in the Old Testament shows us how messed up we are and how desperately we need God to come and save us because we cannot save ourselves.  When we start to think we are good people, the Law shows us how sinful we are.  You could say the Law is the Bad News that makes us so thankful for the Good News of Jesus Christ.  One thing we can know for sure:

The Law Cannot Save You
            Before Jesus came, the people of the Bible believed you could only earn God’s approval and be saved from sin and death by fulfilling all the 613 Old Testament laws.  People broke down into different schools of thought about this.  One group was the Sadducees.  These were very intellectual types.  They tended to be cynical about religion.  They saw how impossible it was to fulfill the whole law and so just looked at religion as a way to enhance your life, maybe a tool to advance yourself, or for the elite to wield power over the masses.  You might argue that many Sadducees were practical atheists or agnostics.  They believed this life was all you had to live and there was no life after death.  Therefore, they used religion to gain as much power as possible in this life.  They are still people like that in our world today.
            Another group that took the opposite approach of the Sadducees were the Essenes.  Many believe John the Baptist was an Essene.  The Essenes thought society was so corrupt you had to completely separate from it.  So they went out into the wilderness and decided to start over from scratch.  They were fanatical about their religion and wanted to build their own utopia where everyone followed the Old Testament Law perfectly.  Unfortunately, the Essenes soon realized the new society they formed was not be perfect because they were not perfect and their imperfection made their utopia imperfect.  There are people in our world today that subscribe to a similar view as the Essenes.  They think our world is so corrupt, they want to pull away from it.  So they start their own commune or cult that aims to start over.  Others, move way out into an isolated area of the country and try to live off the grid.  Things never work out the way they're planned, because people are sinful and imperfect and any society, cult, monastery, commune, or utopia we try to build always ends up ruined by our own problems.
            Then there were the Pharisees, which we read about a lot in the New Testament.  They chose to remain in society, but meticulously tried to follow the Law perfectly and taught others to do the same.  The Pharisees were so passionate about the Law they wrote detailed instructions about all of the 613 laws, so that they would know exactly what was expected.  So for instance, one very simple law in the Ten Commandments says, "Remember to observe the Sabbath Day and keep it holy."  But the Pharisees wanted to know exactly how to do that.  How far can you walk before it's considered work?  What if you are carrying a backpack, does that make it work?  How much weight would be allowable.  And so for instance, they said you could only walk about a half a mile; anything beyond that is work.  And I believe I read somewhere that you could only have so many tacks in your sandals to hold them together because too many tacks would make the load you carry as you walk too heavy and it would be considered work!  Does that sound ridiculous?  Well, I can tell you from experience, if you go to a hotel in Jerusalem today on the Sabbath Day and you get in an elevator, it is automatically programed to stop on every floor.  Why?  Because to push the button for the floor you want to get off at is considered work and is prohibited on the Sabbath Day!
            You can get so busy trying to following all these laws, you are no longer free to follow God!  And that's what the Apostle Paul found.  He started out as a Pharisee who devoted his entire life to following God's Law perfectly.  However, he never found any peace in it.  It actually lead him away from God.  He started persecuting Christians, having them arrested and killed, all in the name of his religion.   Until, one day, God appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus in a blinding light and said, "Why are you persecuting me?"  And Paul replied, "Who are you Lord?" He didn't even know who God was anymore, because of all his religious rules.  So Paul found God again.  And that's why he said in Galatians 2:19, “[I] stopped trying to meet all [the Law's] requirements—so that I might live for God.”
            Well, most of us today are not Pharisees and we don't live in Bible times.  However, there is a false religion in our day that says:  “If I’m a good person, I’ll go to heaven.” The same school of thought believes“If I am good, God will reward me.”  Sometimes this religious belief is expressed in the form of a troubling question.  We ask, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  But what the Law shows us is there are no good people.  "All have sinned, all fall short of God's glorious standard."  (Romans 3:23)
            It is incredibly ignorant to think we can be good enough to earn God's blessings.  Our modern notions of what it means to be a “good person” is absurdly na├»ve.  Compare to purest person you know today to some of the holy people from the past.  Take the great protestant reformer, Martin Luther as an example.  Luther was a Roman Catholic monk.  He had dedicated his entire life to the service of God.  He would not marry or have any romantic relationships.  He gave up the priviledge of producing children and took a vow of poverty.  On a pilgrimage to the Vatican in Rome, he crawled on his hands and knees to express his humility and devotion to God.  Yet none of Luther's strenuous religious devotion helped.  Luther said he never felt remotely worthy of God's love.  His sin was ever before him, convicting him, making him feel shame and guilt, and condemning him to hell.  And the Apostle Paul, the herald of freedom in Galatians, was at one time a Pharisee who said no one surpassed him in holiness and dedication to God's Law.  However, Paul was driven to madness by his guilt and shame, because the Law always condemned him.  Thankfully, both Luther and Paul finally woke up and realized you can't do anything to earn salvation; it is a free gift of God we receive through faith in Jesus Christ.  Do you know anyone who is as holy as men like Luther or the Apostle Paul?
            Isaiah 64:6 says, "When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags."  And James 2:10 says, "For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God’s laws."  Martin Luther said, "If my sin was so great and terrible that it required the crucifixion of the Son of God, how can I ever think that following the Law can have any affect whatsoever on my salvation or in winning God's approval?” 
            It can't.  Remember, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsamene, just before his arrest and crucifixion, "Father, if there is any other way to do this, let this cup of suffering pass from me. However, not my will, but Your will be done."  And the cup didn't pass from Jesus.  He was crucified, because it was the only way to pay the price of our freedom from sin and death.

Receive God's Christmas Gift
            That's why it's so glorious and joyous that Jesus was born as a baby? No wonder we sing Christmas carols like – “Joy to the World!  The Lord Has Come!  Let Earth Receive Her King!”  Jesus didn’t come as a God (He was God, but he was born as a man).  He lived life as one of us and faced all the same trials and temptations and suffered like we suffer.  He knows our struggle.  He lived as one of us, but did not sin.  He perfectly fulfilled the Law that we couldn’t.  He died on the cross as the atonement for our sins.  His blood paid the penalty for our sin and set us free from the consequences of our sin.  His resurrection from the grave heralds the hope we have in Christ—that we are set free from sin and death and can rise to new life if we trust in Christ.  
            So now, we are made right with God through Christ—not by trying to be good enough.  God loved us so much He sent His Son to save us!  How much more could God possibly do to prove He loves us?  He has already done everything! 
            Now it is up to you.  All you have to do is accept it—receive this incredible Christmas gift God gave to you.  Will you? Will you accept God’s Christmas gift to you?