God's Love Letter

Galatians 6:11-18 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! 12 Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.17 Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

It’s a wonderful thing to be the dad of a two-year-old girl.  I suppose I could state the obvious blessing like - well - I’m a dad.  Or, what it’s like to see her face light up when I get home, but I don’t want to talk about any of that right now.  I want to tell you about some of the other joys that you might not ever think about.  I get to do a lot of things self-conscious free that I never could’ve before.  I get to dance crazy in the living room to Coldplay’s You’re a Sky Full of Stars.  I get to read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and enjoy every second of it.  And, most importantly, nobody can say a bad word about me when I sit with her and I watch Disney’s Frozen.

Maybe you’ve watched it before.  It’s about the two cutest sisters on the face of the earth, Elsa and Anna, and their complicated relationship.  It turns out that Elsa has magical winter bringing, freezing powers.  And right in the beginning of the movie, Elsa accidentally freezes Anna’s mind. Anna’s parents find her little, crumpled, comatose body on the floor and tenderly pick it up.  It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.  One beloved child crumpled on the floor, harmed by their other beloved child.  What would they do to help little Anna?

Disney had a lot of choices they could’ve made in telling the story, but they made one in particular.  And it was the natural choice.  The only choice.  There was no call to the paramedics. There was no consultation with any neuroscientist.  There weren’t dealings with any human authorities at all.  None.  There was the natural choice.  The only choice.  Those young parents did what all people sense they must do when confronted with the biggest and most important spiritual and emotional questions.  They grasped for a knowledge and power that came to them from a higher place.  And they started by going to a sacred book.  

That’s telling, isn’t it? It may be totally controversial what truth is.  It may be argued how truth is understood and interpreted.  But it’s still mainstream and accepted that truth is found in a sacred book so much so that Disney put that idea in their most modern story.  The question is why.  Why do we need a heavenly book? That’s a question that the Apostle Paul gets at as he closes out a letter to people in a place called Galatia.

He gets at it in a pretty interesting way.  Listen to what he writes, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (v. 11) It’s easy to miss what’s going on in this verse.  In fact, if you’re like me and your 1st grade teacher still haunts you, then you’re thinking to yourself, “Paul, this isn’t handwriting class.  There’s no need for you to be so self-conscious.  I mean.  I get it.  I’m self-conscious about my handwriting too, but there’s no need for you to be embarrassed about it. It’s ok with me if your letters are a little on the large side.” Except this isn’t Paul suffering from a momentary collapse of self-esteem or his self-deprecating way of dealing with handwriting that could be mistaken for chicken scratching.  This is something way, way bigger.  

First, let’s admit the obvious.  Paul’s handwriting was unusual.  For whatever reason, it was definitely on the large side.  Why is that? We’re not sure.  We’ve got a guess.  It’s possible Paul couldn’t see well.  And that could explain why earlier in the letter Paul talked about how the Galatians cared about him so much that they would have given their eyes to him if that were possible.  But that’s just theory.  What we do know is that Paul’s handwriting was distinctive.  So distinctive that all of those ancient Christians could take one look at this letter and say, “No need to hire a forensic handwriting analyst from the FBI for this one.  These letters are so different, so distinctive, and so large that this could only be one person: Paul.”  

And Paul wanted the Galatians to know that as a final, closing thought to this letter.   No, Paul needed the Galatians to know that.  He needed them to know that it was really his voice, his thoughts, his message that was coming to them in this letter.  He desperately needed them to read the large, awkward letters and say in their hearts, “I know this hand.  It’s Paul’s.”

It’s important to understand why that is.  There’s always been a battle for the heart of Christianity. It’s been that way from the very beginning.  We know from some of Paul’s other letters that there were forgeries.  People would write letters filled with stuff they wanted people to believe and then they’d sign it - The Apostle Paul.  But there’s something else here too.  This wasn’t just a case of ferreting out which letters were Paul’s and which weren’t.  The Galatians needed an authentic, authoritative letter because of the nature of the human heart.

A nature that had its genesis in a simple suggestion from a serpent to the first humans.  “Maybe God was lying to you when he said that you shouldn’t eat from that tree.” That thought hijacked the minds and hearts of Adam and Eve and we’ve been struggling ever since.  Witness the Galatians.  These were people who had had the best pastor outside of Jesus himself.  Think of it. The Apostle Paul had taught them.  Let me say that again.  The Apostle Paul had taught them.  I guarantee you he had been abundantly clear with them what God’s message was.  Then he leaves and someone comes along and suggests, “Maybe Jesus isn’t enough.  Maybe you need to follow a few of the Old Testament rules too.” And just like that Galatian hearts got hijacked by those Old Testament rules.

Sort of like Sara did, a fitness instructor in LA.  Yeah, I know there are a ton of them.  It’s a big city.  But I’m not talking about a normal, average instructor.  I’m talking a big time instructor.  She’s one of those gorgeous, super fit, amazingly talented fitness instructors who train the best of the best so they can look their best when they walk the red carpets.  That’s Sara, but one day she walked into her pastor’s office and came clean.  She told him, “I’m dying inside.” And why? You wouldn’t believe it, but she confessed, “I don’t think I’m fit enough, pretty enough, good enough, and talented enough.  I have tons of anxiety.  And I’m dying inside.”  

Sara had breathed in spiritual air that says, “Jesus won’t do it.  You must be beautiful enough, successful enough, accomplished enough.” She had been hijacked by worldly rules that promised to bring her peace, but never would.  And it was killing her.  Literally, it was tearing her away from God, and it was wrecking her faith in Jesus.  These worldly rules had hijacked her away from Jesus.  We get spiritually hijacked anytime we let anyone or anything tell us who we are other than God himself.  Like a fitness instructor who identifies with her fitness instructing.  Like a careerist who identifies with his success, the mom who identifies with her parenting, the sinner who identifies with her sin, or a Galatian who identifies with Jewish behavior.

And that’s why Paul said, “Look at what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!” (v. 11) Make no mistake about what he’s doing.  He’s claiming authority for the contents of this letter.  He’s saying, “What’s in here is God’s voice.  I’m not just some guy who got his degree on the internet.  I’m God’s apostle.  I’m a deliverer of divine, perfect words.  My pen - no joke - is a fountain of truth.”  And please understand something.  This isn’t Paul being a control freak.  This isn’t him saying, “Other preachers are horning in on my territory and so now I must reassert myself.” This is Paul saying, “Other ideas are hijacking truth from people I deeply love and I’m not going to stand by and let that happen.  I am going to use my apostolic pen to lead them right back to God’s truth.”

And that’s what Paul did in his letter.  He said, “We are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (3:26) Only God gets to tell us who are and he’s told us.  We are his children through faith.  That’s how we are to identify ourselves.  Amen.  Case closed.  That’s what Paul showed the Galatians.  Much like what Sara’s pastor showed her.  He began by asking her a question.  He asked, “Who are you?” She said, “Well, I’m a fitness instructor.” So gently, but firmly he said,  “No. Who are you?” Surprised and confused she answered again, “I’m a fitness instructor.”  One more time, he said, “No.  Who are you?” This time the question hung there and silence filled the space between them.  ‘Til the pastor softly smiled and began to hum.  That’s all he needed to do.  He began to hum.  And Sara’s Hollywood layers began to fall away.

He hummed for her God’s truth about her Jesus given identity.  And Sara got it.  Before she could feel guilt for allowing herself to get so far from Jesus, so far from faith, she knew she was forgiven and loved by God because of Jesus.  Because the pastor was humming a simple truth.  Jesus loves me.  This I know.  For the Bible tells me so.  Then they turned together in their Bibles to a letter Paul wrote with his large letters.  And they read a passage and the pastor asked her again, “Who are you?” And this time Sara let heaven tell her who she was.  She said, “I am God’s child through faith in Jesus.” Sara believed that.  It was authoritative for her.  

I don’t know if you’ve thought about that before, but that’s what biblical authority is for.  It’s for driving that simple truth home to hijacked hearts and minds over and over and over again.  I actually think that’s one of the big misunderstandings that people have about the Bible.  They see the Bible as some sort of divine club that tells us what we must believe and do to enter heaven. And make no mistake.  It is authoritative.  It does tell us what to believe and do but not as a club. The Bible is anything but a club.  

And the letter to the Galatians is a prime example.  Yes, Paul claims authority.  That’s exactly what he’s doing when he says, “Look at these large letters.” But it’s not authority for the sake authority. It’s authority for the sake of the gospel.  It’s authority so that we know it’s not just wishing on a star to believe, “We are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” It’s authoritative so we know that’s true.

The Bible isn’t a club.  The Bible is a love letter.  It’s a letter written to a bride that left God at the altar.  It’s a letter written from a God who would do anything and risk everything up to and including the sacrifice of his own Son to win her back.  That’s not a club.  That’s a love letter from God to you.  And its authority is there so that you can trust and know that Jesus saved you from sin, and from death, and from hell itself.  

In this church, we believe in the authority of the Bible.  Not only that, we believe the Bible’s perfect.  We believe it’s without errors.  We believe it’s right and it’s true and it’s clear.  We’ll even use words like infallible and inerrant to describe the Bible because we believe there’s not a single letter or word that’s off or that isn’t truth.  We believe all of that.  And we further believe that God gave us a book like that not so that he could sit on his throne and boss us around, but so that we’d believe that he got off his throne and he climbed onto a cross to save us.

I’ll be honest.  I like being the dad of a two-year-old daughter.  Without being self-conscious, I get to read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.  Without any inhibitions I get to dance crazy with her in the living room to Coldplay and she sings along too.  I get to do stuff like that.  But I didn’t tell you about the good stuff yet.  You know what else I get to do? I get to sing.  I get to sing, “Jesus loves me.  This I know.” I get to sing that to her.  I get to visit that truth over and over again.  It’s one of the reasons I like being the dad of a two-year-old girl.

You know what else I like? I like being a part of this church family.  I like being a member of a church that knows you don’t have to be the dad of a two-year-old to let your soul sing, “Jesus loves me.  This I know.”  I like being a part of a church that knows it’s our right.  That knows it’s our privilege.  That understands it’s our joy and our peace to become children again and just believe that.  And why? Because the Bible tells us so.  Amen.