More Than A Fish Fry 7-16-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

Once, when I lived in Wisconsin, a friend, Kevin, brought all his frying gear to my house and fried up some freshly caught fish for our small group. It was fantastic and to this day some of the best fish I have ever eaten. I really enjoy a good fish fry and will even travel a good distance to partake of one. We discover in Scripture that one of Christ’s most famous miracles is a fish fry of sorts where He feeds five thousand men, plus whatever family members were with them. Jesus had been healing the sick and preaching about the Kingdom of God. John tells us that, “a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick” (John 6:2). The day was growing late and the evening was approaching. It had been some time since any of the crowd, including Jesus and His apostles, had eaten. Jesus seeing the large crowd and knowing that they are hungry, asks, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat” (John 6:5)? He uses this situation as a teaching moment. Some tell Jesus to send the crowd away. Others point out the absurdity of finding the resources to feed all the people. Finally, “One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many” (John 6:8-9)? Humanly speaking, one can understand the apostle’s dilemma. If each of the men had brought their wife and a child, there would be 15,000 people to feed. This is no small task, but they had not added Jesus to the equation. Could the one who could heal the sick miraculously feed the hungry mass, too?

Jesus instructs the disciples to bring the loaves and fish to Him. He then has the apostles have everyone sit down and prepare for a meal. Jesus gives thanks for supplying their needs and has the loaves and fish distributed, and everyone ate their fill. The apostles gather up the leftovers, which filled twelve baskets. Jesus lovingly met and satisfied the physical hunger of the crowd. Jesus shows His love and ability to meet our needs easily and with plenty to spare. The people realize that Jesus was extraordinary and proclaimed, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world” (John 6:14)! Jesus makes a quick exit, “Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, He withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6:15). Jesus crosses to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, partly on foot (see: John 6:16-21). On the next day, the crowd noticed Jesus and the apostles had left, and they hopped into some boats and went looking for Him. When they find Him Jesus declares:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6:26-27).

The people ask, “What they must do?”  Jesus answers, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29). Then we read:

“So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6:30-31).

Jesus responds:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:32-33).

They ask Jesus for this bread, and He declares that He is the bread of life and whoever partakes of Him will never hunger or thirst. But the people, “grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:41)

We discover that some of the crowd knew Jesus and His family and questioned His claim to a heavenly origin. Jesus shares that the road to paradise is open to all. Jesus clearly states that “whoever believes in Him will have eternal life” (John 6:47). He explains that the manna, which the Israelites ate in the wilderness, was miraculously given, but was not the true heavenly bread because those who ate it died. However, those who believe in Him will live forever, and that opportunity is open to the whole world. Jesus then declares, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). This statement of Christ is not to be taken literally but is meant to convey that unless we participate fully in Christ as the complete sacrifice for sin; we cannot realize the benefits of His salvation. Here is the response to Jesus’s teaching: “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it” (John 6:60)? It was difficult teaching to receive because Jesus must die and they must identify with His death to receive eternal life. Jesus, knowing this offended some, encourages them that they may be discouraged by His suffering, but they would rejoice at His resurrection and ascension. The Spirit gives life through Christ and trying to understand them through mere human insight is useless, the Father enables each of us to have the opportunity to hear, understand, and respond.

We find the result of this proclamation in one of the saddest verses in the Bible. We read, “After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:66). We also, find a great profession of faith. Jesus asks the twelve if they too are going to leave. Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68-69). We discover that many in the crowd simply liked the show, but Jesus was offering more than a fish fry and Peter understood it and speaking for the other apostles declares we are here to know the Savior. Peter wanted more than free food, He wanted Christ and everything He has to offer. He was not a consumer, but a participant with Christ.

I hope all of us want more than a fish fry, a miracle here and there from Jesus. I pray each of us wants Him and everything He has to offer by believing and participating with Christ as a true follower. Together let’s believe in Christ, learn what it means to belong to Him and His church, become the people we have been created to be, and as those blessed bless others.

Image Bearers 7-9-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

I grew up in a fishing family where we owned a canoe. I always looked forward to going fishing with my Dad. Our family spent most of the summer outdoors. We made the most of the beautiful summer weather and savored all God’s creation has to offer. There is something majestic about drifting down a river, casting a line, and just taking in the movement of the water, the fish rising to the surface and animals playing on the riverbanks. I think it’s my experience in nature and my enjoyment of it that causes a spirit of awe to rise up within me whenever I read the creation account found in Genesis 1. The first verse found in the Scripture reads: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). This is a foundational fact of the Bible. God brought into existence all that we know of the physical universe. God spoke and out of nothing God brought into existence the cosmos and our world and filled it with birds, vegetation, fish, animals, and people. It is clear from the creation account that God delights in His creation.

What is interesting is that when Moses wrote the opening Chapters of Genesis his overarching intent was merely to inform us of God’s creative work but to prepare God’s people for the mission we have been created to fulfill in partnership Him. The first chapter of Genesis is more than the introduction to the first book in the Bible. It is the opening chapter of God’s redemptive plan for His creation that consists of four parts: Creation (the way things were); Fall (the way things are; Redemption (the way things could be); and Restoration (the way things will be). When we look at the whole gospel, we not only discover the Fall and Redemption but God’s original good creation and His future restoration of it. If we see the gospel as only Fall and Redemption, then we can quickly fall into the trap of seeing our salvation as a bus ticket to paradise and believe that what we do while waiting for the bus doesn’t matter all that much. God calls and empowers us to live on mission, and that mission is to know Him and make Him known by identifying as His people in His world for His glory. In short, God has called us to participate in His restorative mission.

In the first chapter of Genesis, we read God’s purpose for creating us. God declared, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness (see: Gen 1:26-27). Through God’s creating of humanity we discover that God is relational, and this quality has been imprinted on each and every one of us. We have been made to be in a relationship with God (to know Him) and with the rest of creation (to make Him known). We have been made in God’s image and as such made to be relational.

We also discover in Genesis 1 our mission. We read: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (see: Gen 1:28-30). Genesis 1:28-30 is commonly called the “cultural mandate.” Here God calls us to partner with Him in His work. The cultural mandate calls us to fill the world with God’s images and “subdue it.” We are to develop healthy social environments through building families, churches, schools, cities and the like. We also are to develop healthy natural environments through planting crops, building bridges, composing music, while caring for the natural world. We are called to create cultures and care for creation for God’s glory.

God presents Adam and Eve with a job description of sorts for them and their descendants (us), “God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.’” The unfortunate reality is because of sin introduced during the Fall, people have abused their stewardship of God’s creation. Today believers stand in the same place Adam and Eve did before the Fall knowing God’s purpose for creating us and our mission, but they are also filled with the Holy Spirit and have the resources of heaven at their disposal to fulfill this calling. Believers are now called and empowered to properly care for God’s creation.

I guess when I think back on the times I went out fishing with my Dad I recognize that something inside of me identified with God’s purpose for creating me as His image bearer. I have grown to desire to echo the words of the elders found in the book of Revelation: “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you create all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev 4:11). Floating down the river fishing nature gave witness to God who created me to know Him and the beauty of His creation cried out for me to care for her for His glory.

It is a privilege to do life with each of you. As image bearers of the living God let us rejoice in knowing Him and encourage one another to make Him known by developing healthy social and natural environments.

On Fish 7-2-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

If you have grown up in a family that fishes or have a friend that’s a fisherman, then you have heard a fish tale. Every fisherman has a fish tale or two. Usually, they center on a dynamic event where either a big fish is caught, or one got away. There is even a technique of taking a picture while holding a fish that will make the fish you are holding look bigger than its actual size (yes, I have done this). In many ways, fish tales are a part of our culture, but not as much as we find in the lives of those mentioned in the Bible.

Throughout Gods Word, we discover fish tales. In fact, Jesus compared the marvelous ministry His disciples would partner with Him in using fishing imagery. Jesus exclaimed, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matt 4:19). As one explores the true tales that mention fish, found in Scripture, we discover that many of them empower us to partner with Christ, becoming a more effective spiritual fisherman.

So strong is this identification of believers with fish that the early church identified a fish as a symbol of our faith. This symbol is frequently found carved on the walls of the catacombs beneath the city of Rome by these early Christians. The Greek word for “fish” is ichthus, and each letter represented a word (I = Iesous – Jesus; ch = Christos – Christ; th = theou – of God; u = huios – son; s = soter – savior). In a time when public expression of faith could cost you your life the fish became sort of a code word to express one’s faith in Christ: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and my Savior.”

Others, besides Christians, commonly used the fish as a symbol in the Roman Empire so it could be displayed without causing unwanted attention. Often this symbol was used by Christ-followers to mark meeting places and tombs. It has been reported that when a Christian met a stranger on the road, the Christian sometimes drew an arc in the dirt. If the stranger drew the other arc, making the ichthus symbol, then both knew they were in the presence of a fellow believer. Today’s practice of placing the ichthus symbol on business cards and on the trunk of a vehicle recalls this early practice.

Besides the meaning attributed to the term ichthus, the fish has plenty of other biblical overtones. Jesus fed 5,000 with 2 fish and 5 loaves and as mentioned He called His disciples to be “fishers of men.” Some have even suggested that water baptism, usually practiced by immersion, created a parallel between fish and believers. The second-century theologian Tertullian noted: “we, little fishes, after the image of our Ichthus, Jesus Christ, are born in water.”

Whether you personally identify with the ichthus symbol or not, every believer can celebrate the affirmation that someone is a believer in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and our Savior. Whether or not you feel it’s a good idea to place the symbol on business cards or on the trunk of a vehicle, there is no denying that fish tales are found throughout God’s Word and that it is good to identify ourselves as followers of Christ. I would caution that placing the ichthus on a business card or on a vehicle does make a mark that ought to be supported by reflecting Christ.

I am so thankful we are able to publicly express our belief in Christ who makes His followers “fishers or men.” I am blessed to serve our Lord who can multiply fish and loaves. I celebrate knowing Him and making Him known in partnership with each of you and together in partnership with Him.

The Gospel of Freedom 6-25-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

You may recall the name, Robert Courtney. He was a pharmacist out of Kansas City, MO who intentionally diluted cancer medications to make millions of dollars. He was caught and pleaded guilty in 2002. His actions were illegal and immoral. He is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence and was ordered to pay over ten million dollars in restitution. His actions had horrific consequences on those he served. Similarly, too many times the true gospel gets watered down by messages of try harder or adopt this formula of rules and regulations resulting in a counterfeit gospel that is devoid of power and harmful to human souls.

The true gospel is a gospel of freedom empowering us to live in freedom. Paul writes to believers: “So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal 4:7). We have been offered great freedom, and where there is great freedom, there is great responsibility. Faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross brings freedom, and by relying on the Holy Spirit, we can live free bearing the Spirit’s fruit in and through our lives.

The life of freedom we have been offered in Christ we live in partnership with Him as well as in partnership with other believers. Freedom brings with it community. It has been said, “If you want to go fast go alone, but if you want to go far go together. Paul’s understanding of gospel partnership is why he paints a picture to the Galatians of the community built by the true gospel of freedom and grace. The simple truth is that gospel convictions bring gospel community.

The gospel of freedom not only empowers us to journey together but as believers, we are responsible for growing together. In Galatians 5:26-6:1 Paul makes it clear that we are responsible to one another. He even declares that we have a responsibility to those caught up in sin. We are to “restore them in the spirit of gentleness” (v. 1). The word used to describe those in sin is the Greek word prolemphthe, which means “overtaken.” The word suggests a certain level of surprise. We discover that without awareness and accountability, we can easily drift and become overtaken by harmful practices. Therefore, we need authentic community with fellow believers and a commitment to walk in reliance on the Spirit. We need to pursue relationships with other believers who are willing to lovingly confront visible and revealed sin in our lives as a means to becoming more like Christ.

Believers also have a responsibility to carry one another’s burdens. When we see someone carrying a burden, we don’t just put him or her on a prayer list, but we stop and help. Sometimes it means we need to humbly ask help of others. It is important to point out that there seems to be a contradiction between Galatians 6:2 and 6:5. Verse two instructs us to carry one another’s burdens, while verse five calls us to carry our own burdens. In verse two Paul uses the Greek word baros for burden. This word speaks of a particularly oppressive experience. It is a burden too heavy for any one person to carry. Whereas, in verse five Paul uses the Greek word phortion that refers to a person’s individual luggage or backpack. In this sense, Paul is telling us to carry our own backpack. There is a significant difference between the two burdens as well as our responsibility. In short, we have freedom and responsibility to help each other with our burdens (I help you, and you help me) as together we grow in Christ.

We also have a responsibility to persevere. In Galatians 6:7-10 we are encouraged to not “grow weary in doing good.” Paul knows how easy it is to grow tired of doing the work of the gospel. Doing good can start out being exciting and fulfilling, but can grow old. In Christ, we have had our burdens taken up, and through the Spirit, we can continue and persevere. You may be in a situation where you can’t see the fruit of your labors. You started out full of hope and enthusiasm. You worked the field of a relationship or addiction or whatever you are working on, but now you don’t see a change in the relationship or deliverance from addiction. You seem to be running in place or even losing ground. Don’t give up, persevere for the time of reaping is still ahead. Trust in the Lord and rely on His Spirit to bring about spiritual fruit from your Christ-partnered workings.

Really when you boil down the whole point of Galatians, it is to encourage believers to keep the main thing the main thing. We are to know God and make Him known. We have been set free to live free. False teachers were diluting the gospel. The Galatians had once understood the true gospel of freedom but had allowed it to get diluted, and they had added things to it. Paul writes to keep centered on Christ: “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). This verse is reminiscent of Paul’s words back in chapter two of Galatians: “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.” In other words, just like Jesus was crucified we have died to the stuff of this world. We are united with Christ and His kingdom priorities empowered by His Spirit upon whom we fully rely. We have been set free to live free.

It is an honor to live this life of freedom. I am so grateful to be in partnership with Christ and thankful to be in community with each of you. Let us keep the main thing the main thing as Christ releases us to reach this region and beyond.

Stop Trying, Start Relying 6-18-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

I think all of us have attempted to master something by trying and trying and gave up because in the end we were left frustrated and running on empty. Over the years I have spoken with people who have stopped going to church because they felt as if they were failing at life and the message they heard was, “just try harder.”

The message of Galatians can be summed up this way: You have been set free to live free. We have been set free to live differently. However, we could easily fall into the trap of thinking this means we simply need to try harder. Nothing could be further from the truth. Think of it this way. We have been set free to live differently and living differently is not about trying, but relying. We are to rely on the Holy Spirit. We need to stop trying and start relying.

Paul loves the Galatians, and he wants them to experience the joy of their freedom by living in the power of the Holy Spirit by relying on Him. Paul asks this question: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh” (Gal 3:3)? Living by self-empowerment and by the law of works does not produce the right fruit in our life. It’s like having a power-strip with four plug-ins. You plug in your computer, your printer, your phone, and then you use the fourth plug-in to plug into itself. Obviously, nothing works, because there is no power. When we try to do life through self-empowerment, we don’t have the power to live as we desire. I mean we try and try, but end up with the wrong fruit and greater frustration. We need to stop self-generating.

In Galatians chapter five Paul uses a fruit metaphor to shows what happens when we plug into the Spirit. Paul even explains that when we live by the Spirit, we can love and serve others (Gal 5:13-14). Interestingly, in verse 13 as Paul describes what freedom looks like he uses a Greek verb (douleuete), which means “to serve” or “to obey.” Ironically, Paul describes our freedom from slavery to the flesh as something that should lead us to become servants to one another through humble love. In other words, the biblical picture of freedom is not that of autonomy. Rather, freedom and servanthood go hand in hand. True freedom is found in humbly submitting ourselves in loving service to one another as Christ did for us (Mark 10:45).

Paul even paints a picture of what life looks like when we simply try harder. He lists things like immorality, jealousy, and fits of anger (see: Gal 5:19-21). We don’t want to have any of these things describe us. But, we have all tried by our own power to no avail. Living differently is not about trying harder, but by living by the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to rely on God.

In Galatians 5:16-17 Paul speaks of the fruit of the gospel in our lives. He explains, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal 5:16-17). Paul is not presenting a picture where we are sinless, but where we walk in the Spirit-empowered to sin less and less. The fruit of the gospel in our lives is that we are free of the power of sin. We can’t try our way out of sin. We need to rely on the Holy Spirit. We need to plug into the Holy Spirit.

Paul explains the fruit we will have when we plug into the Holy Spirit. He writes: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:22-23). These verses describe the kind of life we want to live. How do we live it? Paul asks a question: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith” (Gal 3:2)? The Holy Spirit’s power is available to all who believe. Too often this wonderful gift is going unopened and unused. It’s like having a new car with no gas. It looks impressive but isn’t going anywhere. Too many believers put on a good façade, and they try harder and harder in their own strength and end up on empty. There is a better way. Paul declares: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal 5:25). We live in the Spirit by acknowledging Him every day throughout the day.

When we acknowledge the Spirit and rely on Him, His fruit grows in our life. For me, it means taking the time throughout the day to just take a breath and recognize that God is with me and His Spirit is at work. I ask Him to continue to work in and through me. I partner with Him aware that He is the senior partner.

What power we have in the Spirit. We have been set free to live differently and do so by relying on our Lord. Together let us live dependent on the Spirit. Let’s live the life of freedom.

Maturity In Christ 6-12-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

I have always found it curiously odd how children look toward adulthood impatiently, while many adults longingly long for the days of childhood. A legal definition of adulthood is a person who by virtue of attaining a certain age, generally eighteen, is regarded in the eyes of the law as being able to manage his or her own affairs. In most cases, an adult is no longer under the care of a guardian.

At the end of the third chapter of Galatians Paul calls believers to a mature faith. Such maturity is not found in returning or turning to a religiosity of mere rule following, but in the true gospel of freedom. In Galatians 3:23-25 we are told that before Jesus the law “was our guardian,” protecting us and preparing us for the good news of the true gospel of freedom. Now in Christ, we have everything we need. In Christ, the law is our mirror now, not our master. It helps us to clean our faces, our consciences. The law does not condemn us. In Christ, we have been set free.

Paul writes: “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith” (Gal 3:26). In Christ, believers have been adopted into a freedom that allows us to live in relationship with Him and others as full heirs of God. Our adoption brings blessings today as well as into the never-ending future (see: Gal 3:23-25). In fact, we have been redeemed into Sonship. Redeem is a word that comes right out of the slave market. To be redeemed is to have been purchased into freedom. Our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, God’s own Son, sought us and paid the price in full on the cross.

We have not only been redeemed but also adopted as God’s son. Paul explains: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God” (Gal 4:6-7). First, Paul uses an Aramaic word “Abba” to communicate two aspects of our relationship with God. The term “Abba” can be translated “Daddy” or Papa” showing the intimacy we have with God through Jesus Christ. Second, the term has been found in ancient legal documents in the process of sons claiming an inheritance from their departed father. “Abba” describes the open access we have been given into the heart of God.

Paul throughout Galatians ties Sonship with being an heir. Some might be quick to interpret son as child or son and daughters, and certainly, this would be appropriate in the sense that Paul means that all people are given the opportunity to be adopted as God’s child. However, Paul uses the term “son,” because in ancient times heirs were mostly male, so the term “son” became somewhat synonymous with “heir.” He wants us to understand that we have been fully adopted by God in Christ and made full heirs. Christ redeemed us from the curse of sin; in Him, we are adopted as God’s child, and as God’s son we are joint heirs with Jesus. The simple truth is that God will honor all believers as He has honored His one and only Son.

You can tell Paul’s deep concern for the Galatian believers when he reprimands them by basically expressing as their spiritual parent, “I taught you better.” He is addressing their exchange of freedom for slavery by turning from the true gospel of freedom and accepting the counterfeit gospel of law and works (see: Gal 4:9b-11). He even uses a well-known story from Judaism to make a point in refuting the Judaizers who are preaching the counterfeit gospel. He speaks of Abraham, Abraham’s two sons, and Abraham’s son’s two moms to declare that we are like Isaac who miraculously was brought into a forever family (see: Gal 4:21-31). Paul exclaims, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise” (Gal 4:28).

Paul’s encouragement to believers to mature in the faith is expressed at the end of chapter four with a challenge. Since we have been redeemed, no longer identified as a slave, but as a free son, live like it. The gospel of freedom provides a new identity and we ought to live under that new identity. We are no longer a slave to sin we are a child of God.

We have been offered so much in Christ. We have been set free! Yet, it is so easy to live like we are still slaves. Let’s encourage one another to mature in our faith and live the life of freedom, fullness, and faithfulness we have been so graciously granted in Christ.

The True Gospel 6-4-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

The late Muhammad Ali in a Reader’s Digest interview once commented: “One day we’re all going to die, and God is going to judge us [our] good deeds and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell, if the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven.” There is little doubt that Ali is one of the greatest boxers ever to live, but his theology is sketchy.

In Galatians chapter three Paul writes about the gospel of freedom. He realizes that the Judaizers were teaching a counterfeit gospel that added to Christ the law (works). Paul is deeply concerned about the Gentile (non-Jewish) believers because the Judaizers were trying to make the Gentile’s also Jewish. In essence, this counterfeit gospel was teaching that Jesus is good, but to be truly accepted by God you must also follow Old Testament ceremonial law and be circumcised. Paul’s frustration with this falsity is clearly revealed in his statement in Galatians chapter five: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves” (Gal 5:12). The problem is that the Judaizers were following the poor leadership of the Pharisees whom Jesus described: “Everything they do is for show” (Matt 23:5a). Therefore, Paul reminds everyone of the true gospel.

In the first few verses of chapter three of Galatians Paul confronts those believers who were trying to make it through life on their own strength as well as falling into the trap of people-pleasing. Now don’t get me wrong it is not wrong to please people, but people-pleasing is when one compromises what they know to be right to be accepted by others. In the Galatian church, people were exchanging the true gospel of peace (salvation by grace) for a counterfeit gospel (salvation by works). The Judaizers were saying you are saved through Christ and works, but the true gospel is God’s promise of salvation delivered in Christ alone, by faith alone. In fact, the very Spirit of God is given to those who come to God by faith.

Paul uses Abraham as an example of saving faith. He is the perfect example for many reasons, but especially since he is the earthly father of the Jewish people and the recipient of the Abrahamic Promise. If Abraham is made acceptable to God by works the Judaizers are right, but if he was made acceptable through faith alone the true gospel Paul has shared is proven true for both Jew and Gentile (all people). In other words, Paul shows that salvation has always been by faith. Paul explains: “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” (Gal 3:5). He continues: “The real children of Abraham, then, are those who put their faith in God” (Gal 3:7). Then he concludes: “So all who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith” (Gal 3:9). The Spirit is given to all believers, like Abraham, through faith. In Genesis, we discover that God promised Abraham that, “in Abraham all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (see: Gen 12:1-3).  This promise is not confined to an immediate, single family or a single nation, but all the families of the earth. This promise is fulfilled in Christ through whom all believers are made true sons and daughters of God (see: Gen 15). Jesus has redeemed us so all (Jew and Gentile) can receive the promise of salvation through Christ (Gal 3:13-14). Jesus is all we need. Jesus allows the promise made to Abraham, way back in Genesis, to be fulfilled (Gal 3:15-16). We are free from the bondage of sin as well as the chains of religion, which would make us work to receive the promise (Gal 3:21-22).

Now back to Ali’s statement. He was right one day all of us will stand before God and give an account of our lives, but Jesus is the difference maker. Paradise is not a matter of good works or some cosmically divine scale of good and bad deeds. Eternity with God is based solely on faith in Christ. Those who chose Christ, who receive His offer of eternal life, are true sons and daughters of God and those who don’t are not. The true gospel of peace is that we are saved by faith alone, and it is this grace of God that allows us to find salvation, and it is this same grace that allows us to continue in faith as those who are saved.

We have much to celebrate as true sons and daughters of God. I am so grateful to enjoy God’s promise to Abraham with each of you. Out of deep appreciation, we get to love God and make Him known.

Chaining An Elephant 5-29-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

Many of us have heard the story of how they train elephants in the circus. While they are still small, they tie a strong rope around their necks and secure it to a sturdy pole. The baby elephants naturally pull and tug trying to escape with no success. They do this over and over again until they finally give in to fear and the reality of being shackled. That is why you can walk by a fully-grown gigantic circus elephant and find them standing passively with a rope tied around their neck that isn’t attached to anything at all. The elephant becomes so accustomed to being held back by the rope, that merely the rope itself and fear keep the animal in check. If only they knew their true power. If only they realized that by the time they have grown up, even a rope “secured” to a pole could no longer contain them. Then they would experience true freedom.

There is a big difference between being set free and living free. The true gospel came from Christ apart from any man-made laws. That is not to say that that the gospel does not set some demands on us. We discover in the book of James: “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). This is not to say that anyone’s good works save, but that good works follow genuine faith. The gospel is free but sets a trajectory for our lives. Salvation brings freedom, but being free is not that same as experiencing freedom.  We like a circus elephant can be snared by fear and ignorant of our power, living shackled lives, when in Christ we have been set free.

In the second chapter of Galatians, we discover that Paul is upset when he finds that Peter, who knows better, is adding to the true gospel. Paul notes: “But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party” (Gal 2:11-12). Peter was preaching the true gospel of freedom while living as one under the law and he did so out of fear. Paul cares too much for Peter and the church to allow this to continue (Gal 2:4-14).

We discover that the gospel of freedom demands unity. Peter and others were not eating with Gentile (ethnically not Jewish) believers, because it was against Jewish cultural law. The true gospel of freedom demands unity among believers, and this unity cannot allow exclusivity. What Peter was doing was racist. When the gospel enters the picture, there are no “other” people, just people. Its like remodeling shows today. It seems the goal of almost any project is an open concept. They tear down walls to provide open living space that flows from room-to-room. Paul is doing the same thing. He is seeing people come to Christ and then enter separate rooms (Jews and Gentiles). Paul takes the gospel like a sledgehammer and begins knocking down the walls that separate God’s family. Paul will later write: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28).

There is another thing the gospel demands. The gospel demands sanctification. Sanctification is the process of being made pure; changed to become more and more like Christ. Paul explains: 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” (Gal 2:16). The sanctified life, experiencing freedom, does not occur by mere willpower, but by continuing to live by faith in Christ. Paul declares: “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 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” (Gal 2:19-20). Paul shares that he failed at trying to experience freedom and sanctification through works. That does not mean we do whatever we want, but that we grow more and more like Jesus as we love Jesus and allow Him to empower us to live for Him. The true gospel of freedom does not come from anything we have done, but through placing our faith in the finished work of Christ. Experiencing freedom does not come by our self-willed power, but through the continuing work of Christ in us, as we continue to place our faith in Him. Christ died and rose so that we can be set free and experience freedom.

As we do life together, let’s encourage one another to live free. Let’s not allow ourselves to give in to life as it was before Christ. Let’s not give into fear. Let’s continue to live by faith in Christ empowered by Him to experience unity and sanctification. Now that’s freedom.

Institutional Syndrome 5-21-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

Those familiar with the prison system will tell you that one of the challenges those who have served time face once released, especially those who have served a long sentence, is learning how not to live in prison. The term used to describe this is institutional syndrome. The problem is that they have been set free, but don’t know how to live free.

Paul wrote the book of Galatians to believers who had the same problem. They had been set free by Christ, but did not know how to live free. In fact, they were going back to a form of bondage instead of living in freedom. They turned from the true gospel to a counterfeit gospel. The true gospel proclaims that salvation is found in Christ alone. This counterfeit gospel was teaching that salvation is found in Christ plus something else. They had entered into salvation in Christ by grace but mistakenly believed their continued acceptance by God was found in Christ by grace and works. The true gospel of grace is not only the way to enter the kingdom of God, but is also the way to live in His kingdom.

Paul uses very strong language to express his concern: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6). The word “deserting,” used here by Paul, was used of traitors. He is literally calling them traitors to the gospel. Paul warns them, “If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9b). The group preaching this counterfeit gospel is known as Judaizers. They were teaching that Jesus was crucial to getting you saved, of course, but faith in Him alone is not enough to allow you to be fully accepted by God. After you come to Christ, they taught, you would have to adopt the full range of ceremonial and cultural Jewish customs.

Paul begins in Galatians chapters one and will continue into chapter two to share his own story of coming to Christ and call by God to share the true gospel. Paul wants the reader to understand that he was indeed saved, received the true gospel and was called to share it with Jews and Gentiles alike. Gentiles are people who are not ethnically Jewish. He uses his testimony to illustrate that the true gospel is evidenced by transformed lives. He writes of his radical transformation: “‘they only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me” (Gal 1:23-24). Believers celebrated that this man (Paul) who once persecuted the church had been saved by Christ and was now proclaiming the true gospel.

Pastor and author Tim Keller describes the gospel as: “the message that we are more wicked than we ever dared to believe, but more loved and accepted in Christ than we ever dared to hope.” The true gospel brings freedom. The true gospel is about a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ. The true gospel empowers us to break the shackles of religious legalism. Legalism is a way of living that obeys certain rules in the belief that keeping their requirements will earn some form of blessing. Paul had once been shackled by religious legalism but had been enabled by Christ to walk the road of freedom and desired for the Galatian believers to experience the same.

It is a privilege to partner with each of you as we partner with Christ.  Together let’s embrace the true gospel and encourage one another to not fall prey to the many counterfeits that would lead us astray. I celebrate that we have found freedom in Christ. Let us continue to walk in that freedom.

On Loving Family 5-14-18

By | Pastor's Blog | No Comments

When Jesus announced that the greatest commandment was to love God with everything He also gave us a great commitment to love our neighbors with the love God has given us (Matt 22:37-39). Who is our neighbor? When Jesus answered this question, he shared a story we call The Good Samaritan (see: Luke 10:25-37). The answer is that everyone is our neighbor. Now, all of us know that relationships can be messy. There are people who are simply difficult to love. There are people who think so differently, whose worldview is so dissimilar from ours that it is a challenge to love as a neighbor. However, I believe some of the hardest people to love like Christ are those in our family. The old adage rings true: “You can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” What am I getting at? Well, if everyone is our neighbor and we are to love our neighbors, then we need to love our family with Christ-centered neighborly love.

No family is perfect, even Jesus’ family. As you know, Jesus’ birth was not without controversy. Mary, while a virgin (Lk 1:34) is miraculously pregnant. Joseph considers breaking off their marriage, but due to divine intervention decides to take her as his wife. We presume Joseph died prematurely (Joseph apparently did not accompany Mary to the wedding in Cana, and after the crucifixion, Mary went to live at the home of the un-named Beloved Disciple, which she probably wouldn’t have done if her husband had still been alive.) Jesus was the older brother of James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas as well as of at least to sisters (Matt 13:55-56; Mark 6:3). When Jesus left home to begin His ministry, other members of His family appear to have disapproved (Mk 3:21). We don’t know the reasoning, but on one occasion Jesus refused to talk to His mother and brothers when they tracked Him down and tried to see Him (Matt 12:46-50). For some time in Jesus’ ministry, His brothers did not believe Him (John 7:5). However, eventually, Jesus’ mother Mary and His brothers join the early church after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14). The oldest of Jesus’ younger brothers was named James. He became a very important leader in the early church and is the named as the author of the New Testament book of James. Another brother of Jesus, called Jude, is the named author of the New Testament book of Jude. Think about it. God sends His Son into the world and places Him in the midst of a family with issues. Why? For one thing…every family from one degree to another has issues. However, in spite of this truth believers are called to love their family neighbors.

Through the story, The Good Samaritan, we not only discover that everyone is our neighbor and we are to love them, but also that the Samaritan was able to love because he felt empathy, had compassion, and showed mercy, in part, because he saw a man hurting and was in need. The Samaritan was able to relate to being in need and fulfilled The Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matt 7:12). The truth is that as we love God with everything and continue to walk with the Lord in faith, the Spirit of God makes us more like Christ enabling and empowering us to love all neighbors, even family neighbors. Perhaps, then, the real focus is not on loving everyone, including family members, to honor God. But, first, we are to fall deeper in our love for God.  In doing so, we position ourselves to receive His unlimited resources for us. Then we can actually love all others. It appears we need to give up on mere willpower and trust in God’s power at work in and through us.

As part of God’s family let us encourage one another to seek God and His kingdom first, then allow Him to love others through us (see: Matt 6:33). Love all others, especially family, might be challenging, but the one who gave all for all of us, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is more than capable of leading and empowering us to show neighborly love to all people.