Wednesday, December 04, 2019

People Pleasers


“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

(Galatians 1:10 ESV)



In modern times, the church has become a group of people pleasers. Our goal is to keep everyone happy all of the time. And, for this reason, we give in to every whim, to every emotion and response, of man.



We do so for multiple reasons. We do so because we dislike criticism. We’re afraid that, if we say or do the wrong thing, people will think badly of us. We’re afraid that, if we say or do the wrong thing, people will speak badly of us. We fear how it might affect our reputation or our standing in the community.

                                                                   

We do so because we fear persecution. We’re afraid that, if others disapprove of something we say or do, we’ll suffer as a result. Perhaps we’ll lose our job. Perhaps we’ll be shunned by the community. Or perhaps we’ll face physical attacks or threats.



We do so as a means of self-preservation. We’re afraid that, if we say or do something that others find offensive, they’ll stop coming to our church. We’re afraid that they might stop giving to our church. And we’re afraid that this might mean the end of our congregation.



When it comes to matters of personal preference, when there is no right and wrong of the matter, we can and should value the opinions of those around us. We can respect others and use deference when it comes to these matters. When it comes to things like music preference, worship style, carpet color, or church d├ęcor, the opinions of others can and should matter.



However, when it comes to the gospel, when it comes to matters of truth, we are not to be people pleasers. Our primary concern, as we engage in ministry, is not to be the negative response we may face. We see this as we look at the words of Paul, above.



As we’ve seen, Paul was bringing the gospel to the people of Galatia. And there were some who did not like it. There were some who were trying to impart a different teaching, a different gospel, within the church.



However, in the face of this, he recognized who it was that he should be trying to please. He recognized that, by pleasing the world, he’d be displeasing God. And he recognized that, by pleasing God, he would displease the world.



The same is true for us today.  So, the question we have to face is very simple: Which matters more, the will of man or that of God? And the answer to this question is obvious. No matter the response of the world, we should seek to please the Lord first and foremost.



Paul says that, if he were trying to please man, he would not be a servant of Christ. He would not be a servant of Christ because the desires of God and those of the world are at odds with one another. If his primary focus was the opinion of others, he would then be a servant of man rather than a servant of God.



The same remains true for us. We must seek to please God, first and foremost. We must seek to serve God, first and foremost. When it comes to the gospel, when it comes to matters of truth, the opinion of man must not enter into the equation.



Once again, this doesn’t give us permission to be a jerk. It doesn’t give us permission to be intentionally abrasive to those around us. We’re to always act in a spirit of love. However, we must recognize who is to be the focus of our devotion.

Friday, November 29, 2019

No Other Gospel

“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” 
(Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)

Here, in the United States, we live in a very diverse society. Although most of us have a Christian heritage, many other religions and belief systems are held to and practiced. People hold widely varying views and worship a multitude of gods.

And we are called by society to accept those who believe differently than we do. We are called by society to acknowledge their beliefs and practices as equal to our own. We are called to acknowledge their scriptures to be just as holy as our own. We are called to acknowledge that our faith is no more true than that of others.

We’re told, today, that we’re to live our truth and let other people live their truth. We’re told that we’re to do what works for us and that we’re to allow others to do the same. We’re told that we’re to respect the beliefs and practices of others, even when they contradict our own.

In an age of tolerance, in an age of pluralism, and in an age of relative truth, the words of Paul sound harsh. They sound judgmental and unloving. They sound arrogant and condemning.

He is clear that there is only one gospel. He is clear that there is only one means of salvation. And, for this reason, if we follow the philosophy of the world, we stand condemned. For this reason, if we follow the philosophy of the world, we’re siting passively by as people are led into hell.

We are not to receive any other gospel. We are not to accept any other gospel. And we are not to proclaim any other gospel.

Anyone who brings another gospel is accursed. Even if it’s an angel who brings to us another gospel, he is accursed. And if we bring another gospel, we ourselves are accursed.

We are to believe and proclaim only one gospel. We are to believe and proclaim only the gospel brought to us in God’s Word. It is the only truth and the only source of salvation.

To do so is not unloving. In fact, it’s the ultimate expression of love. It’s the ultimate expression of love because it’s through this gospel alone that we’re saved.

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. This isn’t a license for us to be a jerk as we hold to our faith and proclaim it. We must love our neighbor as we share with him the message that will save his soul.

Monday, November 11, 2019

To Which Gospel Do We Cling?


“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--not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.”

(Galatians 1:6-7 ESV)



The term “gospel” means “good news.” However, it’s also more specific than this. It refers to the good news of Jesus Christ.



The term “gospel” refers to the salvation that God sent into the world. It refers to Jesus, the Son of God, who suffered and died on the cross, bearing the punishment of our sin. It refers to his resurrection from the grave, by which he defeated the power of death. It refers to the grace that is received through faith in him.



This may seem very basic. It may seem elementary. But I never cease to be amazed at how many people in our society, and even within the church, don’t get it.



Most people in our society believe in heaven. They believe in salvation. But their understanding, when it comes to how this is received, is way off.



Most people believe that heaven, that salvation, is attained by us. They believe that we simply have to be “good” people. They believe that we must do our best to keep the commands of God. And they believe that we must do our best to love other people.



This is true not only in society, but also in the church. Even in the body of Christ, where people confess the Scriptural and the historic Christian faith, they are depending not upon Jesus but themselves. They are trusting in their efforts rather than the accomplished work of Christ.



This is nothing new. This is also what was going on among the Galatians. This group, who had initially received the gospel, brought to them by Paul, was now looking to themselves. They were trusting a message, a false gospel, brought to them by others.



Paul was astonished at how quickly they’d turned away from the gospel. He was amazed that they would turn from the message of grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone to something that depended on their efforts. He was astonished that they would abandon a message that provided the assurance of salvation for one of uncertainty.



He explained to them that there is no other gospel. He told them that all other versions of the gospel were mere distortions. They were falsehoods, they were misrepresentations, of the good news of Jesus brought to them by those who wished to trouble them.



As we face these distortions, today, we must recognize them for what they really are. We must recognize them as false versions of the gospel. And we must reject them. We must reject them in favor of the true gospel, the message of forgiveness and salvation that’s found only in Jesus.

Monday, November 04, 2019

The Means of Deliverance


“Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(Galatians 1:3-5 ESV)


There is no question that we are living in an evil age. We watch the news and hear continual reports of war and violence. Throughout the course of our life, we experience hardship and suffering in its various forms. And sooner or later we all experience disease and death.


This is our reality because we live in a world that is corrupted by sin. We are a sinful people living among a sinful people.  And, as a result, we live in a world that suffers the consequences of sin.


It’s safe to say that we all long to be freed from the evil of this age. We long to be set free from the consequences of our wrongdoing. And we have various ideas about how this can happen.


For many of us, this falls into the realm of politics. If we can only find the right formula, if we can only satisfy the needs of the masses, we believe that the effects of sin will go away. If only we can eliminate poverty, give equal access to health care, and provide access to a quality education, there will be no more need for sin or violence.


For others among us, it’s a matter of self-help. If people will only read the right books and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, things will be better. If only they work hard enough, if only they would restrain themselves, the evils of this world would be a thing of the past.


And, while I’m not denying the reality of mental illness, some of us go to the extreme that every act of sin and violence results from a mental health issue. We believe that those who commit mass shootings must be mentally ill. We believe that those who abuse their spouse or children must be mentally ill. We believe that those who steal, who lie, and who are resistant to authority must be mentally ill. And if we can only help these people, the evils of this world will be no more.


Most of our ideas, when it comes to escaping the evils of this present age, have to do with creating a utopia. They have to do with our creation of a heaven on earth. They have to do with our creation of circumstances where acts of evil are prevented and no longer seem necessary.


However, as we look at Paul’s words in the above passage, we find that the solution to the evil of this age has nothing to do with us. We find that it is not we who will provide the escape that we desire. This is found only in Jesus.


Jesus gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age. In saying this, Paul is referring to Jesus’ death on the cross, by which he paid the penalty of our sin, and by which he defeated the power of sin. He’s referring to the fact that Jesus willingly laid down his life that we might be saved.


He did this according to the will of God the Father. In other words, Jesus didn’t do this of his own accord. He did this because he, along with God the Father, desire our salvation.



Although this deliverance was secured by Jesus’ sacrifice, it’s something that we anticipate. It’s not something that we can experience in this world or age. It’s something that we’ll enjoy in the life to come. It’s something we’ll enjoy when Jesus returns, the dead are raised, and the new creation is brought forth.




Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Thank Who?


“And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.”

(Hosea 2:8 ESV)



Although it’s hard to believe, Thanksgiving is almost upon us. And even though Thanksgiving is almost lost to us today, even though it’s looked upon as nothing more than the beginning of the Christmas season, it is a very important holiday.  It’s very important because of the truth of which it reminds us.



Thanksgiving is a day of thanks.  And being thankful implies that someone has helped us, that someone has blessed us, in some say.  So, this thanksgiving is directed toward someone.  It’s directed toward someone who is the source of our blessing. 



Most of us understand, in our society, that as we celebrate Thanksgiving, we are offering our thanks to God. We're acknowledging that he is the source of our blessing. We're acknowledging that we would have nothing apart from him.



As simple as this truth may seem, it’s very important. It’s very important because, if we fail to understand this, we will not continue to trust in the Lord. If we fail to understand this, we will place our trust in someone or something else that we view as the source of our blessing.



Our Wednesday night Bible study at Prince of Peace recently began our look at Hosea. Hosea was sent to tell the people of Israel that they’d been faithless to God. They had been an adulterous people. And, for this reason, God’s punishment was coming upon them.



They were chasing after other gods, believing that these deities were the source of their blessing. They credited these false gods with the provisions they enjoyed. They failed to understand, as we see in the above verse, that it was the Lord who had provided these blessings.



Even though the practice of idolatry seems archaic to us, in many ways, we have the same tendency. We have all of these wonderful blessings that have been lavished upon us by God. However, we chase after other gods, giving them the credit for the blessings we enjoy.



It could be a false religion or a false god. It could be nature, or the earth itself. It could be science or technology. It could even be ourselves, and our sense of hard work. But, whatever the case may be, we see this person or thing as the source of our blessing. And, for this reason, we pursue it and trust in it rather than God.



God planned to remove this delusion from the Israelites by withdrawing his hand of blessing. He would no longer grant to them his provision. And, in this way, they would come to see that these false gods had done nothing for them. They would come to see that these false gods could do nothing for them.



Although it seems harsh, this punishment was meant to accomplish something good. It was meant to draw them back to God himself. As they once again recognized the Lord as the source of their blessings, they would worship him and trust in him alone.



My prayer is that we would never come to this point. My prayer is that God would never have to withdraw his hand of blessing from us. My prayer is that we would continue to acknowledge him as the source of our blessing, that we would continue to trust in him, and that we’d give him the glory for the marvelous grace he bestows upon us.



However, as we see the ways in which we’re guilty of this sin, we must seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We must confess to him our sin, asking for his mercy, trusting in the atonement provided by Jesus. We must look to him not only for provision of our worldly needs, but also for his provision of forgiveness and mercy, which is promised to all who trust in him.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Called by Man or by God?


“Paul, an apostle--not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:”

(Galatians 1:1-2 ESV)

It’s often debated, as I’ve seen it debated a lot in recent days, whether God’s call for ministry comes from him directly (an immediate call) or through the church (a mediated call). Some insist that the call for ministry can come only by a direct revelation from the Lord. Others, however, insist that it can come only through the body of Christ.

As we consider this question, we must acknowledge that some, who feel an inner sense of call to ministry, are not truly called by God. I’ve encountered several people like this over the course of the years. Although they felt called to a certain type of ministry, it was clear that they were not gifted for this ministry. And as a result, even though they completed the required training, they were not called or elected by a congregation.

There are also those who claim the call of God upon their life, who sense the call of God upon their life, but do not meet the Biblical qualifications for such a role. They are not willing to submit to the standards given to us by God. And many within the church are willing to accept such claims.

However, we must also acknowledge that, without an inner sense of call, with only the call of the congregation, most people would refuse to serve in a ministry capacity. After all, ministry is an overwhelming job. It’s a role that few would dare to assume by choice. So, without that leading of the Lord, most would offer a humble “no” to such a call.

Finally, we must acknowledge that many churches, in a desperate search for those who will serve, look not for those who are gifted, nor for those who might be a good match for the church. They look only for a warm body. They want someone who will simply fill the role. As long as the individual possesses the required degree or training, or as long as they possess a willingness to serve, this is all that matters to them.

So, which is it? Does the call come from the Lord? Or does it come from the congregation? And to this question, I offer the answer of “yes.” The call comes from the Lord, but also through congregation. In fact, I would venture to say, it must come from both.

As we see in the above passage, Paul’s call as an apostle came not from man nor through man. His call came through Jesus Christ and God the Father. In other words, his call came directly from God.

This was an advantage to him because his primary motivation was not to please man, but God. His ministry was something that could not be stripped away by man. And he would not give up on his ministry because of the rejection of man, which is something he often faced.

That being said, in time, his ministry was recognized and approved by men (Galatians 2:7-10). Not only was it recognized and approved by those who heard the gospel he proclaimed. He was also given the right hand of fellowship by James, Peter, and John. They acknowledged that he’d been called by God to the ministry of the gospel among the uncircumcised.

Some might insist that, because this was Paul, his circumstances were different than our own. However, there is no real basis for such a claim. Regardless of our vocation within the church, it seems clear that the same principles apply.

This is certainly true of me. Without the inner sense of call, I would never have pursued ministry. And without the inner sense of call, I would have quit ministry many times over. It was the knowledge that this was a task to which I’ve been called by God that kept me going.

In the same spirit, without the call of the congregation, the ministry, entrusted to me by God, would be dead in the water. After all, you cannot preach to people if they don’t show up to listen. You cannot teach them if they refuse it listen. You cannot serve those who will not receive your service. It’s as they recognize your giftings and God’s call upon your life that they become willing to receive what you’re offering them.

So, as we carry out the ministry entrusted to us by God, no matter what role that may be, the same should be true of us. We must recognize the call placed upon our life by God himself. However, that call should also be acknowledged by the church, which recognizes our gifts and calls us into service.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Rescue the Perishing


“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
(James 5:19-20 ESV)

Many of you have probably known someone who has wandered from the truth. Despite the fact he’d once confessed faith in Christ, and despite the fact that the fruit of his faith was clearly seen, things are now different. He’s turned from the faith to which he once clung.

Perhaps he’s strayed from correct doctrine. Even if he continues to profess faith in Christ, his faith is very different than it once was. He’s turned from the essential tenets of the Christian faith to a false gospel.

Or, perhaps, he’s fallen into unrepentant sin. Not only did he make a mistake. Not only did he violate God’s commands. He now lives in this sin. It controls his life, and he’s unwilling to acknowledge it as sin or to turn from it.

This person is now in a precarious position. By turning from a saving faith in Jesus, or by his fall into unrepentant sin, his salvation is in jeopardy. Perhaps things have gone so far as to separate him from the grace of God.

Too often, when this happens, our response is to remove him from our life. Our relationship with him is completely severed. Due to the change in his life, we no longer pursue friendship as we once did. Due to the change in his life, we no longer concern ourselves with his spiritual state.

However, according to James, we’re to respond very differently to a case like this. If someone brings back a sinner from his wandering, he tells us, they will have saved his soul from death and covered over a multitude of sins. In other words, they will have rescued him from the judgment of God and brought him to a place of mercy.

Although we don’t like to involve ourselves in the lives of others, this, you see, is a matter of life and death. It’s a matter of salvation or damnation. It’s not simply a minor issue that we can brush off.

When someone wanders from the truth, we are to be concerned with his eternal welfare. It should concern us that someone, who was once a brother or sister in the faith, is outside of the grace of God. It should concern us that they might miss out on the blessings of God that are received by faith.

And, out of this concern, we should reach out to him. We should seek his salvation. We must lovingly call him from false doctrine, we must lovingly call him from sin, to the truth and comfort of the gospel.

This reflects the heart of God, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. It reflects the heart of God, who wants no one to perish. It reflects the heart of God, who has called us to proclaim the gospel to the whole creation, and to make disciples of all nations.