lessons in appreciation

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…appreciate those who diligently labor among you” (1 Thessalonians 5:12 NASB).

It was cold that morning when we woke up. We had driven for hours the previous day so we could see the beautiful Fall colors of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We stayed overnight at the Appalachian Advent Christian Campground at Blowing Rock. I was destined for some lessons in appreciation that weekend. My first lesson came as we enjoyed breakfast with the camp caretakers – Rob and Pam Buchanan. It was such a treat to spend time with those wonderful people. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had not had much time together with other couples in ministry.

But we had been determined to see some Autumn leaves, so we tore ourselves away, and went back to the Blue Ridge Parkway. It seemed that everyone else on the planet had the same idea that day. We shared our hike in the mountains with a lot of other sightseers. It was still magnificent.

As we returned to our car for lunch at an overlook on the Parkway, we discovered a dead battery. Our key fob did not work for the car doors, and the key only worked for the trunk. So, I could only open the doors by emptying the trunk and crawling through a small square panel into the back seat.

Then we could get into the car, but the battery was still dead. We have a AAA membership, but it would have taken hours for a service vehicle to go through the bumper-to-bumper traffic to get to us. There were thousands of people flowing through the parkway, so, even though our phones had no signal, it was not long before we found a willing stranger to pull out his jumper cables, and give us a boost. That was another appreciation lesson.

IMG-0998Lots of Advent Christians celebrate pastor appreciation month in October. It is very encouraging to get a postcard, or a greeting card with words of appreciation from members of one’s congregation. I have also been using this month for another kind of pastor’s appreciation. During the announcements, I have been mentioning people with prominent ministries in our congregation, sometimes praying for them.

At the worship service yesterday, the congregation presented me with a gift. It was one of those portable battery boosters that we can carry with us – just in case we need a boost again. I really appreciate these folks.

the gospel of FREE

the gospel of FREEthe gospel of FREE

“Now Hagar represents Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Galatians 4:25-26 CSB).

I have been highlighting the meaning of the gospel by focusing on key words suggested in each chapter of Galatians.

For chapter 1, the key word was DIFFERENT. The troublemakers were tempting the Galatians to reject the true gospel, and substitute a different one.

For chapter 2, the key word was GO. The gospel is good news for all nations, and so it comes with a mandate for us to go to others and share it.

For chapter 3, the key word was IN. The gospel invites us to put our faith in Jesus, and find our unity and equality in him.

For today’s chapter, the key word is FREE. The gospel offers freedom as opposed to slavery.

I want to concede some things from the get go. I am not suggesting that the gospel guarantees freedom from physical suffering.

Take a look at what Paul says in verses 13-15.

“you know that previously I preached the gospel to you because of a weakness of the flesh. You did not despise or reject me though my physical condition was a trial for you. On the contrary, you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus himself. Where, then, is your blessing? For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.”

Paul actually came preaching the gospel to the Galatians while he was suffering from a physical problem. He wasn’t preaching a gospel of health and wealth. The freedom he was talking about was something different that freedom from illness or injury.

I am also not suggesting that the gospel frees Christians from stress. Take a look at these texts in today’s chapter:

“You are observing special days, months, seasons, and years. I am fearful for you, that perhaps my labor for you has been wasted” (10-11).

“My children, I am again suffering labor pains for you until Christ is formed in you. I would like to be with you right now and change my tone of voice, because I don’t know what to do about you”(19-20).

It sounds like Paul was going through a stressful time. His concern and love for the Galatians made him worry about them. It is wise to not worry about things, but it is heartless to choose to not worry about people. Love worries.

I am also not suggesting that Christians will be free from opposition. Note verse 17:

“They court you eagerly, but not for good. They want to exclude you from me, so that you would pursue them.”

Paul had opponents in Galatia, and if we are serious about living the gospel message, we will have enemies too.

So, what does freedom mean for Christians?

Look at verses 4-5:

“When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

Christians are free to reject the law as a means of salvation.

The law is holy and righteous and good, but the law did not bleed for us on Calvary. It can make us wise to salvation but it cannot save us itself. The purpose of the law of God in the Old Testament was to show us our need for God’s Son. Jesus redeemed those who were under the law by fulfilling the law’s demands for them. He turned them from slaves to sons, not because they obeyed the law, but because they put their faith in him.

That means that you and I are free to seek deliverance from our sins through Christ without first going through law school. God’s law can be many things for us, but it can never be the means of our salvation.

Christians are also free to receive the Holy Spirit, who testifies of our new relationship with God.

My friend Mark Wolfington wrote this comment a few years ago:

“Some friends of ours recently welcomed their first child into their home. Instead of the usual nine months, the parents had waited nearly 10 years for the day to arrive. Their son joined their family through adoption. It was a long and costly journey for them, involving a lengthy application process and costing tens of thousands of dollars. The look on their faces when they brought their son home told the story: their long struggle was worth it. They loved their little boy long before they ever held him, and they’d do it all again. The little boy that now has a home was born in a part of the world where children have virtually no value, and child-labor laws are non-existent. If not for the intervention of parents that he’d never met, he may have ended up as little more than a slave. That would-be slave is now a son.”(Maranatha Daily Devotional – Wednesday, June 7, 2017).

Paul told the Galatians that because they are sons, God gave them the Holy Spirit (6). They have a new relationship, adopted into God’s family, and the Holy Spirit bears witness to that fact.

The Bible encourages us to receive the Holy Spirit, and we should expect power from God. But the focus here is not empowerment as much as relationship. The Holy Spirit assures us that we always have access to our heavenly Father. Knowing the Father’s love encourages us to invite others into his family.

I’m reminded of that song “Big House”

“I don’t know if you got some shelter, Say a place to hide
I don’t know if you live with friends, In whom you can confide
I don’t know if you got a family, Say a mom or dad
I don’t know if you feel love at all, But I bet you wish you had

Come and go with me To my Father’s house
Come and go with me To my Father’s house

It’s a big big house, With lots and lots a room
A big big table, With lots and lots of food
A big big yard, Where we can play football
A big big house, Its my Father’s house.”

​​Audio Adrenaline – Big House – YouTube

Christians are also free to rejoice by faith in the future we are promised regardless of the barrenness of the present.

Note verse 27:

“For it is written, Rejoice, childless woman, unable to give birth. Burst into song and shout, you who are not in labor, for the children of the desolate woman will be many, more numerous than those of the woman who has a husband.”

The prophet Isaiah was talking about a time in the future when Israel would begin producing sons of God again. He called on God’s people to begin worshiping and rejoicing now because of that glorious future. That’s what God’s people do. We worship in anticipation of future blessing.

Christians are also free to repent of anything that keeps us in bondage.

One of the greatest freedoms anyone can ever experience is the freedom to change. Paul told the Galatians that they were getting off track, but they could get back on the right track. What they needed to do was:

“Drive out the slave and her son, for the son of the slave will never be a coheir with the son of the free woman” (30).

God had told Abraham that there were too many women in his house. He had to let Hagar and Ishmael go.

Brothers and sisters, we might need to do some housecleaning too. We are called to be free, and to share that freedom with a world in bondage. Freedom is contagious. People everywhere want it, but they are not going to look for freedom in a house of slavery.

Lord, thank you for our freedom you gave us, bought by the precious blood of Christ. Show us how to live in that freedom, so that others can find it through our witness.

the gospel of IN

the gospel of IN

the gospel of IN

“But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin’s power, so that the promise might be given on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ to those who believe. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:22,28 CSB).

Galatians 3 is one of the most crucial passages of Scripture that help define the gospel, but it is also very complicated. I want to try to simplify Paul’s teaching in this chapter by focusing on what Paul said in these two verses. Notice the word “in.” It will help us to understand the gospel if we learn what it means to have faith in Jesus (22) and what it means to be one in Christ (28).

the gospel is the story of a prison: we are either under the power of sin, or set free by faith in Jesus Christ.

I know something about prisons because my father was a prison guard. He became quite cynical about prisoners because he noticed so many repeat offenders who spent their time in prison learning how to be more efficient criminals once they got out.

The Bible tells us that sin is like that. The early chapters of Genesis tell us that once sin entered our world, it wasn’t long before everything people were thinking or wanted to do was a sin.

So, the prison analogy is an appropriate one. We cannot know freedom until we get out of that prison. While we are under sin’s power, the best that we can hope for is to become more efficient sinners.

We cannot get out of the prison of sin any other way except on the basis of faith in Christ.

Paul told the Romans that we all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory, but we can be justified as a gift of God’s grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:23-24).

The cross has made a difference. While we were still helpless, at the right time in history, Christ died for the ungodly (Romans 5:6).
We are justified by faith in Christ’s atonement on the cross (Romans 5:1). That was our way out of the prison.

Now, being out of the prison does not mean we will never sin again, but it does mean we are not stuck in the situation we were in where we couldn’t do anything but sin.

the gospel is the story of a promise: long before the law, God promised a blessing to the nations.

Verse 22 mentions that promise.

You see, the troublemakers had gone to the Galatian churches and told them that they had to get out their Bibles and review their history. They told them that God gave the law at Sinai, and that nobody is going to be blessed if they do not follow that law to the letter.

The trouble with the troublemakers is that they did not go back far enough into biblical history. Paul reminded the Galatians in this chapter that the blessing was promised to Abraham centuries before Sinai. Abraham received that promise through faith, not through obedience to the law.

The Galatians received that promise too. In verse two, Paul asks them if they had received the Holy Spirit by works of the law, or by believing the gospel. He then asked them “Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh?” (3). You see, the promise of a blessing and freedom from the prison are the same thing. And we cannot get either by works of the law.

the gospel is a story of a position: believers today are equal before God.

We are all in Christ, and share his status and inheritance.

This is how Paul explains the purpose of the law in this chapter:
There are two stages. Stage one is the guardianship. Note verses 23-26:

“Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus.”

Under this stage, believing Jews were imprisoned just like the rest of the world was. Their prison was the law, and it kept them longing for the faith that was to come. Once Christ came, many Jews came to him by faith, received the Holy Spirit, and were set free from both prisons.

Now, the troublemakers came to Galatia trying to get the Gentile Christians to go back to prison. They were teaching them that God wanted them to obey the law that Christ had set the Jewish Christians free from!

This is how Paul explains the reality of sonship that came to the Gentile Christians. Note verses 26-29:

“for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus. Sons and Heirs For those of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ. There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female; since you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.”

The promise is that by faith in Christ, all of us have a new position before God, and that position is equal. Our ethnic background does not matter: both Jew and Gentile are set free from prison. Our socio-economic background does not matter: slaves and non-slaves need this freedom, and can get it equally. Our gender does not matter: whether we were born as sons or daughters, we were all reborn as “sons of God in Christ Jesus.”

Now, before we leave this chapter, though – we have to ask the application question. As I mentioned already in this series, no one is tempted to follow the Jewish law much anymore. Oh, maybe there are a few who are hung up on the sabbath issue. But that does not mean that the principle taught in this chapter is irrelevant. In our discussion this week, Penny brought up a very helpful question: “Has the church replaced Jewish law with their own?”

I think we are in danger of replacing the gospel when we give people the impression that the kingdom of God happens when we stop sinning, become good citizens, go to church on Sunday, and just fit in with everybody else. No! That is not the definition of saving faith. I wonder if Paul were alive today, would he write us a letter similar to Galatians? Faith in Christ has no substitutes.

Lord God, thank you that we can be free from the prison of sin by trusting in Jesus Christ. Keep us from falling into slavery by turning away from this gospel of grace, and help us to share it with those who are still under sin’s power.

the gospel of GO

the gospel of GO

the gospel of GO

When James, Cephas, and John—those recognized as pillars—acknowledged the grace that had been given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to me and Barnabas, agreeing that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:9 CSB).

the gospel of grace is the flag of our unity in Christ

We all come to Christ on the same basis. When I learned that Jesus is God’s only Son and our only sacrifice for sin, I decided to accept him as my Savior. I knew then and there that everyone who accepted the same gospel and made the same choice would be my brother or sister in Christ. They might not look like me, talk like me, or even act like me, but they would be part of my family. We may not have anything in common except the gospel of grace, but that is enough.

We enjoy fellowship with all true believers everywhere on the same basis.

That meeting that Paul had with the church leaders in Jerusalem was crucial because it would decide whether there would be two Christianities – the Jewish version and the Gentile version. Would the leaders in Jerusalem accept a church of Jesus Christ without their Jewish traditions? Their acceptance of Paul, as demonstrated by their giving him the right hand of fellowship represented their understanding of the basis of everyone’s standing with God.

We don’t have to conform to the traditions of others in order to be a part of the body of Christ. But sadly, that was a lesson we had to learn over and over again in Christian history. The Protestant Reformation was necessary because human traditions took control and led the Christian church into bondage for a thousand years.

God sends missionaries out – not to enslave people, but to set them free. That lesson has been very hard for us to learn as well. We have created churches all over the world that look and act just like the missionaries. But when we did that, we ensured that those churches would not be able to reach the unbelievers in their own culture. Thankfully, God’s Holy Spirit has empowered many of those churches to remold themselves into churches that can reach their own people. All around the world today, people are being won to Christ by these transformed churches.

the false gospel seeks to destroy that gospel of grace

Paul knew what was going on in Galatia because the very same thing had been attempted in Antioch when he was there. Proponents of the false gospel were trying to influence the people in the churches to deny the gospel of grace. Paul had opposed that movement in Antioch. He said…

But we did not give up and submit to these people for even a moment, so that the truth of the gospel would be preserved for you” (5).

What was at stake was the truth of the gospel.

That false gospel replaces freedom with slavery. Paul had said..

This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus in order to enslave us” (4).

That false gospel replaces integrity with hypocrisy. Paul had related his experience with Peter, also called Cephas:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face because he stood condemned. For he regularly ate with the Gentiles before certain men came from James. However, when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he feared those from the circumcision party. Then the rest of the Jews joined his hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy” (11-13).

A Hypocrite is an actor. When someone is acting like he’s better than you, you can bet that behind that hypocrisy is a false gospel, because the true gospel admits that all of us need Jesus equally.

That false gospel replaces the cross with human works. If anybody could have claimed to deserve special treatment because of his works, it would be Paul, but he said…

I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing” (20-21).

the true gospel is the only one which will reach the nations for Christ

The same gospel was for the Jew as well as the Gentile.

… they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter was for the circumcised, since the one at work in Peter for an apostleship to the circumcised was also at work in me for the Gentiles” (7-8).

It is not that there are two gospels – one for Jews and another one for Gentiles. No, there is only one gospel, and God has sent missionaries to every corner of the globe to proclaim it.

Paul would later write to the Romans that he was not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God to save the Jew first (because it came to them first) but also to the Greeks and everyone else (Romans 1:16).

What these leaders in Jerusalem realized is that in order for the Gentile world to hear the gospel, someone had to go, and they recognized that Paul had been called to do so.

The gospel always comes with a mandate to missions work.

Remember those words “…we should go” (9). The Christian gospel is the gospel of GO. None of us have been called to stay. Some of us are called to go overseas, others have been called to go next door. But all of us have a mission.

Remember the great commission, where Jesus told us “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).

Remember also that the purpose of the Holy Spirit was to empower us for this mission. Jesus told us…

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

the false gospel is the gospel of STAY

Now, here’s the problem. All of us are born into communities, and families and each of us will know the temptation to stay. It’s not just the temptation to stay in one place. It can also be the temptation to stay like we are. Stay isolated. Stay conforming to past norms.

But the gospel of stay is a false gospel. If we are committed to staying like we are, we will never have an opportunity to reach others with the gospel of Christ. The most we can ever accomplish is reaching people like us, who are where we are, doing what we do.

There are nations that are in bondage, who need the message of freedom in Christ.

There are also neighbors who need the gospel, and those neighbors are not exactly like us, either. The gospel of GO for us means that we need to show our neighbors that Jesus can set them free too, and they do not have to become like us for that to happen.

LORD, give us the courage to renounce the false gospel of STAY, and to reach out to those who are different from us, so that they can also know freedom and forgiveness in Christ.

a different gospel?

a different gospel

a different gospel? (Galatians 1)

I am amazed that you are so quickly turning away from him who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—” (Galatians 1:6 CSB).

John Stott wrote that when the devil “cannot entice Christian people into sin, he deceives them with false doctrine.”

That is what is going on in the book of Galatians. A Christian church is being attacked, not by the Roman government, not by an angry Jewish persecutor, but an attack from within. A different gospel had been introduced, and the Galatians were turning to it instead of the gospel by which they had been saved! An internal battle is going on in the churches of Galatia.

The Holy Spirit gave us the book of Galatians as part of the Bible because every church is capable of turning from the true gospel to a false gospel. Anyone who claims to believe can be deceived and turn from the gospel to a different gospel.

That is why it is important for us to study this book. We need to know whether what we believe is the true gospel, or if we have already fallen for a false gospel.

So, we need to ask “What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?” The text of Galatians 1 answers that question.

it was human centered, not God centered

Paul warned that by turning toward that different gospel, the Galatians were turning away from the God who called them to himself (6). The people teaching the false doctrine now known as the Galatian heresy didn’t advertise it that way. They didn’t say “follow our teaching and you’ll turn away from God.” No, they were teaching the opposite. They came into the churches of Galatia and said. “Hey, y’all are doing okay, but if you really want to get on God’s good side, here’s what you need to do.”

The Galatians were being tempted away from God because they were trying to please people (10). These people pretended to be true believers in Christ. But they had an agenda that was different from Christ’s agenda. They wanted to introduce bondage instead of freedom.

But the gospel that Paul had preached to the Galatians, by which they were saved, was not “of human origin” (11). He didn’t dream it up. It “came by revelation of Jesus Christ” (12).

That word “revelation” is the same word that serves as the title to the last book in the New Testament. It means a disclosure, an unveiling. Paul is saying that Jesus himself revealed the gospel to him. He didn’t get it second-hand.

Paul was pretty stubbornly set on going against the gospel, so Jesus had to knock him down and blind him for awhile to get his attention. So, after learning the truth of the gospel in such a miraculous way, Paul was not about to allow it to be replaced by another gospel.

Paul learned that he could not serve Christ by hanging on to the traditions of his ancestors (14). Those traditions had led Paul to persecute true believers (23).

Now here is an important thing to remember. The traditions were not a bad thing in and of themselves. Many of the traditions had their origin in the Bible. Circumcision, submission to the law of God, separation from idolatry – all of these things were not bad things. What made these things wrong was the way they were being used to replace the gospel. You can take the best of human tradition and you can turn it into a dangerous evil by making it the gospel instead of the gospel of God.

What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?

it was a gospel of law, not a gospel of grace

The Galatian Christians had been “called by the grace of Christ” (6). Every one of those Gentiles were told that they could be saved from their sins and inherit eternal life, and they didn’t have to do anything for it except trust in the finished work of Christ on the cross. God’s grace did it all.

But these trouble-makers had come into those churches built on grace and they introduced them to the law.

They said if you really wanted to be on God’s good side, you’ll be circumcised. You’ll eat what we tell you to eat. You’ll stop living like a Gentile and live like a Jew. You’ll memorize the law and obey it.

What these trouble-makers didn’t tell the Galatians was that in contrast to the gospel, the law was designed to curse lawbreakers (8-9). Paul had told the Romans that all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (Romans 2:12). So, if we are thinking that obeying the law is going to get you brownie points with God, think again. Paul called it “the curse of the law” and he taught the Galatians that Christ has redeemed us from it by becoming a curse for us when he died on the cross (Galatians 3:13).

The law was never intended to be God’s solution to the sin problem. Even under the Mosaic covenant, it took a blood sacrifice to atone for sin. God’s grace is the only solution to the sin problem.

That is why Paul told the Galatians up-front that Christ “gave himself for our sins to rescue us” (4). The cross is our only rescue.

If the law could rescue anyone, Jesus did not need to die on the cross.

What was different about the gospel that the Galatians were turning to?

it was a gospel of works, not a gospel of faith

The gospel is about “the grace of Christ” (6). It is not about me and what I can do for God. It is about what God did for us by sending his Son to die in our place.

The different gospel was being introduced by a group of trouble-makers (7). These trouble-makers sneaked in and distorted the gospel of grace.

They added regulations. They went to the Galatians and they said, “Hey, read your Old Testament. You see all those regulations. You have to keep them or God is going to reject you. There is no salvation without Sinai.”

So, what was wrong with that picture? It got its biblical history backwards. God did not take the Israelites to Sinai first. He rescued them from Egypt by the blood of the lamb first. Sinai was not for salvation, Sinai was for witness. The content of the Mosaic covenant was intended to be a witness of God’s grace.

In the same way, we have the content of the new covenant: the commands of Christ. In his great commission, Jesus tells us that we are to make disciples and that involves teaching people to obey his commands. But we don’t even obey Christ in order to be saved, we obey him in order for others to be saved. We obey Christ so that we can draw others to him.

What else was different about the different gospel? They added levels of spirituality. They said. Oh, trusting Jesus is okay for starters. But you gotta take this thing to the next level. You gotta level up. The real power comes from how you eat, how you pray, what day you worship on…

They also added “conversions.” Apparently one conversion was not enough. You had to convert not only your heart but your stomach, and your wallet. You had to keep converting until you looked like they did.

But the gospel of grace says that one conversion is enough. One Christ is enough. One cross is enough. The message of Galatians is that believers should find our distinctiveness in Christ and the gospel of forgiveness through his sacrifice.

How do we live the message of Galatians today?

We need to turn back from the different gospel that we have been taught. We need to search ourselves to see if we have added anything to our salvation that was not done by Jesus Christ on the cross.

Then, once we have repented from all those false gospels, we should testify to the saving power of the cross alone.