Somebody call 9-1-1

Galatians 1:3-5

A few weeks ago, our young adult group started studying the book of Galatians. As we studied the introduction of Paul’s letter, I was reminded of my desperate need for Christ.

Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches differs from the letters that he penned to the other churches he planted. He doesn’t open the letter with words of commendation. That is because the issue that has plagued the Galatians is a serious one. They had allowed themselves to be persuaded by false teachers to put aside the gospel that Paul had preached to them for another message. One that emphasized their own works.

Paul responds to this false teaching with the letter to the Galatians. And his response is rather stern. If we were to simplify his message in as few words as possible it might look something like this: “Christ alone plus nothing more”. As Paul opens his letter, he wastes no time reminding the Galatians of Christ’s all-sufficient death on the cross.

3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

In these first few verses, the word “rescue” stands out. A rescue implies that there is something dangerous which someone needs to be delivered away from. That danger exists whether or not that person acknowledges their need to be rescued. The need is real.

A rescue is also much more than just a helping hand to assist someone from a sticky situation. This is not some sort of 50/50 deal that stipulates the need for someone to go a certain distance so that they can be carried the remainder of the way. The need is wholly and completely met by Christ.

According to the scriptures, we are the ones in need of rescue. He gave Himself for our sins (Gal. 1:4). Our sins which lead us to pride, lust, selfish ambition, idolatry, hate, and envy. Yet while we were still sinners God sent His son to die for us (Rom. 5:8). This rescue was not some sort of distant effort coordinated from afar. It was by God’s will and His plan that Christ came to live, to die, and to rise again for our sins. We are the object of this rescue. 

However even though I may have been rescued from sin, something inside me always gets caught in a cycle of trying to do things which at their roots are really just seeking to earn favor in the sight of others. If I have been rescued, I am no longer enslaved by the need for approval from others. The approval of man is of temporary value. Being rescued from sin I have the approval of God because of my faith in Christ and what He did for me. I need to stop relying on myself. I need to stop thinking that I need to do something. I desperately need Christ. Jesus Christ came to rescue you and I.

Realize the need, receive His grace through faith in Christ, remember that it is a rescue, and rely on Christ plus nothing more.

Though my sins once separated me from God, they have been paid for by the finished work of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Through faith in Christ I have been rescued from being enslaved to the destructive nature of sin; this present evil age. That is good news. That is the gospel.

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21

Doxology

Philippians 4:20

Every week in Thousand Oaks a group of young adults meet to study the word and pray with one another. We jokingly named ourselves “Semi Pro” two years ago. How God brought us together and how he has grown and challenged us is an encouraging story I enjoy telling to whoever will listen. But that is something I’ll save for another post.

This past week we finished our series on the book of Philippians. As we stepped through Paul’s letter verse by verse, we came across verses that many of us are familiar with.

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. – Phil. 1:21

7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord… – Phil. 3:7-8

12 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of byChrist Jesus. – Phil. 3:12

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! 5 Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. 6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Phil. 4:4-7

The book of Philippians, like many other epistles, is rich with memorable verses like these. We underline them in our Bibles, and commit them to memory. They become the “meat” of the book and everything else around it becomes some sort of “filler”. As I prepared for our final study, I struggled with the last set of verses. They read:

20 Now to our God and Father be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brethren who are with me greet you.22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

Should I have just bundled Philippians 4:20-23 with the previous study? Verse 20 sounded great, but it almost seemed like it was randomly inserted in the letter. We find other similar verses “plopped” into some of Paul’s other letters:

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN?36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. -Rom. 11:33-36

20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, 21 to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. -Eph. 3:20-21

These all fall into the category of “doxology”. Whenever I used hear the word doxology I thought a song in a hymn book. It was something I remembered singing at the end of a church service. Lots of words that I didn’t ever bother thinking twice about. Words sang to a melody without an understanding of the reason why it was being sung.

So what is doxology? It literally means word of glory. It is words that offer praise to God. When we look at these examples, we find that each of these follows after Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has penned truths about God.

In the example from Philippians chapter 4, Paul explodes into doxology after the statement that HIS God will supply all needs. This is not a distant God that he has heard a thing or two about. This is HIS God. The God who turned a murderer into a missionary on the road to Damascus. The God who demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, sent Christ to die for us (Rom. 5:8). This is the God that Paul knows intimately. This is HIS God. And at this point Paul is absolutely confident. There is no condition. He does not say, “If you do this; if you do that; if you make sure you follow this”. He says, “You are His. He will supply all your needs.” Everything in his letter to the Philippians has been building up to this. Christ is my life (chapter 1), Christ is my example (chapter 2), Christ is my goal and prize (chapter 3). And as he instructs them on how to stand firm in the Lord and how to be content he finds the truth to be so overwhelming that he just can’t stop himself from praising God.

But where many of us find ourselves is at a point of frustration because we constantly let God down. We don’t measure up to His expectations. We must be “doing it wrong”, because we don’t skip down the road reciting doxologies like Paul.

When my life “lacks doxology”, I’ve forgotten the very truth of the gospel. Instead of a thankful heart in light of the gift of the cross, I try to “fix the situation” by doing this, doing that.

George Herbert wrote,

“Thou that hast given so much to me give one thing more, a grateful heart. Not thankful when it pleases me as if thy blessings had some spare days, but such a heart who’s pulse may be thy praise.”

I need to be reminded of the truth throughout each and every day. The truth that I am a sinner and that my sin demands payment. The truth that I cannot pay this debt alone. The truth that it is by grace I am saved, through faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection on the cross. The same truth that lead Paul to a real and authentic worship of our God.

Don’t get distracted trying to create an appearance of a worshipful life. Don’t only focus on the fruit. Saturate yourself in the truth. Spend time making sure that the water which feeds the tree is pure. The writer of Psalm 1 understood this:

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither; -Psalm 1:2-3

And so what we find at the end of the book of Philippians deserves our attention. It’s a heartfelt response to the truth. There is no filler in the Bible.

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. -2 Tim. 3:16-17

How Far Can I Go God?

It doesn’t say in the Bible that I can’t do that, so technically it’s not a sin. If I don’t go that far, it’s alright. For a good while, I found myself asking God, how far can I go? What exactly can I do? Many times we have this attitude in life where we want to know exactly how far we can go before we get in trouble. How close we can stand next to sin without sinning.

While some things aren’t necessarily sins, God always reminds me of our purpose. Our purpose to ultimately glorify Him in all that we do. A thought that I keep close to my heart is this, how much can I do for God because I love Him? I’m not saying we must not do these “things” because they can totally be alright to do, we just need to ask ourselves for what purpose are we doing these things? A pastor said this during a sermon,

“A heart that’s willing to stand next to sin, is willing to sin.”

At first, I thought that’s not necessarily true. It sort of depends on the situation. And I still think it kind of does. However when I examined my life and my situation, and saw myself trying to justify certain actions, this for sure was the case. We need to read His word, be in prayer, be focused on Him. And when we do this, we set our minds on things above and not of this world.

It’s not how much we can get away with, but how much we can do for Him. How much we can do for God to glorify His Name, and His Name ALONE.

“Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” -1 Corinthians 10: 31-33

When in Doubt…Do or Do Not Do?

Okay so one of the funnier verses (to me) in Romans is when it talks about faith from the perspective of food in chapter 14.

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. 2One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

So it took me a bit to realize that perhaps those who eat vegetables do so because the meat might be unclean or offered to idols, not necessarily for the nutritional benefits vegans and vegetarians go for nowadays…

5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

Okay, so a more liberal man might argue using this verse to defend whatever they want!  I mean think about it, does this verse give us free reign to live as we wish the Christian life?

Context, people…read in context…

13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food[b] is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.

There we go, do not stumble another brother…and we’ve heard this before, and now we know exactly where it comes from, Romans 14!

22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

We’ve heard a brother in Christ say many times, “If it’s questionable, or if you’re not sure if it’s okay, don’t do it.” That made sense to me, since we are commanded to walk on solid ground as Christians. But this verse takes it to a whole new level – if you are doubtful of whether it’s okay or not, then the fact that you doubt it’s cleanliness and do it anyway makes it a sin, get it?

Some would say that this is a conservative view of life, and I must qualify that the presence of doubt does not merit inaction on that doubt.  Indeed, we are called to seek God out in times of doubt, to discover His will in the matter. However, let us be like the man who stares at himself in the mirror – not narcissistic, nor fleetingly, but rather searchingly.  In this case, let us look our doubts eye to eye, and search as to whether they arise from our selfish desires, or from our pursuit of Christ.

God Bless!

Lessons From the Pharisees

Today I’ve had some pretty impressive re-evaluations of what I should be looking for in my spiritual life.  I went to an intervarsity meeting tonight, and the topic was the story of the blind man whom Jesus healed by spitting into the dirt, and telling the man to wash off the mud from his face.  The man did so, and consequently could see (John 9)

This blind man was constantly badgered by the pharisees as to why he was proclaiming the story of Jesus.  The pharisees accused Jesus of being a sinner by breaking the sabbath.  The man who could see simply replied that he couldn’t say whether Jesus was a sinner or not-all he could say was that he was blind, and then he could see.  Later on, Jesus appeared to him and revealed himself as the Son of Man, and the blind man fell in worship at Jesus’ feet.

The story I want to focus on is not Jesus, not the blind man…but the pharisees.  Why? because out of the three “characters”, I feel that we today fit best into this category.

You see, the pharisees were the “spiritual leaders” of the day, just as we are now.  They knew the scriptures well, and were quick to rebuke (though not in love) those who failed to obey them.

Were the pharisees doing something wrong? After all, they were simply following the rules set down through Moses from God.  Does that sound so different from us, following the Bible, given to us as God’s divine word?

I think the pharisees thought they had it all figured out.  I thought they knew God so well they could predict His next move.  They confined God within the rules He had set down, and enforced those rules to the point that get this – they enforced those rules so much so that  when God himself came down to Earth, they accused Him of sinning! That blows me away! That’s how insensitive the pharisees had gotten to the presence of God in their lives – they knew the scriptures, the laws, the procedures…but missed out on the experience of God, which He values more than anything.

Have we today confined God to the box of reason, science, and modern society? Do we feel that we’ve got Him all figured out?  God is so much bigger than any net of understanding we try to cast around Him.

Will we let ourselves get so immersed in the intellectual and technical analysis of Scripture that we won’t even recognize the presence and experience of God when He enters our world?

Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  All else comes secondary.  I pray that we will recognize Jesus as He walks beside you day by day, and that in humility you are willing to consider that you may perhaps be blinded like the pharisees, unwilling to recognize that God is too big for the box you have built around Him.

-God Bless