Archive | May, 2011

Do YOU Want to Change the World?

30 May

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

The one thing that you have to do if you want to change the world is to have ACCOUNTABILITY in your life If you want to attempt great things for God, to give Him great glory, and to be a mighty man or woman of valor, you’ll never do it without accountability in your life. Every great leader has multiple levels of accountability in his or her life. Various Biblical leaders show the importance of accountability. David was accountable to Nathan (2 Samuel 12:7), Paul was accountable to Barnabas (Acts 15:36ff), and Peter was held accountable be Paul (Galatians 2:11-14).

What is accountability?

Accountability is giving other people in your life the right to ask you the hard questions– and them giving you the same right– not for the purpose of tearing one another down, but building one another up. It’s for discouraging each other from harmful patterns of sinful living and encouraging each other toward godliness.

We need it because spiritual growth is often uneven– we win some; we lose some.  Together, we can win more.  We still have a sin nature, even as believers.  But we have power over it through Christ– and that power is greater when Christians unite and encourage one another.

The best way is to have an accountability group is by using what I call the 3 Musketeer Model (All for One and One for all). Ecclesiastes gives us the best advice: “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” An additional important element of this accountability is to meet regularly, most likely weekly. Accountability groups should also be of the same sex, as spiritual intimacy can often lead to physical intimacy.

Biblical Models of Accountability

Paul– Each of us needs a spiritual mentor (older in the faith, a giant “to us”, a seasoned believer; youth usually need an adult for this role, someone you approach who is willing to help you grow) Think of who it will be for you…Think of 2-3 and pray about it– be very serious before doing it or you’ll crash and burn

Silas– Each of us needs a spiritual equal (someone on our spiritual level) Who might be a good fit?

Timothy– Each of us needs to help disciple someone younger in the faith (2 Timothy 2:2)

Look for those who are more experienced in the faith, who can be your mentors, those who are your spiritual equals, and those whom you can disciple. In order to grow, you need mentors, equals, and others that you can mentor. Accountability is essential and vital in our Christian lives, to be mentored and to mentor others.

Galatians: Chapter 5-6 (Part 6 of 6)

23 May

As we discussed last week, Christian maturity and spirituality isn’t about ‘trying’ but about simply pursuing a love relationship with Jesus. This week, we’ll continue with the message and content of Galatians.

Chapter 5, verse 1 is the key verse of the book of Galatians.  The point of the Christian life is freedom/Christian liberty– the freedom to live in ways that position us in blessing, due to what Christ has done for us.  Freedom from sin– yes, but freedom from living with the million requirements of the law on your mind 24-7. Even as a Christian, God will let you live in spiritual bondage.  If you won’t learn what God says about living the Christian life; He will let you live in bondage… after all, most Christians do, and fail to enjoy what Christ purchased for them by his blood.

Verses 3 and 4 teach that if you’re going to live by the law, legalistically, to prove your self-righteousness, you can’t pick and choose, you’ll have to do it all. Of course, if you do– you’ve taken a lesson in ‘missing the point’ and your ‘circumcision has ‘cut you off’ from Christ (joke by Paul under the Holy Spirit’s inspiration). Falling from grace, here, is not losing your salvation as many believe— but is rather moving from living in the higher state of freedom and liberty, to falling back/down into law and condemnation.

Paul then moves on in verses 6 through 8 to further enforce that externals are not the point… It’s not righteous acts that make you right before God.  It’s faith and love for God and others (Great Commandment).

Verses 9 and 10 address spiritual false teaching. It is dangerous because people are gullible.  That’s why doctrine is so important.  When we fight wrong beliefs, we teach the truth; call out those who teach falsehood; and pray for those in false belief. Verse 11 addresses the essence of the grace of the Gospel message. The former strict regulations are overthrown and we are given grace freely.

Verses 12 through 15 further discuss freedom.  Yes, but not the wrong kind… don’t confuse legitimate freedom for ‘license’ (Rom 6, e.g.). The immediately following verses, 16-25, discuss the secret of Christian matuity and power. Life isn’t in Christ that  gravitates toward sin and self-destruction. The fruits of the spirit discussed in verses 22-25 are all singular: “Fruit (singular) of the spirit is (singular verb)…”

Chapter 6 concludes the chapter with some final thoughts from Paul. Christians must help and encourage Christians in sin.. How? GENTLY AND HUMBLY (meaning, the exact opposite of how they usually do— which is roughly and arrogantly).

In verse 6, Paul teaches that Christian leaders/teachers deserve to be paid…. it adds accountability and gives the adequate time to study.  Why does Paul include this here? If they’d done it right and had that kind of adequate time, they’d stayed out of false teaching in Galatia.

Paul’s closing and concluding teaching is that we bless other people, especially Christians.

Galatians: Chapter 2-4 (Part 5 of 6)

16 May

This week, we’re going to move on to Paul’s main message in his letter to the Galatians. Because this is such a challenging passage, I decided to just draw out the primary principles— and teach it from those “big ideas” in the text and not try to force you to wade through the very involved sections of scripture here that require you to have a lot of background in the Old Testament— I knew in my heart that most people would get lost, so I believe God wanted me to approach it this way.

And as I say this, I know there are some people who probably can handle it and would be able to follow me… and others who fancy themselves really informed about the Bible but who aren’t and would actually get lost.  So I’m going to do us all a favor and go the more practical route, because what’s really important is that people understand what God has said to us in His Word.

In the previous section, recall that Paul is laying the foundation for his authority. He seeks to show Galatian Christians that his message is from God alone, that he has not been taught and influenced by men. On that foundation, he builds the following passages of his letter.

The first of Paul’s big ideas is this: If you’re a true Christian, don’t let the freedom Christ gives you– spiritual liberty, living in freedom and spiritual abandon, be taken away from you by self-righteous people who claim to be (and may be) Christians. Unfortunately, some Christians (or posers) get lost along the way and start having judgmental spirits and live self-righteously and hold other people in contempt for (1) enjoying the amazing spiritual liberty Christ gives a person to live OR (2) for not letting those self-righteous people put you under their thumb in order to control your life and to gain praise and adulation from others because of their high standards.

Paul’s second big idea is: It’s OK, perhaps even necessary at times, to confront self-righteous people who judge you and everyone else, but who are (themselves) hypocrites.  God wanted Paul to call out Peter— Peter was in sin.

Paul’s third big idea: Righteousness (peace with God, a right standing with God, being in a right relationship with God where God is pleased with you) does not come as a result of your own good deeds.  As good as you may be, it’s not good enough– because God’s standard is perfection, which is something we’re not capable of… only Christ was able to do that (on the cross).

Paul’s fourth big idea is this: The secret to the Christian life… is unexpected.  It’s simply letting Christ live in and through you. When a person becomes a believer, the Holy Spirit (God in spiritual form) takes up residence in you and wants to live His very life through you (we become partakers of the divine image).  But if you try to impress God with your OWN self-righteous acts and good deeds, your conscience will always accuse you for your inconsistency, and you will forever live feeling condemned.

Christ was perfect, but He died to take on my sin… meaning he died a sacrificial death to pay for the human debt of sin against God.

The Christian life isn’t about ‘playing defense.’ In other words… it’s not about trying to QUIT everything— and stopping doing whatever it is that you’ve been doing.  That’s no way to live.  Self-righteousness is driven by will power, and it always leads to (1) Defeat, because we’re weak and (2) self-righteousness and then, because we’re weak and too proud to admit it, (3) secret sin.

The Solution? Stop playing defense and play offense…. Live in abandon to Jesus. Just love him with all you’ve got and stop trying to impress Him and everybody else.

In chapter 3, verses 1 through 4, Paul asserts that if you’re not careful, you can get so religious and ‘churchy’ that you miss the point of the Christian life. The freedom of the Christian life begins to get cloudy and obscured by religious people and self-righteous people…. to the point that you soon forget that the Christian life isn’t about keeping a bunch of rules and regulations, and about image-management so everyone will be impressed with you, but it’s simply about developing your relationship with Jesus— imagine that!

Spend your time being vulnerable with God and transparent with others about your frailties and insufficiency.  The holiest people you’ll ever meet are well aware that they have issues, but know that God is taking care of it— they’re not people who are trying to front with holier-than-thou attitudes.

In verses 8 through 13, Paul’s point is that if you swap “Christian freedom” and working on your relationship with Jesus for “religion” and start playing the “church” game, you may as well be living back in Old Testament times— because when you decide to live by impressing God and people with your own acts of devotion and self-righteousness, God actually expects you to obey the whole Old Testament and its requirements, since you’re clearly no longer allowing Christ to be your righteousness– But unfortunately, this type of living will keep you in spiritual bondage, constant self-condemnation, and you’ll be an unhappy Christian with a critical spirit, always judging others.

The Old Testament Law with all of its restrictions, the dietary regulations, the requirement for men to be circumcised, etc. were certainly there for a reason at one point in history– and were good at that time for that purpose.  But now we are in New Testament times— and living under the New Testament means placing our trust in Christ and LETTING HIM LIVE THROUGH US. Good deeds don’t make us righteous— that’s not why we do them… to prove we’re righteous, but because Christ is making us righteous, we consequently do good deeds.

In other words, the self-righteous person believes his own good deeds are the CAUSE of His Righteousness…. whereas the Christian living in God’s grace knows that his good deeds are the EFFECTS or consequences of Christ living through Him… and that they aren’t his own doing.

Paul then moves on, in verses 19 through 29, to state that since Christ is the only righteous one… and only as He lives through us can we live in a way that really pleases God and lives up to His expectations, we don’t’ need to live ‘keeping tallies’ of our self-righteous acts.

Me?  I don’t even THINK about TRYING to live the Christian life. I don’t TRY to be holy.  I don’t TRY to do anything… I can’t. Instead, all I do is work on spending time with Jesus and being intimate with Him and doing things that move me closer to Him (worship, prayer, giving, serving, confession, studying, etc.) and AS I DO NOTHING MORE THAN WORK ON MY RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM (just as we work on our relationships with other people)– as I cultivate my love relationship with Jesus, just by spending time with Him, He begins to rub off on me, and I begin to become holy, BY DEFAULT.

I know this next idea is going to frustrate some of you, but— this is the gist of what Paul was talking about in this passage..

I personally SPEND MY TIME cultivating my time with Jesus— not spending my time “observing days and by avoiding festivals”– meaning, I’m more concerned about loving Jesus and being with Him than sitting around thinking of ways to show everyone I don’t celebrate Santa Claus or by preaching against Halloween….

The Christian life isn’t about that stuff— It’s not about EXTERNALS, as if anyone cares whether you dress up in a bozo costume or not (not that, if you did, anyone would think you are a devil worshipper)— it’s not about externals, but INTERNALS– whether you are being TRANSFORMED into the image of Christ because you are so consumed with your love relationship with Him.

Also in Matthew 15:18, Acts 10:14, and 1 Timothy 4:3, it’s taught that it is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man.” The point is that we should work harder on fixing ourselves from the INSIDE OUT than the OUTSIDE IN. Paul likewise teaches the Galatians that the internal state of a person is more important to address than external behavior.

Galatians: Chapter 2 (Part 4 of 6)

9 May

This week, we’re going to discuss chapter 2, verses 1 through 10. In this section, Paul is preparing to challenge and fix the Galatian churches’ false teaching about the true message of Christ.

He reminds them he had basically no interaction with any other apostles and was not influenced by their message… the message he was sharing was from God alone.

14 years after Paul first met James and Peter, he went again to Jerusalem, meaning he had preached the same message for 17 years now, without any previous instruction. He told that a message from God alone, received directly from Jesus himself.  Paul here is talking here about the Council of Jerusalem that occurred in Acts 15 in AD 50. What was the purpose of that visit and of the Jerusalem Council? To address the current controversy, to address what is required of non-Jewish/Gentile believers. Specifically, he discusses that Gentiles do not have to do extra things to make God happy.

Why did Paul mention Titus? Remember, Paul wrote a letter to Titus (Titus 1:4-5).  But why did he mention him?  Because Paul had led him to Christ and Titus was an uncircumcised Gentile Christian, which was the very thing the controversy was about. He wanted to show them a real life example of such a believer and that even without doing all the extra things the Jewish self-righteous and legalistic believers expected of him, Titus was clearly godly. His point is that there are Christians who don’t look like you, live completely like you, dress like you, have different cultures than you and express their faith differently than you– but they love Jesus JUST AS MUCH.

In Acts 15:1, Paul mentions Judaizers who came to Antioch, which is in Pisidia or Galatia.  These Jewish Christians were coming at that time, teaching that you had to be circumcised in order to be a Christian in good standing with God. Then, at that Council in Jerusalem, after Paul told them what God had done among non-Jewish believers, this group of Judaizers still said (Acts 15:4-5) that it was necessary to circumcise them. Paul said no.  We shouldn’t place too much emphasis on externals; even without those things, Titus was actually MORE RIGHTEOUS than these Galatians. So when the Judaizers were confronted with the truth about their legalistic perversions of the gospel, they ‘kept silent.’

In verses 3-5, Paul discusses false brethren who taught that circumcision is necessary. They tried to spy out our freedom, to put us back in religious bondage (religious tyranny), making us and others do more than God required.  But, Paul said, we didn’t yield in subjection to them for even an hour.  We only cared about the truth. When it comes to impressing people with being overly strict and proving to them that you’re the real thing and accommodating them and their self-righteous, extra-biblical demands on your life– Paul said he wouldn’t deal with it.

That’s why Paul calls them ‘false brethren;’ they knew nothing of the grace of God, they were just religious zealots wanting to control people’s lives for their own power.  Those phonies and power mongers had sneaked into the leadership— Paul here is using a type of military language, where people enter a camp by stealth with an objective of sabotage— and they wanted to bring people into bondage (the same word that implies ‘slavery’).

Paul’s point is that these people were more interested in controlling people and performing self-righteous acts to earn favor from God and praise from one another MORE THAN realizing God gives His favor as unmerited and free, without performance.  MEANING, anything we do for God should be out of love and devotion for God, not to impress or control others or to gain the praise of other people.

Paul enforces his point through a variety of methods and supports. In doctrinal issues (beliefs), Paul changed nothing– as it says here.  He wouldn’t change his beliefs to make them palatable to people, Christian or not. But in ministry matters– to reach people for Christ, he was always being unconventional; 1 Corinthians 9:22 says I ‘became all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”

Example: Though Paul didn’t have Titus circumcised (a Gentile) he did have Timothy circumcised.  Why? Titus wasn’t circumcised because Titus was a Grecian Gentile and had no relationship to Judaism.  But because Timothy was half-Jew, without being circumcised, Timothy couldn’t have gone into the synagogue to preach and minister to Jews.  Titus, the Greek, had no inroads to the Jews, but Timothy did– but for ministry reasons, not theological reasons, Paul wanted Timothy to be circumcised…not for self-righteous reasons, but because it allowed him to be more effective in ministry with his people.

In closing, Paul said in verses 2:9-10 that, having said all this, Peter, James and John– the BIG THREE during Jesus’ ministry… pillars (a phrase implying ‘great teachers’) of the church gave him the right hand of fellowship, welcoming him into their leadership circle.  Right hand meant a solemn vow had been made in trust. Fellowship meant a “partnership.”

Here in our churches we offer the “right hand of fellowship” too.  Though it isn’t biblically required for membership, when someone becomes a member, we want to show them that we are now partnering together– and that we trust one another and are working together to advance the Kingdom of God as a team.

Galatians: Chapter 1 (Part 3 of 6)

2 May

We’ll continue our study of Galatians again this week, beginning with chapter 1, verse 11.

Paul begins this passage in verse 11 with “I would have you know,” which is from a strong Greek verb (gnorizo) that means to make known with certainty or to certify. He uses brethren to address all Christians at the churches in Galatia. When he states that “the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man,” he shows that, unlike every other religion in the world in which righteousness comes from human effort and works, in Christianity God’s good news in the Bible is that grace is free.

In verse 12, Paul is taking a stab at the Judaizers, who received their religious instruction from rabbinic tradition and memorization of what others said, rather than studying the scripture directly. He states that he did not receive his knowledge from men and was not taught wisdom by other men. Hearsay is usually heresy. Study the Word for YOURSELF, don’t rely on what you’ve ‘heard’ This is probably a reference to the charge that the Judaizers were making, that Paul had received his teachings from people in Jerusalem and not God. Paul asserts that he received knowledge through revelation from Jesus Christ. He uses apokalupsis, the same word as the name of the book of Revelation, as a revelation. It indicates an uncovering when God removed the lid and unveiled something, though it was previously secret.

This revelation or uncovering was not just FROM JESUS, but it was OF Jesus. (Acts 9).  Paul knew some things before his experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus, since he was an Old Testament scholar, but it was at this time that the information he had studied became living to Him and made spiritual sense (1 Corinthians 2). It is the same with us: when we are saved, we have ‘spiritual eyes,’ which can not discern spiritual truth.

Now, in the next 12 verses, he substantiates the claim that he did in fact have direct revelation from God— anyone could SAY it, now he shows it. Here he gives his autobiographical credentials,  and really, what Christians call a “testimony.” Paul tells his testimony in the same way that many Christians now tell. He tells about himself before Christ (verses 13-14), when he encountered Christ (verses 15-16), and after he encountered Jesus (verses 17-24). Paul was transparent about his life.

Paul first tells of his life before Jesus or pre-conversion. The key word in verse 13 is “MY FORMER manner of life when I was in JUDAISM.” Paul was the model Jewish believer (as we see in Philippians 3:5-6) and was so zealous about defending the Jewish faith that he used to persecute the church of God beyond measure. ‘Used to persecute’ in the original language (GK imperfect tense) means a persistent and continued intention to harm. Paul states that he tried to destroy the Christian movement. That’s a big statement. ‘Destroy’ is a military term used to speak of soldiers ravaging a city– and doing so without stopping, a continual action.

Paul had “advanced in Judaism beyond many of his countrymen being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” This translates to Judaizers that: You have NOTHING on me. Your level of expectation and commitment to Jewish tradition is nothing.  You’re a wannabe.  I was the real deal.  I honor my ancestral traditions– they’re my roots, but I was wrong.  Those traditions were an exercise in “missing the point.”

Furthermore… watch this: a person like Paul at this time in his life was in no mood to change his mind about how he lived– he was hard core.  But he radically changed when he met Christ. Paul’s point? No sinner is outside God’s reach.  God takes even murderers— as they are, and can give them spiritual zeal to surpass even lifelong Christians, if there is such a thing.
Secondly, Paul describes his conversion and calling or ordination from God. He states that (verses 15-16). “God had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb.”  God is sovereign, even though Paul was going 180° degrees in the wrong direction, God had a plan for Paul all along— just as He has one for you and me.  Paul was set apart from his mother’s womb. Paul wasn’t called because he had demonstrated some great quality– he hadn’t even been born!  That shows God doesn’t choose us and work in us because of our potential, but because it pleases Him to do so.  2 Peter 3:8 says God wants ALL to come to repentance in this way.

Paul came to God (was called) by His grace or unlimited favor, because it pleased God to reveal His Son through Paul’s life and God wanted Paul to preach to the Gentiles— the very ones these Jews Paul was addressing wanted to keep out of the faith or UNDER the faith.

Paul then concludes this section with a description of his life after his conversion (verses 17-24) He tells that “I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.”  Paul, remember, is giving his credentials and the basis for what he is saying in this letter and his overall message. He is telling them that he didn’t talk to anyone else about what to teach, or about what God wanted.  He didn’t want anyone’s opinion or clarification to the revelation he had received.  God had spoken to him; what clarification did he need?!!

Paul opens his letter to the Galatians with a discussion of the pervasiveness and perseverance of the Gospel and the sovereignty of God (1:6-10) and then discusses His own God-given credentials. He hasn’t gained wisdom and knowledge from men, but from God. He is not called due to his abilities, but because of God’s choice    alone.

Next week, we’ll move on to chapter two, in which Paul begins the real ‘meat’ of his message and his ultimate purpose in writing to the Galatians.

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