Bible, Church, Counseling, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus, Missional Living, Preaching, Redeemer Church

Advice for Listening to Preaching (Part 4)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. The Bible calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a spiritual discipline or a means of grace. Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29). If preaching is a means of grace, how can everyday Christians be equipped through listening to the preaching of God’s Word?

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First, be prayerful to prepare your heart to hear God’s Word. Most Christians do not pop out of bed in the morning excited to hear a sermon. Therefore, we need the Spirit’s help. We need to pray to God to give us a heart to hear what we need to hear from the upcoming sermon.

Second, learn how you learn. Some people are classified as audible learners while others are visual learners. Some are active learners while others are reflective learners. While some learn through sequential steps others are called global learners. Learning how you are wired can help you develop proactive strategies to better hear God’s Word.

Third, take notes. The sermon is primarily an audible experience. However, even if you are a visual learner take notes on what you are hearing. Pastors should develop sermon notes and ways for the congregation to fill in blanks. Related, preachers should make the main points clear. However, preachers should not make the note taking too obvious. Sequential learners need to see the flow of thought, but global learners need to figure some things out for themselves. Even if your pastor does not provide sermon notes, everyone learns best with a pen in their hand writing down key concepts as well as notable truths.

Fourth, listening to a sermon and taking notes will require someone to develop their concentration abilities. The success of apps like Tic Tock and the success of TED Talks highlight our generation’s short attention spans. Pray for God to help you concentrate. Make it a game to see how long you can focus. Remember, concentration can be developed.

Fifth, in your mind or on your sermon notes, ask the “so, what?” questions. Educators understand that one of the best ways to motivate students to learn is to quickly show the relevance and usefulness of their lesson. God is communicating through every verse in the Bible, therefore our role is to determine the relevance of the passage. When we are listening to a sermon we need to ask questions like: what do I need to believe, what do I need to turn from, how does this passage convict me, how does this verse encourage me, what does this say about my heart, what does this Scripture teach me about Jesus and his gospel grace? Keep your mind active by discovering how your pastor’s sermon can transform your thinking, emotions, and behaviors.

During the pandemic we have all been reminded of the charge from Hebrews 10:25 to not neglect the habit of meeting together. For a season we had to neglect this habit. However, one of the main reasons we meet together is to hear the preaching of God’s Word. The sermon is meant to be a communal experience. Everyday Christians are designed to come together and collectively hear the Word preached. Together we are to learn and be admonished and encouraged. Together we are to believe and repent. Together we are to remember the good news of the gospel. Brothers and sister, do not neglect the hearing of God’s Word preached. We all need it. It is a gift, a means of God’s grace. I pray your pastor sees you this Sunday with your Bible open and your pen in hand!

 

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Preaching as a Means of Grace (Part 3)

Preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation we see that communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, the Bible itself calls us to “preach the word” (2 Timothy 4:2). We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Spiritual disciplines are biblical habits that promote spiritual growth. 1 Timothy 4:7 calls us to train ourselves in order to become godlier. However, we have to be careful and not make the mistake of the Pharisees in believing the discipline is the godliness. Christians, unlike the Pharisees, understand spiritual practices are a means to an end. Further, another mistake of the Pharisees was living out their spirituality in their own strength. Moralism, being good or righteous through human strength, is contrary to the gospel. For example, in Philippians 2:12 God calls us to obey and to work out our salvation with “fear and trembling.” However, he goes onto say in Philippians 2:13 that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As a result, not only is godliness the goal of our spiritual habits, but we cannot ultimately do them out of our own strength. Therefore, it is helpful to think of spiritual disciplines as means of grace. These biblical habits are how God pours out his grace in order to conform us to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Biblically, we see a series of ways God’s grace conforms people into the image of Jesus. Bible reading is key to spiritual growth. Prayer is a vital means of grace. Ministry and service are also hallmarks of a healthy spiritual life that leads to godliness. However, listening to preaching is also essential. Ephesians 4:11 says that God has given the church individuals gifted as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. Each of those god-gifted roles requires preaching. Paul goes onto explain the reason God has given us those ministers. He says they are given “to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). Their preaching is a means of grace to help everyday Christians mature to the point of doing ministry. Like prayer or Bible reading or good works, preaching is a means of grace given to each and every Christian.

As you approach Sunday morning, I challenge you to view the hearing of a sermon by your pastor as a means of grace. God has given you that church and that pastor and that sermon and that moment to mold you into the image of Jesus and prepare you for life and ministry.

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Preaching Defined (Part 2)

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preaching the word.” But, what does preaching really mean?

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Definitions of preaching abound. Sadly, due to so much unfaithful preaching, definitions have to be narrowed to Christian preaching as well as expository preaching. A technical definition for expository preaching is needed as well as a simpler more straight-forward one. First, expository preaching consists of a Christian preacher uncovering an author’s intended meaning of a section of the Bible by means of the historical, grammatical, literal (consistent with the genre of the passage) exegesis as well as enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; then structuring a sermon not only built around the central idea of the text but also the structure and thought of the text; then placing the passage within the metanarrative of redemptive history; then interpreting a universal principle which he first applies to himself; and concluding by applying the Scripture through the power of the Holy Spirit to his audience. Like most technical definitions, that was a mouthful! However, notice the definition includes five key components: exegesis, central idea and structure, metanarrative, universal principle, and application. Second, expository preaching is simply defined as a sermon that explains and applies the passage preached. But, why is it so important for a pastor to explain and apply the Bible?

Churches and pastors should commit to preach the Bible because of the example given to us throughout the Scriptures. Beginning in Genesis 1, we learn that God ultimately creates by speaking creation into existence. His Word (or communication) is what brings life. Another interesting example is the account of the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37. God brings his prophet to a valley filled with bones. The bones are so dead they are described as dry. Again, God’s chosen method of bringing life is the communication of his Word. The prophet is told to preach of the dry bones. As a result of his proclamation the bones come to life. In the book of Ezra we read of God’s people rebuilding the temple. We see scenes of God’s people gathering in order to hear the prophet explain and apply God’s Word. As a result, we see a familiar Old Testament phrase that the people are doing things “as it is written” (Ezra 3:2). Faithfulness to the preaching and explanation of God’s Word led to the application of rebuilding the temple.

We also see helpful examples in the New Testament where God’s Word is explained and applied. Between the testaments the synagogue system was established. Throughout the land of Israel buildings were built with the primary purpose of reading the Scriptures then explaining and applying them. Jesus provided us an example in Luke 24 where he appeared on the Road to Emmaus. He walked and talked with two who followed him but strangely do not recognize him. Jesus proceeded to explain the meaning of all the Bible to them. Then, upon hearing his explanations God enabled them to see Jesus. A great example of faithful preaching was Peter’s sermon in Acts 2. He explained and applied texts like Joel 2 and Psalm 16 in order to call the crowd to repent and believe. Thousands were born again at the preaching of God’s Word. Finally, we are given an interesting account in Acts 8 that helps us further understand the importance of preaching. The Spirit led Philip to an Ethiopian Eunuch reading the book of Isaiah. The problem was the man needed to do more than just read it because he did not understand it. In Acts 8:30, Philip asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”Understanding was what he lacked therefore he needed more than just reading. The Ethiopian Eunuch needed preaching. Philip proceeded to explain and apply the Bible to him resulting in the man’s salvation.

Again, preaching is explaining and applying the Bible. Communication of God’s Word leads to life. In fact, the biblical model of someone experiencing new life and being born again is through the avenue of the preaching of God’s Word. We need to read the Bible, but sitting at home alone reading it is not sufficient for a healthy spiritual life. Every Christian needs the preaching of God’s Word. Therefore, we need a renewed understanding of preaching as a means of grace.

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Preaching for Everyday Christians (Part 1)

It is common to wonder about the role of sermons in the lives of everyday Christians. Why do pastors spend so much time preparing a weekly sermon? Wouldn’t it be better if he spent more time in meetings with teams of leaders, counseling the hurting, building relationships with visitors, or discipling young believers? Of course, those are all key aspects of pastoral ministry. However, every Christian should recognize the role of preaching in their lives. Further, they should devote themselves to listening to biblical preaching. Even though we live in an age with multimillion-dollar action movies and TED talks, the weekly sermon in an local church is key to the spiritual growth of everyday Christians. Ordinary believers need to understand the Sunday sermon is grounded in a deep theology of the Word of God. Further, listening to sermons is essential for our spiritual growth. The church also needs a revival in our understanding of preaching as an avenue of grace. Spiritual maturity is linked to our ability to soak up a faithful sermon. Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the role of the sermon in our corporate worship as a needed reminder of the gospel.

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2 Timothy 3:16 teaches, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” This phrase means God’s Word comes from inside of him. This truth is the ground for the biblical doctrine of inerrancy. The New Hampshire Confession of Faith (1833) is the origin of the Baptist Faith and Message 1925, 1963, and 2000. All four documents explain the Bible is truth “without any mixture of error.” The reason his Word cannot be mixed with any untruth is that only truth is found inside God. The Bible, therefore, is truth.

2 Timothy 3:16 builds on this idea to explain that because Scripture is from inside God and thus truthful it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” As truth “without any mixture of error” the Bible is useful. Specifically, the Bible is beneficial for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. God provides his Word for us to learn doctrine. We need to know it theoretically in order to apply it practically. Speculation leads to application. His Word is how God chooses to reprove or convict. We perceive our sin as sin through Scripture convicting us. Therefore, the Bible corrects or makes straight what was crooked. It shows us the way we should go. As a result, it trains, educates, and disciplines us to live according to God’s way. The pathway to righteousness is through the Bible. The end result is that the Bible equips us “for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

If the Bible comes from inside God and is thus truthful and useful to equip us for good works, then what should we do with it? 2 Timothy 4:2 says we are to “preach the word.” We are to proclaim or herald the good news of the Bible. It is truth and it teaches us how to live faithfully. We should urgently tell the world what it teaches. People need to know, therefore the church has a mission to “preach the word.”

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Jesus is Deeper Still

Hebrews 4:14-16 says, “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

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Jesus is a lot of things. He is a King who sees into the future gives us direction on the way we should go. Jesus gives us order. He is also a Prophet who knows what is best and gives us teachings on how we should live. Jesus gives us the truth. But, he is also a Priest comforting us when we are in pain, giving us the right emotions and feelings when we need them.

 

 

The first glorious implication of God being with us is that when we are suffering through pain…we have a Jesus that will comfort us. We don’t just have a King who will bark orders at us, or a Prophet who will scream sermons at us, but a Priest who will sympathize with us and comfort our hurting souls.

 

When we are hurting, Jesus loves us to the degree that he will feel our pain with us. Jesus will identify with your situation when you are struggling. Please hear me, when you are in pain, Jesus feels compassion for you. Immanuel-Jesus is a co-sufferer with you.

 

 

But we don’t naturally believe this when we are in the middle of a painful moment. We don’t instinctively believe God is with us and for us and will comfort us when we suffer pain. This is the great act of faith through pain. Believing he is with us is the first step of surviving pain. Believing he will comfort us is how you not only survive but also mature through pain. At our weakest moments if we look up to him for aid he receives the glory. When we confess our need of him, he becomes the hero. We need him to survive pain.

 

 

Betsie ten Boom suffered through many painful moments in her life. She lost her mother while she was a child and lived with her father and siblings in Amsterdam. Many of you might have read of her family in her sister’s book titled “The Hiding Place.” The ten Booms’ were devout Christians and had a history of serving those in need in their community. When the Nazi’s invaded they converted a portion of one of their bedrooms into a hiding place for Jews fleeing for their lives. Eventually they were discovered and send to prison. Ten days after arriving in prison Betsie’s father died. Betsie and her sister Corrie were later sent to a concentration camp. Sadly Betsie’s struggles continued and she died in the Nazi concentration camp. Before Betsie passed her sister reports that she taught her, “there is no pit so deep that god is not deeper still.”

 

 

Do you believe that? Do you believe that in your deepest pains? Do you believe in your darkest moments, God will be right there pouring out compassion on top of your soul and thus seeing you through those sorrows?

 

 

But how? How does Priest Jesus comfort us in pain? Hebrews 4:16 teaches us to “draw near” to him in order to receive his gracious and merciful comfort. Drawing near is the opposite of pushing away. What Hebrews is saying is that when we are in pain we are to go towards Jesus not away from him. We shouldn’t push him away, but draw closer to him.

 

 

If you want to survive and even thrive through pain, you will only be able to do it if you believe he will comfort you…believe to the point that you draw closer to him rather than push him away. Do you believe that he will comfort you? If so, believe to the point of drawing near to him.

 

 

Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23). He is with us and for us. He is our comforting priest during seasons of pain. He will comfort you so draw closer to him rather than push him away.

 

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The Spirit Empowers, Approves, and Anoints….Jesus

Acts 10:38 says, “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

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We tend to forget the role the Holy Spirit played in the life of Christ. Jesus “went about doing good” but it was attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit in his life. Therefore, the Holy Spirit empowered Jesus! The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was God, but it also explains that the Spirit was empowering him during his life and ministry.

The Spirit also had a sealing or approving role. Remember how Ephesians 1:13 teaches us that we are “sealed with the promised Holy Spirit”? In Acts 10:38, the Holy Spirit was similarly putting his stamp of approval on Christ. Darrell Bock says that the Holy Spirit was revealing his choice, much like a “political party puts its stamp on a presidential candidate, so here God has shown who will accomplish his plan” (Bock, 345).

This also leads to Jesus’ commentary about his relationship with the Holy Spirit. When he was at the beginning of his ministry he went into a synagogue and read from Isaiah 61 saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18). The Holy Spirit is the one who was upon Jesus. The Holy Spirit was the one blessing and anointing him for the task at hand. He was validating his office and role, his person and his ministry.

The Holy Spirit related to Jesus by empowering anointing and approving Christ! In short, the Holy Spirit exalts Christ. The Holy Spirit empowered all his gospel works, put his stamp of approval on Jesus’ atoning work, and anointed and blessed Jesus as our Savior!

We tend to forgot about how active the Holy Spirit was in the life of Jesus. But here is the really good news for you and me…that same Holy Spirit is promised you at your conversion. That same Holy Spirit is working in you today to also exalt Christ. The Holy Spirit is our “helper” (John 14:16), but he was also Jesus’ helper.

We have seen the result of his work in the life of Jesus, which gives us hope that we can also walk in faithfulness. We have the same power tool that Jesus possessed!

Do some heart work today. What area of our life is not aligned to the desires of the Holy Spirit? In what ways are you seeking to do things in your own moral strength rather than in the power of the Holy Spirit? Following Jesus’ example, yield to the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life today.

 

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Sola Christus: Our Source for Life

Existentialism is a failure! It is absurd to believe that life has no meaning except what we give it. If we chase the belief that everything is meaningless then we are left with our own futility. The great test of this truth is when we assume something will lead us to joy, yet it leaves us lacking. The gospel teaches us that salvation is not found through looking within, but looking outside of ourselves. We need something outside of ourselves to guide us to joy. We need a Word from God. We need Sola Scriptura.

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If Scripture is our guide, where does Scripture lead us? Christ is the unifying theme of the Bible! The Old Testament looks forward predicting Him, while the New Testament looks back prescribing Him. The Reformers rightly understood Jesus as the solution to our primary problem, Jesus Christ is our Savior from sin.

 

This claim is not initially the Reformers or the Early Church Fathers or even the Apostles, Jesus Himself claims to be our Savior from sin. If the brokenness of this world has broken you, Jesus invites you to come to Him and He will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). If your soul is weary and dry, He invites you to come to Him and find “rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

 

Those of us who have functioned as existentialists know that all the things we sought in order to find rest and life all proved futile. It is a lie to believe sex and money and esteem and good health and knowledge and toys and popularity will bring you lasting rest and life. We don’t need make-overs and more stuff, we need forgiveness and transformation. We need a Savior!

 

The reason Jesus is our rest and life is because He is our Savior from sin. When the angel appeared to Joseph he summarized the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation as to “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Jesus did not come primarily as an example, but a Savior from sin. Jesus taught us in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus views Himself as more than a good teacher, but as the payment for sin. Further, this isn’t horrific child abuse but the height of loving service. Paul also taught this truth in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus was sinless, but took on sin in order to defeat sin, which moves believers from the category of guilty to justified. Peter also emphasized Jesus as our Savior in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Jesus saves us from our sins in order to make us right with God!

 

Further, the Bible is clear that Jesus is our only Savior. Jesus is explicitly exclusive! He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” One can argue that all religious roads lead to the same place, but to make that argument, they are concluding that Jesus is a liar. Jesus is our Savior from sin, and Jesus is the only Savior.

 

These truths about Jesus are the primary message of the Bible, but the Reformers purified the church of false teaching. Protestants understand that our salvation is through Christ alone, but the mechanics of this salvation is that Jesus imputes righteousness to us rather than infuses righteousness within us. Jesus saving us from our sins doesn’t mean we never sin again, rather it means we have moved from a guilty category to a justified category. For example, God says that He reckoned Abraham righteous (Genesis 15:6). However, after this credit of righteousness, Abraham still committed some pretty scandalous sins. Thus, we can conclude that God did not, like a surgeon, make his inner man perfectly righteous. Rather, like a judge, God declares believers righteous through Christ alone.

 

There is no other way to find salvation and thus rest and life than through Christ alone! What a glorious truth! What a wonderful thing to celebrate! What should we do with this truth?

 

First, referring to Jesus, Paul wrote “him we proclaim” (Colossians 1:28). If we find salvation through Christ alone, then we should shout this news to anyone who will listen! Martin Luther said the church is to be a “mouth house.” We are to use objectively understandable words to communicate that salvation is only found in Jesus. This charge is foundational to what it means to be a Christian. If you have been saved through Christ alone, you have the privilege and responsibility to announce Jesus to others.  Proclaim Jesus!

 

Second, the ancient Psalmist sang, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!  Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Salvation from your sins comes through Christ alone. Lasting rest comes through Christ alone. Abundant life comes through Christ alone. Thus, take refuge in Him and then experience His goodness. Taste that Jesus is good! Our Reformer fathers taught us that the world is futile, but everlasting abundant life is found in Christ alone!

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Are You the Older Brother?

(25)Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. (26) And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. (27) And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ (28) But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, (29) but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. (30) But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ (31) And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” (Luke 15:25-31)

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Most call this story found in Luke 15:11-31 the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” However, most also think the story ends at verse 15:24, but Jesus provides more to this story. Remember this story is about two brothers, not just one.

We all know the younger brother didn’t have love for his father…but just wanted his stuff. Out of this selfish unloving heart bore a reckless hedonistic life that resulted in brokenness. Now we see the older religious son. But sadly we don’t see a happy man…but an angry man. This son is described by Jesus as angry and he is refusing to go in and commune with his younger wild brother. Unlike the father, he doesn’t yearn for him or have compassion on him or embrace him or kiss him or restore him or be reconciled with him. Unlike the father, the older religious brother condemns him.

The older brother is angry with him, and we understand why…right? Wouldn’t you be angry?  Think of all the shame the wild younger brother caused this family. Think of the financial impact this had on this older brother and the family as a whole. Think of all the grief and the sorrow that he saw on his poor father’s face each and every day.

Deep in the corners of his heart, when he reflected on his wild younger brother, he compared himself. The anger he felt towards his brother birthed self-righteousness. Every time his blood boiled over his brother, he soothed it with the thoughts, “I am not going to be like him” and “I am better than him.” His anger birthed pride.

His religious pride went to entitlement. “He went off and had his fun but in the end I’m going to be better off because I remained faithful. I deserve better because I am better.” Is that you today? Have you ever said those words? Have you ever thought those thoughts? Have you ever felt those feelings?

Has your religious faithfulness simply produced a self-righteous judgmental heart? Has the free grace of the gospel birthed a heart that feels good about itself because it is more faithful than the poor soul that is struggling? Has the cross of Jesus only bought pride for you? Are you an older brother?

But the father also has a message for older brothers. If you are angry and self-righteous and entitled and judgmental, he is faithful to convict you, but he is also faithful to draw you back to your first love. He is faithful to draw you back to Jesus. You see, this glorious faithful loving father has a message for us too. The father says to him, “Son, you are always with me” (15:31). Being with the Father was the older brother’s blessing! Repent and return to your first love…Jesus…not his stuff!

Do some heart work today. What stuff do you care more about than getting to know the Father better? Whose opinion do you care about more than Jesus’? Ask God to soften your heart to Him and make that stuff and those people taste like mudpies compared to the glory of Christ. Thank God for the fact that he loves you so much that he will convict you of your sin, even your self-righteous pride. Confess to a close friend or your spouse how your religion has produced pride in your heart and ask them to ask you about the condition of your heart every few days.

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Paul’s Apostolic Authority Still Matters?!

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” (Galatians 1:1-2).

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Paul opens his letter to the Galatians by describing himself as an “apostle.” What in the world is an “apostle”?! The root meaning of the word is a “sent one.” It is similar to a Hebrew term used for a delegate or a lawyer who was empowered by someone to share a message or do a job in their place. The Greek term used here was also a naval term for an emissary who was sent on a vessel for a particular authoritative errand. The idea is that an “apostle” is someone who has been given authority by a greater power in order to deliver a message.

Paul is actually referring to what we would label an office or maybe a title. Paul was an Apostle (with a capital “A”). I don’t believe there are still Apostles today, but rather it was a unique office given to a group of men who actually saw Jesus and were selected by him to share his gospel message. I believe their primary role was to share Jesus’ message by writing the New Testament. Paul was not one of the original twelve Disciples, but if you remember from Acts 9, Paul was dramatically converted to Jesus on the Road to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him.

But, it is also important who made Paul an Apostle. Paul was not voted into his Apostolic office by a group of men. He says in the opening verse that he is an apostle “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father.” God Himself made Paul an Apostle.

The Bible goes further by going back to the cross and describing the type of God that has made Paul an Apostle. It is the God “who raised him from the dead.” This is a God who has power over life and death. He is the creator of all things. Even though he is holy and perfect, this God chose to satisfy His own wrath by dying a brutal death on the cross as an atonement for our sins. Jesus’ resurrection then defeated death and became the good work we can trust for our salvation. We don’t have to try and earn our salvation through many good works, but we can trust in his one good work for our salvation. So, not only is he a powerful God, he is also a good God. That is the God who made Paul an Apostle.

So what?! Maybe we understand why this was important to the original readers in Paul’s day, but what is the significance for us?

GENERALLY, Paul’s Apostleship is important because we live in a day that is prone to discounting Paul by pitting him against Jesus. Many people (even in the church) do this all the time. I have even stepped into heated debates with other pastors who reject a portion of Paul’s teaching on the grounds that Jesus didn’t speak into that issue?! Many people create a caricature of Jesus as loving and focused on relationships, while Paul is more harsh and only focusing on doctrine not people. They claim that doctrine divides and that Paul only cares about doctrine and doesn’t pastorally care about people. Please hear me, those popular caricatures are simply false.

First, many of Jesus’ parables and teachings take a direct in-your-face approach. Do you remember him cleansing the temple with a whip…Indiana Jones style? We also see tender even heart-broken words from Paul in his Epistles. Second, all of the Bible is equally God’s Word. The gospels are not more important or more truthful than Leviticus or Revelation or Jude. All of it is the inspired inerrant Word of God. That truth is partially based upon the fact that Jesus himself appointed Paul as his Apostle with the message he shared in books like Galatians and Ephesians and Colossians. Third, the purpose of the Epistles are to look back at the Gospels and explain what happened. The very nature of the Epistles demands that they will go further in depth on different issues.

As a rule we can’t pit Paul against Jesus. Paul is relational, just like Jesus. Jesus is doctrinal, just like Paul. The Bible doesn’t view doctrine as divisive, but rather the basis for our relationships. The words God gave us through Paul in Galatians are ultimately God’s Word for us. Again, you can’t pit Paul against Jesus.

SPECIFICALLY, we are to accept the message of Galatians as God’s authoritative Word. Paul makes a link between his Apostleship and the message he is going to share in this book. His Apostolic office is the credibility of his gospel message. So in Galatians when Paul calls us to daily lean on the gospel versus keeping religious rules or operating out of our own self-righteous strength, it is authoritative truth for us! If you want to argue back at Paul, you are actually arguing back at God! These words are God’s Words coming like a ship bringing us life saving news!

Do some heart work today. Are you viewing all the Bible as from God? Are you viewing the Bible as the ultimate authority in your life? Do you need to change your thinking or attitude about the Bible? Ask God to help you see attitudes and habits that need to change in order to align yourself with the truth of God’s Word. Thank God today for not leaving us in the dark, but rather giving us His Word so we can know have to find salvation and joy. Finally, select a Bible verse to memorize this week.

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Bible, Gospel Spirituality, Jesus

Wholeness for the Hollow

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Romans 1:21)

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I once heard an old pastor explain, “you have lose them before you can save them.” Romans 1:21 is the beginning point of lostness. A heart that looks like Romans 1:21 is what leads God to pour out his just wrath upon us. Paul described this type of heart as “futile” or hollow or vain or pointless.

Notice that Paul explained all humans have an innate or inherent or natural knowledge of God. This is not a saving knowledge of God, but an understanding that we have a creator. Atheistic philosophical positions can be reasonable and logical, yet false. Humans can reason away God, but that doesn’t mean God is dead or never existed. Rather, it means that humans can convince ourselves that God does not exist. This verse, as well as the human experience teach that we all have a commonsense innate knowledge of God.

However, our problem is that all people suppress (v18) these innate truths and distort (v21-23) these natural understandings, thus we are all guilty and God’s wrath is justifiable. So the question arises, “what should we do with this natural knowledge that there is a creator God?” Romans 1:21 explains we should honor and thank him.  Because there is a Creator-God and He created us, we should honor and thank Him. We should be thankful worshipers. Becoming thankful worshipers is Paul’s answer to hollowness.

Honor is about making much of someone. We should make much of our Creator-God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 teaches that no matter what we are doing we should glorify God. We should worship Him. There is none like Him, He is our Creator, and we should make much of him, and less of ourselves. But, is that what we do? No, we actually dishonor God. We degrade Him, cheapen Him, and lower Him. We declare Him dead, we ignore Him, we glorify ourselves, we worship ourselves.

Further, we should also thank Him. We should recognize who He is, give Him credit, have gratitude, and thank Him. In fact, just like 1 Corinthians 10:31 and the lifestyle of glorifying and honor God, we should also have a lifestyle of thankfulness. But, is thankfulness a theme of your life? For most it isn’t. Most people’s lives are marked by complaining, by ingratitude, and by grumbling. Most express dissatisfaction, not thankfulness, for their circumstances. Most express annoyance or irritation throughout their day, not gratitude. Honoring Jesus and thanking him is how we move from hollowness to wholeness.

Do some heart work today. What area of your life have you quarantined from Jesus? Are you glorifying Jesus in how you work, live with you spouse, treat your friends, and parent? Take a moment and ask God to reveal where you are not honoring him. Further, take a moment to pray for a thankful heart. Are you giving Him credit for the blessings in your life? Are you grumbling and complaining about something these days? Thank Him for who he is and what He has done for you! Finally, communicate honor and thanksgiving. Honor Jesus today by telling someone that you are thankful to God for them and why.

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