Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Source of the Gospel

Exeter Temple Message notes:         Sunday 17th January 2016
Bible Reading: Galatians 1:1-12

The gospel message that it was possible for people from different races and cultures to belong to God by one simple act of repentance seemed like an amazing act of generosity to people who had found paganism empty or who had struggled with slavish obedience to rules and rituals. They joined the church with a sense of liberation and joy.
Some of churches Paul founded became infiltrated by Judaizers who insisted that all non- Jewish Christians needed to become Jews and abide by Jewish ritual law.   They did not necessarily argue their case, but set out to discredit Paul by saying he didn’t have apostolic authority and that he taught an easy message in order to win favour. 
Paul was concerned that the message of free grace which is the source of the gospel was being lost.

There is nothing that we can do to make God love us more, and there is nothing we can do to make Him love us less. Our relationship with God has broken down because of our arrogance in not giving God His rightful place in our lives.  All our best efforts fall short of being able to put things and right and making them stay right. The gospel says that Jesus puts things right for us.  We are given a free pardon and His Spirit is placed in our hearts to give us the inward power to stay faithful and to become all we are meant to be. 

Every generation seems to lose sight that this grace is now freely available to all people.  People in churches all over the world keep falling back into the trap that they somehow have to earn God’s approval by their own efforts or His acceptance through meeting certain cultural conditions.    

Paul argues his case in four ways:
1.      This is God’s idea not mine.
 “I want you to know, brothers that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man not was I taught; rather it was by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
(Gal1:11 - 120
Grace has to be a God thing because people don’t naturally accept grace or give it. The biggest downfall human beings have is pride. We hate to think that there is nothing we they can do to save ourselves and we need to be rescued.   The story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5 is a good example.
Man-made religions emphasize human merit and the necessity of human works for salvation.
“When a person works an eight-hour day and receives a fair day's pay for his time that is a wage. When a person competes with an opponent and receives a trophy for his performance, that is a prize. When a person receives appropriate recognition for his long service or high achievements, that is an award. But when a person is not capable of earning a wage, can win no prize, and deserves no award--yet receives such a gift anyway - that is when we talk about the grace of God.  (G.W. Knight, Clip-Art Features for Church Newsletters)
The grace of God means these two things:
1) we do need help, let's admit it.
2) the help is there, let's accept it.

2.   This is God’s work in my life
Paul had been a very religious man who had kept all the rules but all he had ever done had not been enough to deal with his heart. 
Paul was the ideal person to demonstrate what the gospel of grace could do. With his background and with his standing in the Jewish community Paul was unlikely to have come up with the idea that keeping the law could not save you. 

He says, I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”  (Galatians 1:14)
If Paul had been a Jew who had been brought before the authorities for under-performance, then it would be easy to see why he might invent a religion that said he didn’t have to try so hard.  But the opposite was true. Paul was good at religion, one of the best. It was precisely because he had kept every rule that he knew, that keeping the rules wasn’t enough to restore him to a real relationship with God. Legalism might make you look good before other people but in your heart you know that it doesn’t fool God. 
All that being zealous for religion had done for Paul was to turn him into a terrorist, but the grace of God had transformed him and was living proof of what living by grace could do.

3.         This is the way to live for God
Many people were worried that if Paul kept on preaching that people didn’t need to be controlled by strict religious laws, then chaos would reign and people would think they could sin in the morning; get forgiven in the evening and do it all over again tomorrow. 
Paul’s answer was that the work of Christ is not just about dealing with our past, it is about his Spirit in the present giving us a new desire to live right. What you ought to do becomes what you want to do and what you now want to do you can now do.
 I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God and it didn’t work. So I quit being a law man so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not mine but it is lived by faith in the Son of God.” (Galatians 2:19-21)

4.        This is my question for you
Paul is not just concerned that someone is rubbishing his ideas but he has the heart of a pastor. He therefore stops defending himself and his teaching for a moment and asks them a personal question.  After beginning in the Spirit are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”
There is always a tendency to create measurable but man made standards by which we can judge our own and more often others people’s performance.  And in an environment where we offer acceptance on the basis of performance it is so easy to think that God accepts us on that basis too. We fall into the I’m doing my best syndrome.
"Am I doing enough for God?
Does God really accept me?
Could God make demands on me that I could never meet?
Am I sure that God will not one day ask me to "pay up" and I will be unable to do so?
Is it possible that salvation can be so full and so free?"
There are so many evidences of the tenacity of the grip of legalism: Christians who "burn out" in service; Christians who do not feel that God looks with pleasure upon them; Christians who ruthlessly judge others as unspiritual because they don’t conform to the way that we do things around here.   
The Galatian Christians had not begun their Christian lives thinking that they must do this or that to be accepted by God but they had let themselves be sucked into the culture around them and to distorted messages they were receiving.
 “Christianity is not primarily a moral code but grace laden mystery, it is not essentially a philosophy of love but a love affair, it is not keeping rules with clenched fists but receiving a gift with open hands.”.       (The Ragamuffin Gospel Brennan Manning.)

God bless

Saturday, 9 January 2016

The Cause of Christ

Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 3rd January 2016
Bible Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Is there something larger than life; more important than life itself?
To what cause do you give yourself?
As another year ends and a new one begins we do not need to look for a different cause to commit for this is the highest purpose and one to which God himself gives to us.  
“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them and he committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)  

To reconcile means to restore, to bring together, to mend and it is most of all to do with relationships.
There is no doubt that in our world today there is a need for the repairing of broken relationships. There are broken bodies, broken dreams, broken homes, broken lives because at one time there was a break in a relationship.

“God settles the relationship between us and him and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah giving the world a fresh start but offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing.”  (2 Corinthians 5:19 The Message)

To keep committed to this cause we will need the following things:

1.      Enthusiasm
“Well we have some enthusiasm and when our enthusiasm dies I am afraid we shall die too.” Catherine Booth  
The fact that so many people have supported the Salvation Army as a good cause during the Christmas season is very humbling.  But for each of us the cause of Christ, the mission of the Salvation Army demands more than making a donation in a collecting tin.

How easy it is to recognize the purpose of God to mend broken lives to be a great one but to respond in a superficial way, that enthuses us for a while but is lost when the way is not clear or when other demands crowd for attention.

The full quote about enthusiasm from Catherine Booth says,
The power of the Salvation Army is not its enthusiasm; neither does it consist in certain views of truth or in certain feelings about truth, No! No! It consists in whole hearted, thorough out and out surrender to God: And that with or without feeling is the right thing. That is the religion of the Salvation Army.”

The Bible has some very strong words to say about being lukewarm.
 “I know your deeds; you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!”  (Revelation 3:16)

If Jesus by His death and resurrection can really mend this broken world then a mere lukewarm appreciation about it, is confusing, Jesus went as far as to say icy indifference or active opposition was better than to insult Him by saying we believe in his cause and yet live indifferently.

2.      Equipment
Bridge building costs a great deal of money, time and effort.

Bridges link places that are separated from one another and are a lovely picture of our cause of reconciliation. Like ordinary bridges there is need for great design resources, maintenance and investment.
And we have it in Christ. When the Lord saves us He doesn’t just leave it there.

Still God gives his willing servant
Full equipment for the task
Power is found by those who seek it
Grace is given to those who ask.  (SASB34:4)
Paul recalled a time when he and Silas went to the port of Thessalonica to be a messenger of reconciliation. During the short stay of Paul and Silas in Thessalonica a thriving church was established. Paul acknowledges that this success was not because of the cleverness or personality of him and Silas but can only be explained by the power of the Spirit,

“For our gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. (1 Thessalonians 1:5)  

Building bridges of reconciliation is never transmitted through unaided personality alone.
Apollos was eloquent but he preached an incomplete gospel. He was sincere but sincerity was not enough.
Christians at Galatia fell into the trap of believing they could rely on their own ability.
 “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit are you trying to attain your goal by human effort?”  (Galatians 3:3)

3.      Enrichment
Much is talked of in the giving of ourselves to the cause of Christ. It calls for sacrifice and service.
When Dr. David Livingstone was working in Africa, a group of friends wrote him: "We would like to send other men to you. Have you found a good road into your area yet?"
According to a member of his family, Dr. Livingstone sent this message in reply: "If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them. I want men who will come if there is no road”.

As right as Livingstone was to seek a people who are prepared for any sacrifice it should also be remembered that God is not man’s debtor.
There is something utterly fulfilling about being part of something great.

“Only one who is seized by a great cause has a full life.” (Anon)
What greater cause is there than the cause of Jesus Christ, what greater satisfaction than seeing it win through.

Jesus took up God’s cause and in Gethsemane He anguished with where that would lead Him. It was for the JOY that was set before Him that He endured the cross.

“There is not real impoverishment in giving
And not enrichment if I live to take
For in such taking I would lose more deeply
But, O what gain to give for Jesus’ sake!”

God’s cause expressed in Christ is not just a campaign of ideas that we seek to put across.  God’s cause has a personal face, the face of Christ.
It is for Jesus’ sake we serve because He first loved us and gave Himself for us. In humble adoration we long to serve Him and if we can do that our joy is unspeakable.

We have often heard people say about various things; It’s not my concern, I want nothing to do with it.  How sad if the same sentiments are echoed in our Army about the cause of Christ and the concerns connected to it.

What is God’s cause? What is God’s concern?
‘God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. This verse sums up the gospel better than any other. And what God does we must do. We must reconcile between man and God, between man and man and between man and himself. This is the one business of the Christian. If we are not reconciling, we are not Christian.”  (Dr. E Stanley Jones)

May we keep this cause, this concern ever before us as individuals and as people together.

 God bless