June 13, 2010

Justified by Faith - Jun 13, 2010

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Our sermon reading comes from Galatians, chapter one. Martin Luther used to call the book of Galatians “his Katie”. That was his beloved wife’s name. Galatians was precious to Luther because it hammers home the teaching we call “justification by faith”.

Justification by faith is the fact that God forgives sinners solely because of what Jesus did on the cross. Those who believe God’s Son died for their sins, stand completely forgiven.

The Galatian congregation that Paul wrote to was in danger of losing this teaching, and with it their salvation. False teachers were telling them that Jesus hadn’t actually done enough. They, the Galatians Christians, had to offer something else, along with Jesus’ sacrifice, in order for God to forgive their sins.

In his letter to the Galatians, Paul repeated slays this anti-Christian idea with verses like these:
“16know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16 NIV).
“11Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith” (Galatians 3:11).
“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus,” (Galatians 3:26).

The false teachers in Galatia not only attacked the Gospel of Christ and justification by faith, they also attacked Paul. As you read through Galatians (which takes about 20 minutes) you repeatedly get the sense that Paul is defending himself against specific accusations that have been made against him.

Paul defends himself in our reading for today. Apparently, false teachers were claiming that Paul’s message was of human origin and was incomplete. Paul responds to this accusation in Galatians 1, verse 11-12.

Galatians 1:11-12 (NIV)

11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

Yesterday I watched “An Introduction to Scientology”. It was a free DVD that I got in the mail a while ago, and I was curious. Turns out it was an interview with L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology.

In the interview he talks about how he developed Scientology. He says that as a young man in the military he saw a lot of bad things and began to wonder what man really is. Over years of study he found that there was one common denominator between all humans – the desire to survive. From this he moved on to study how he might help man. How he might help people untangle themselves from their pasts so they could be “clear” to face the problems of life efficiently. At one point in the interview Hubbard said,
“Religion is basically an effort to make man good, an effort to give him a better society …and Scientology does all these things” (L. Ron Hubbard).
Paul would have a serious problem with Mr. Hubbard’s thesis. Paul’s message wasn’t merely about making mankind nicer, or more efficient. Paul’s message wasn’t one that HE had researched and constructed. Paul message was about what God did for us so that we might know and love Him. And this message was revealed to Paul by Jesus Christ Himself.

You’ve probably heard the story. Paul had been traveling up to Damascus to hunt down and arrest Christians (his name was Saul back then). Along the way, the resurrected Jesus confronted Paul, and from that moment on, Paul’s life took a completely different course.

In Acts 26, verse 15 Paul tells his story to King Agrippa. We pick up the story right after Paul has been knocked to the ground by the brilliance of Jesus. Paul says…
“15So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you” (Acts 26:15-16 NKJV).

We also have received the revelation of Jesus Christ. The Greek and Hebrew that our English Bibles are translated from IS the inspired, unchanged Word of God. It is how Jesus has revealed Himself to US.

Obviously we know this already, right? But how often do we pause to appreciate how precious this really is? We don’t need an L. Ron Hubbard, or a Pope, or a team of scholars to interpret the Bible for us. Jesus has given us His errorless Word, and God’s Holy Spirit helps us understand it.

In verse 13, Paul moves on to present some evidence that he is speaking the truth. Verse 13…

Galatians 1:13-17 (NIV)

13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.

Paul’s first bit of evidence that he had received this message from God was that previously, he had been violently opposed to it. In fact, he used to murdered Christians.

In that same conversation with King Agrippa that we heard from earlier, Paul says…
“9“I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them” (Acts 26:9-10 NIV).
That was then. But now, Paul was travelling around the world, facing all kinds of dangers in order TO TEACH Christ’s message!

And what was more amazing was this: Paul’s newfound ministry was aimed primarily at the Gentiles! The NON-Jews! Back then the “really good and religious” Jews wouldn’t even enter the house of a Gentile!

In fact, there was so much strife between Jews and Gentiles, God had to make Gentile Christians miraculously speak in tongues before the apostles would accept that Gentiles could also be saved through faith in Christ Jesus! You can read about that in Acts 10. (Acts 10:27-48)

Not only was Paul preaching the message he had previously condemned, this previously staunch Pharisee was preaching it to dirty Gentiles!

Paul had been changed. And all the changes in him bore the unmistakable imprint of own God’s hands.

Before we move to our last reading from this part of Galatians, I want to draw your attention to something else that Paul says here. In verse 14 Paul says that he was “extremely zealous for the “traditions of [his] fathers”.

The Jews had passed down all sorts of extra Biblical rules and regulations. These were not optional. They claimed that these rules were supposed to put up a hedge around the Holy Scripture, keeping it from being broken. The problem is, with too many hedge rows you can’t see the Scripture any longer. All you can see is the traditions laid down by people who came before you. Like Jesus said,
“…You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that” (Mark 7:9-13 NIV).
Later on in Galatians, Paul writes…
“18It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good…” (Galatians 4:18 NIV).
Dear Christians, we must be zealous about the Lord’s message, not merely for our own personal traditions. We must be excited about communicating Christ to our current culture, not merely zealous to defend the methods we’ve used in the past.

In a word, we must change. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. We however, must grow and change. We must be molded to Jesus’ will. We must learn from His word how to go forward to the sinners who need to hear of the salvation we cherish.

Even good tradition have a way of growing stale. Losing their original meaning. Absorbing different meaning until they no longer have a proper purpose. Christians, what we do in the name of Christ must have clear direction and purpose. And to make sure it does, we must honestly evaluate ourselves and our work in Christ’s Name.

The last part of our reading begins with verse 18…

Galatians 1:18-24 (NIV)

18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they praised God because of me.

Earlier, Paul made the comment that He didn’t learn his Good News from any mere man.

He didn’t learn from the apostles. He didn’t meet any of the apostles until THREE YEARS after he came to faith. Sure, he visited Peter in Jerusalem after that time, but his visit wasn’t for schooling. He was there for a couple of weeks in order to get to know the man.

Paul also had no opportunity to learn at the Christian churches sprinkled throughout Judea. They were unfamiliar with Paul, except for hearing about his previous opposition to Christ.

Paul spends a decent amount of words here to give evidence to the Galatians that his message was God’s message. He did this because manmade religious come and go, and none of them bring people to God. Only Christ and His Good News does that.

Or to put it another way, manmade religions can’t bring spiritually dead people back to life. Only Jesus can do that, through the message of His life, death and resurrection for our salvation.

Did you notice that all our reading today had to do with resurrections? (1 Kings 17:17-24, Psalm 30, Luke 7:11-17) Even our sermon reading. Paul speaks of how God called him from spiritual death to life, by revealing Jesus to Him.

Dear Christians, by trust in Jesus, you have been justified. You have been declared righteous because HE died in your place. You have been raised to life that will not end. Don’t EVER let anyone steer you to another Savior or a different Gospel.

Consider reading through Galatians this week. It’ll be twenty minutes well spent. If you do, mark in the margin every time Paul says we’re justified by faith in Jesus.

Prayer: Father, give us strong faith in Jesus. Turn our sinners heart to you. Cleanse us by Christ’s blood. Continue to reveal Your truth and Your will to us through our Bibles. Lead us not to be afraid of changes that are good to be made. Lead us never to change Your Word. Mold us to fit the purpose You have for us here. And in every difficult time, drive us to your truth and your testimony.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

June 6, 2010

Confirmation Sunday - June 6, 2010

Today was examination Sunday. Micah Gamble was our only confirmand. Micah was unable to sit for examination in the usual manner, so I simply spoke through the questions myself. Micah had already answered these questions a number of times in preparation for this Sunday (and he made a wonderful profession of his faith in doing so).

We offer only the audio of the "sermon" this Sunday. It begins with the introduction to the service and ends after Micah's vows. Some may be difficult to hear because of the position of the microphone. Apologies in advance.

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This Grace in Which We Now Stand - May 30, 2010

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Obviously, this one's late. It's last week's sermon. Later today I'll post Micah Gamble's confirmation examination. In Christ, -Caleb


Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our living Savior, Jesus Christ.

You know what a really good feeling is? Already there. That’s a good feeling.

Imagine this. You’ve been on a family vacation – road trip style. It was fun at first, but before long, it was just time to be home. It was the last leg of the long drive home and you drove first. Then someone else took the wheel for a turn and you settle down to rest.

Out like a light.

Then your body sensed the car slowing down and you began to wake up. As the car came to a complete stop you were still in the land of post-sleep grogginess. Then you ask, “Where we at?” Which on the last leg of the trip, is another way of saying, “How much longer do we have to be in this stinking car?” And your wonderful spouse turns and says to you, “We’re home.”

That’s a good feeling. One moment you’re miles away from your comfortable bed, the next, you’re already there.

That’s what Paul says in the part of Romans that we’re going to read today. He’s talking to his Christian brothers and sister that live in Rome.

Mankind has always known there’s a God out there somewhere. And over the years man has developed many religious systems intended to “bring us to God”. You know, get us in touch with God in a good way. Most of these systems amount to a bunch of rules and directions: do this right and you might be able to WORK your way to God. Pray this many times a day. Give this amount to the poor. Be nice. Recycle. Whatever.

But that’s not Paul’s message. He says, “Hey Christians, you’re already there.”

Our theme for this message is “This Grace in Which We Now Stand”. From God’s own Word we’ll be able to see that through trust in Jesus and what He’s already done, we have peace with God now, hope of future glory beyond our wildest expectations, and through God’s Holy Spirit living within us, we receive a powerful new perspective on life.

Turn to the book of Romans…

Romans 5:1-5 (NIV)

1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

The congregation of Christians that Paul was writing to were both Jewish born and Gentile born people who had come to trust in Jesus. Both of these groups were tempted to look down on the other. So, before this part of his letter Paul has already spent a good bit of time emphasizing that it doesn’t matter what your ethnic heritage is, before God we’re all sinners. All people are unworthy of any kind of relationship with the Holy, sinless and ultimately powerful Creator.

In our reading, Paul turns to the fact that this group of people were not only sinners, they were people that had come to trust in God’s solution to sin: Savior of sinners, Jesus Christ.

When God the Father took pity on the fallen race of man, God the Son took action. He voluntarily became a human being. He was born to humble parents. Lived a human life. Offered Himself to be sacrificed in the place of sinners. He could do this because He Himself had never sinned. He was pure. Holy. Perfect. The only sacrifice that could restore mankind to the Holy God.

When the people in Rome heard about Jesus, they believed it. And through that simple trust – all that Jesus had done was credited to their account. They were, as Paul says, “Justified through faith”.

In other words, Jesus bought their forgiveness, and through faith it became theirs. They were declared “righteous”. Before, they were God’s enemies. But through faith in God’s Son, now they were at peace with God.

The revolutionary thing about Paul’s message was this: it was already done. Jesus did it for them. Nothing else was left to accomplish.

True Christianity is not a “kit” that needs to be but together. That’s what mankind makes of religion. Here, do this, put that here, act this way and maybe you’ll make something that gets you enough “karma” points with God that it’ll make a difference. You know, make Him happy enough to forget about your past.

Paul speaks God’s message when He says,
“…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1b-2).

Think about it in one other way: false religion says, “Here’s your dream car” but it only gives you pieces that you have to put together. Ever try putting the pieces of a Lamborghini together? I don’t even have the right tools. Good luck.

In Christ Jesus God says, “Here’s your dream car” and it’s not only all together, through faith you’re already sitting in it!

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe you get to the end of a day and think – boy, I screwed that up again. Maybe the devil tries to use the fact that you’re sinful to beat you down, telling you that God won’t love you unless you fix yourself first. Won’t forgive you until you successfully avoid all those sins you so often find yourself stepping.

Don’t listen to that line. Ask yourself this: Did Jesus die on the cross? Yes. For other people’s sins, or mine too? Mine too. Then the Bible says, I stand forgiven. Like Paul says,
“…we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:28 NIV).

Paul moves on from this point in at the end of verse two,
“…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2b NIV).
Paul says, all who trust in Jesus have peace with God NOW. But they also have something else to look forward to. We have the hope of future glory at God’s side.

Now, in our language, the word “hope” is sometimes a little weak. I “hope” I win the lottery. I “hope” the car doesn’t break down when we drive to Wisconsin for convention this year. I “hope” it doesn’t rain again tomorrow. But that’s not the kind of hope Paul is talking about here. The “hope” Paul is talking about isn’t a “maybe” hope, it’s a “holy cow, look what’s coming NEXT!” hope.

Thousands of years ago, God promised the world’s first sinners that He’d send them a Savior to make things right. Well, He did. Jesus came, lived, died and rose from the dead to get the world’s attention. And God has also promised that everyone attached to Jesus through faith will one day see their Creator face-to-face AND LIVE. In sinless perfection. In unimaginable joy. FOREVER.

When Paul looks forward to God’s keeping of THIS promise, all he can say is “Hallelujah”.

Paul wrote this message in Greek, but the Hebrew equivalent for “rejoice” is “Hallel”, you know, like “Hallelujah!” (which means “Praise Jehovah God!”).

What Paul is saying is this, when we see that our feet already stand in the land of God’s grace, and then look up into the distance and see the glory that is yet to come, all we can say is “Hallelujah!”

But then Paul gets really weird. Look at verse 3.
“3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings…” (Romans 5:3a NIV).
When this letter got read to the Christians at Rome, I suspect this is where some really puzzled looks appeared in the crowd. We also “Hallelujah” in our sufferings? Paul, the first two things sound pretty good, free forgiveness through Christ, peace and glory with the supreme Creator of the universe who was about to consign us to an eternity of hell, but what’s this about “rejoicing in our sufferings”? How does that work?

It works like this: Through Christ we sinners have been put in a safe place. Through Christ we have a unbelievably bright future. No suffering that comes in this lifetime can overshadow these things. The grace in which we now stand gives us a whole new way of seeing and dealing with the pressures and anguish of our lives.

Think about it like this. Remember what happened to the world back in Noah’s day? Just about everyone had stopped paying attention to God. They went about their lives with their backs to God. Nobody worshipped Him anymore. Nobody talked to Him. Nobody wanted anything to do with the Creator who made and provided for their every need. Only Noah, and a handful of people in his family still trusted God and worshipped Him.

So God showed the world how serious sin was. He destroyed the face of the earth: the places, animals animals, and the people – with a worldwide flood.

But the small handful of God’s people were herded onto a big boat. God put them in a safe place and closed the door. Unlike everyone else in the world, THEY had a future to look forward to.

Now, I’m sure it wasn’t easy in the ark. But the heavy rains that fell from above just hit the ark’s roof and rolled off it’s sides. The terrifying deep that sprung up from below didn’t swallow them either, it only lifted them high above the destruction below.

I’ll say it again. I’m sure it wasn’t easy in the ark, but the trials of feeding and caring for a ship full of living, breathing animals didn’t break this family. If anything it made them stronger.

If I told YOU that you were going to have to spend a year cooped up with bunch of sweaty, stinky animals you might complain. But really, when you look at the alternative, janitorial service on the ark begins to look a lot better.

Standing fully forgiven in the gracious hand of God, Christians are given a powerful new perspective on life. Our inner sinner still loves to complain. Our inner sinner tries to get us to look at the empty part of the glass at every turn. But the Holy Spirit who brought us to faith, God’s Spirit, continually leads us to see the truth.

Suffering produces perseverance just like lifting weights produces muscles. As we face temptation and fail, we learn to depend completely on Christ for forgiveness. As we meet people who laugh at our God and the things that we believe in, we learn that our faith isn’t about what other people think, it’s about God’s truth.

The Holy Spirit leads us through a process of maturing. This process reveals our faith to be true, and builds Christian character in us. And this process continually brings us back to hope. Hope that one day, these life of struggle and faith will give way to a life of glory and sight.

In the book of James it says…
“12Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12 NIV).
In 1 Peter it says...
“…Behold, I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, and he who believes in Him will not be disappointed” (1 Peter 2:6 NASB).
And Paul says later in Romans…
“…I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38 NIV).

You know what a really good feeling is? Already there. That’s a good feeling.

We may have a bit of life’s road to travel before we reach the end. And we’re not standing in heavenly glory yet. But as far as salvation is concerned, as far as getting right with God, as far as being good enough to stand before our maker, IN CHRIST we’re already there.

For this indescribable gift: Hallelujah! to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.