June 30, 2013

First Things First: Guard Your Life Source - June 30, 2013

Our server is down, so all I have is the printed version of this sermon. Sorry for the inconvenience. Email calebjohn.schaller@gmail.com if you really want the mp3 and I'll send it to you. -Pastor Caleb Schaller


They say a person can live without food for about a month, but can only go without water for three days. On this planet, where you find water, you find life. Where you don’t, life is scarce. In this sense, water is the source of biological life.

Jesus is the source of spiritual life. Where you find his gospel message, you find people who have been brought into a right relationship with God. That’s what spiritual life is—a restored relationship with the Almighty.

But just as a water source can be poisoned, the gospel can also be tainted. In our sermon meditation today, we continue our study of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. In this section Paul helps us to understand how the pure message of Jesus can be poisoned, and how to prevent that from happening.
Quick review. Paul was the apostle who brought Jesus’ message to the Roman province of Galatia. As people in that area began to trust in Jesus as their Savior from sin, a number of congregations were formed.

After Paul left the area, false teachers began to undermine the gospel in these new churches. The gospel of Jesus says that because God’s Son suffered and died in our place, for our sins, we stand forgiven. This forgiveness is a free gift from God, which comes through Jesus. But the false teachers in Galatia were saying that Jesus didn’t do enough to save sinners. What Jesus did had to be supplemented with an individual’s actions for complete forgiveness . If you kept certain worship laws properly you could earn the part of forgiveness that the cross didn’t cover. That was the poison they were mixing into the pure gospel of Christ.

Paul begins his letter to the Galatians by emphasizing the truth of the gospel, that all our sins have been completely forgiven in Christ. That there is nothing left for us to do. And then Paul begins to defend his ministry as an apostle of Jesus’ soul saving gospel. We continue our study at…

Galatians 2:11-21 (ESV)

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
There’s a lot of things here. I’m going to start with the last paragraph. I’ll address the first two in a bit, but I’m going to focus on the last paragraph to begin with because this is the heart of the matter.

We’ve been calling this series on Galatians, “First Things First”. In the last paragraph here, Paul speaks about the gospel like it’s the headwaters of a great life giving river. It is the “first”, the “beginning”, the “source” of a Christian’s spiritual connection to God. But in Galatia this river was being poisoned.
Look at verses 17-18. Paul writes…

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor” (Galatians 2:17-18 ESV).

The false teachers in Galatia were evidently followers of Judaism. Judaism taught that a person reaches God through carefully keeping His commandments and regulations. Keep His commands and God’ll let you into heaven.

Now, because their hope of being accepted by God was based on their actions, followers of Judaism weren’t real big on confessing their sins. Instead, they gravitated toward keeping outward appearances up. Looking really good and holy to everyone around them. Being first in line at church, always putting something in the collection box, etc, etc.

When they saw Christians, they just didn’t understand. Why do these people confess their sins openly? These are things they should hide!

That’s perhaps where that accusation came from that Christ was a “servant of sin”. These Christians openly confessed their sins, almost like they were bragging about them!

But bragging wasn’t the point of confession in these churches. Jesus teaches us to open up our hands and show God our sins. Not like show-and-tell. Not because we’re proud of the bad things we’ve done. Christ teaches us to confess our sins to God and to each other, because then God can tell us, “Those sins have been forgiven. Your Savior suffered that one, and that one, and that one, and… well, all of them. You’re really forgiven. Completely.”

The followers of Judaism didn’t understand this because they were still trying to use the laws of God as a ladder to heaven. “If we just keep the commands of God we’ll make it!” Confessing their sins was the last thing they wanted to do! That would mean they had failed to keep the law of God and weren’t going to make it.

Now it may sound a little crazy that they could actually believe that it was possible to keep God’s law perfectly, but they did. In Luke 18 we hear about a man that approached Jesus one day during his ministry. This man asked what he had to do to get to heaven. Jesus said…

20 You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.’ ” 21 And [the man] said, “All these I have kept from my youth” (Luke 18:20-21 ESV).

Wow. This man actually thought he had kept God’s law perfectly. Jesus told the man to sell everything and follow after him. But this made the man sad, because he was rich. In this way, Jesus showed him that he hadn’t even kept the first commandment. He loved his possessions more than God. 

You see, the law of God is good. The Ten Commandments, all the other commands he gives us in the Bible. But the laws of God can’t save a sinner. That’s not what they’re for. They only serve to show us that we ARE sinners who need a Savior.
That’s what Paul tries to communicate in verse 19. There he writes…

19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God” (Galatians 2:19 ESV).

What this means is, when Paul thought the law was a ladder to heaven, he tried hard to keep the law. But he failed. He sinned. And as he studied the Bible, it was clear that God’s standard was perfection. Only the sinless would be pure enough to dwell with God forever. And this realization killed Paul. The law killed Paul’s hope of heaven. Oh, he tried to march on and keep doing better, but in his heart there wasn’t any real peace. And this was necessary! This is what the law was meant to do to Paul. It was meant to drive him to despair of ever earning his way to heaven. When a person is at rock bottom, when they know they can’t do ANYTHING to earn God’s forgiveness, that’s when they’re ready to hear about Jesus.

The law kills us, so that the gospel can make us alive. The law condemns us, so that Jesus can tell us that he has saves us.
Paul sees Christ as the only source of life that exists in him. Look at verse 20 again. Paul says…

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me…” (Galatians 2:20a ESV)

If you take anything away from this sermon, take this image away. It’s so powerful. Repeat this after me. Can you do that? Repeat after me, “I have been crucified with Christ”, “It is no longer I who live”, “but Christ lives in me”.

When your conscience convicts you and you feel horrible about something you’ve done. Some sin. Some shameful and embarrassing thing that you don’t want anyone to know about. When your conscience brings that sin up you can say, “Oh, I’m sorry, that person is dead. That person, and all the sin connected with him, went away a long time ago when he died with Christ on the cross.”

Faith connects us to Jesus. We were there on the cross. We get credit for what we didn’t have to experience. And because Jesus rose from the dead three days later, now we live. He lives in us.

You could say it like this—the old me died on the cross. The new me lives with the risen Jesus. All guilt and shame and accusation can go to the cross. I live in the sunshine of Jesus’ grace.
When Martin Luther started preaching the gospel as the Bible states it, his enemies in the established church were appalled. They said, “You can’t go telling people that God has forgiven all their sins, past, present, and future! What will make them behave?”

That idea was alive in Paul’s day also. The idea that Christians will use the gospel of Christ as a license to indulge in sin.

In Romans 6 Paul writes…

“…you are not under law but under grace.
15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:14-15 ESV).

In our sermon reading Paul lays out the right attitude between gospel forgiveness and our daily life. In verse 20 Paul writes,

“…the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20b ESV).

For Paul, daily life was no longer a run on the treadmill of earning God’s love. He no longer lived in fear of the law’s punishment. Instead he lived in the security and peace that is the Son’s grace.

There’s a big difference between walking with the sidewalk perched precariously above your head, and walking with the sidewalk leading the way beneath your feet. Through Christ’s sacrifice we are placed above the law. Safe from hell, we can move freely and without fear, living to praise and serve the Savior who rescued us. (see 2 Corinthians 5:15)
Now we get to one of the most important verses in this whole section, verse 21. Paul writes…

21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (Galatians 2:21 ESV).

If we could earn heaven by doing “good things” then why did God’s Son become human? Why does the Old Testament speak of the Messiah suffering for the sins of others? Why did Jesus tell people their sins were forgiven through faith in Him? If we could earn our own forgiveness by keeping the law of God, why did Christ do what he did?

But the truth is, being holy before God has absolutely NOTHING to do with our efforts, and EVERYTHING to do with what Christ did in our place.
This is the water of life. This is what Jesus was talking about when he told that woman on the other side of the well…

“…whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14 ESV).

Jesus is the source of spiritual life, a relational connection to the Divine, that does not end.

But the gospel of Jesus can be poisoned. It can be altered, contaminated, made deadly. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says,

“I do not nullify the grace of God” (Galatians 2:21 ESV).

How is the gospel nullified? How is the message of grace poisoned? Made deadly to the soul instead of healing to the soul?

We begin to nullify God’s gift of forgiveness when we imagine that we have helped God to save us. When we think that forgiveness hinges on what we do, and not on what Christ has done. That’s how we poison our own well.

DON’T do this. Let a gift be a gift. Just say thank you and move on. Forgiveness is your possession in Christ. He is the spiritual life within you, RIGHT NOW. There is nothing left for you to pay.

Sadly, we can also nullify the gospel in lives of others. We poison our fellow Christian’s well when we suggest that their sins aren’t completely forgiven in Christ. When we suggest that their forgiveness somehow hinges on what they do, instead of on what Christ has done for them.

That’s what Peter did in Antioch at the beginning of today’s reading.

Before Christ came, Jews didn’t eat with non-Jews. They didn’t worship with Gentiles. They didn’t even like to associate with Gentiles. But when the Gospel of Christ came along, it became clear that it was for the Gentiles also. That through the cross of Christ the sins of the Gentiles were also forgiven. And then something started to happen that had never happened before. Jews began to worship with non-Jews because they both looked to Jesus as their Savior. They began to eat together in their homes because they were all on the same level. They were sinners forgiven through Christ.

When Peter came to Antioch he openly associated with the Gentile Christians who were part of that congregation. At first anyway. But when some more legalistic Jews showed up from Jerusalem, Peter took a step back. He started to treat the non-Jewish Christians a little differently. And the rest of the congregation followed his lead. They stopped dining with Christians who were Gentile-born. 

And like Paul said, this wasn’t in line with the gospel. This whole behavior suggested that Gentile Christians were a little less holy than the Jewish Christians. That MAYBE their sins weren’t all forgiven. They had a little more work to do before God could fully forgive them. And so Paul stood up to Peter and called him out for this anti-gospel practice.

Peter apparently accepted Paul’s rebuke. Later on there was no bad-blood between him and Paul. Peter knew that he had acted rashly. That he had not acted in line with the gospel. Verse 16 says…

“…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16 ESV).

So on what basis would we have to divide up our fellowship according to which Christians are the “really good ones”, and which are the “lesser Christians”?

Dear Christians, nobody is going to stand before God on the last day and get his stamp of approval because they did a good enough job. God’s law can’t save us, ‘cause we can’t keep it.  It just shows us that we’re sinners.

Your source of life is Christ Jesus, and what he did on the cross in your place. That gospel is your spring of spiritual and eternal life. Guard it carefully. Keep it pure. And take care how you treat the wells of other Christians.

The Gospel is pure, and life giving. May God help us to keep going to the Gospel well to renew our life, and may God help us to keep it pure.


June 23, 2013

First Things First: Go to God's Word First - June 23, 2013

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A couple of Sundays ago we started a sermon series on Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We’re calling this series, “First Things First”.

Our first message spoke about how we want the Gospel of Jesus to predominate, or reign over, every area of our lives. What this means is that we want to view everything we experience through the forgiveness that we have because of Jesus. First things first means the Gospel is core to our whole thought process.

This morning we continue our series with a second message based on the letter to the Galatians. We call this message: “Go to God’s Word First”.
Now, to begin with, when we read the New Testament, most of the time we’re reading someone else’s mail. These words weren’t written to us. They were written for us. God intended us to read them eventually, and to learn from them, and for our faith to be strengthened by these words.  But the words that we’re going to read this morning were originally sent to a group of congregations in the Roman province of Galatia. These first readers lived in a different millennium, and on a different continent. They didn’t live like we do. They had different dreams, different problems, different routines, different histories.

It’s good to keep this in mind when we study any of the letters of the New Testament. When we know who was receiving a letter, and what was going on in that congregation’s life, then we’re better able to understand the thoughts and the ideas contained in any given letter.
So, what had happened in Galatia was this. The apostle Paul had come through the area and had shared the news of Jesus with a bunch of people. This “news of Jesus” is what we call the Gospel.

The Bible tells us that all people are sinners, condemned to suffer hell after this life. But in the Gospel we hear that God’s Son changed our fate when HE suffered for our sins, and died in our place. The Gospel reveals to us that Jesus has declared all people righteous before God, by suffering on the cross. The main take away of the Gospel is – we don’t have to worry about the future. God loves us, and through His Son, He has forgiven our every sin.

A good number of people believed this message in the Roman province of Galatia. Enough people that a number of congregations were formed.

But after Paul moved on to share the Gospel in other places, problems started to crop up. New people started to move in on the Galatian congregations. These new people were undermining the Gospel of Jesus. They were saying that Jesus DIDN’T earn COMPLETE forgiveness for the sinner. They were teaching that we have to perform certain religious rituals and observe certain religious ceremonies to earn COMPLETE forgiveness from God.
In addition to attacking the Gospel and trying to alter it, these new teachers were also attacking Paul.

Have you ever been a witness to tense a conversation where you really didn’t know what the underlying fight was about? You could sense that there was some sort of bad blood between the two people who were arguing, but you could only make out bits and pieces of what this was all about?

We’ve got a little bit of that situation going on here in Galatians. Every once in a while Paul will say something like, “…am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?”. He says that particular thing in chapter one, as if someone had accused him of just trying to please people by his teachings. There are numerous times in Galatians where Paul says something that appears to be a response to some slander that had been spoken against him. Watch for these phrases that show us how Paul was being discredited.

Galatians 1:11-24 (NASB)

  11   For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
  12   For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
  13   For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;
  14   and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
  15   But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased
  16   to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
  17   nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
  18   Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days.
  19   But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
  20   (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.)
  21   Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
  22   I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ;
  23   but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
  24   And they were glorifying God because of me.
If we can take Paul’s words here as casting light on what his detractors were saying, then they were saying something like this:

“Paul is actually teaching you guys stuff that he came up with, or that he learned from somebody. Paul’s words are just human ideas. It’d be better to turn to Jews like us who really know the Old Testament in order to understand what God says about salvation. After all, Paul isn’t even a real apostle. He never traveled with Jesus during His ministry. At best Paul absorbed some of the apostles’ teachings in Jerusalem, or maybe from some little Christian fellowship in Judea. But Paul didn’t understand it well enough. Here, let us explain to you where Paul got it wrong. We’ll help you known what things you need to DO in order to be saved.”

Paul had received word about how he was being slandered, and, more importantly how the Gospel was being corrupted. So, he promptly responded.

“Um, no, my Gospel wasn’t something I made up or learned from somebody. As you know, Jesus HIMSELF appeared to me on the road to Damascus and directly revealed His Message of Grace to me.”

“As for those Jewish teachers among you who think they know better than me, do you remember my history in Judaism? I was the super-Pharisee. When it comes to knowing the Judaism, and the Old Testament Scriptures, I think I can hold my own, thank you very much.”

“As for my Gospel begin some kind of second-rate copy that I scammed off the apostles or formed from bits gathered in Judea--I’d  been preaching the Gospel quite a while before getting to know the apostles. And, the Judean churches? They didn’t know me personally for even longer!”

And we don’t have to just take Paul’s word for all this. We can read about how the apostles received Paul in the book of Acts. They were scared of Paul at first, but eventually they came to know that Paul had truly been converted by the risen Savior Himself. They gladly recognized him as an equal when they heard his story (Acts 9:26-31). Later on, the apostle Peter even wrote about Paul. Peter wrote…

15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. 16 He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16 NIV).

Peter calls Paul’s writings “Scripture”. That was how Peter saw Paul’s message—as the Spirit inspired Word of God.
One thing we need to remember about Paul, was that he wasn’t a bold and arrogant missionary. We’re told that his first sermon to the Corinthian people was delivered “…in weakness, with much fear and trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Nor was he a power grabber. He didn’t stay in one place longer he needed to in order to establish a fellowship of Christ followers. Then he was off to the next place to share the Gospel with more people. The congregations Paul left didn’t even know for sure if they’d ever see him again.

Obviously, Paul wasn’t some pretentious, money grubbing televangelist. So, why did Paul feel the need to defend his ministry to the Galatians? Because the false teachers in Galatia were only attacking Paul’s ministry in order to get at the Gospel. The corruption of the Gospel was the real goal of Paul’s detractors. Paul had brought the Gospel to the Galatians. If the false teachers could discredit him, they were one step closer to discrediting the Gospel.

Paul’s ministry belonged to the same Savior who had washed Paul clean of all his sins by suffering and dying in his place. Paul wouldn’t just stand there and watch as the soul-saving Gospel was mixed with work-righteousness.

The whole idea that we can earn our way to God is a retread idea. It’s the same old human religion that has been recycled over and over through the centuries, with a million different labels on the same worthless product. But Paul saw it for what it was, the same old I’ll-save-yourself religion. It wasn’t the Gospel. The Gospel says God saved US. It’s DONE. We can be at PEACE as we live our lives to help each other and to glorify the LORD, our Creator.

Look at verse 15 again. Here Paul just lets the truth outshine the lies that were being told. He says…

“…when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,” (Galatians 1:15-16 NASB).

It’s like Paul is saying,

“So, they say the Gospel is manmade. But that’s not true. God chose me before I was born, and not because of my own goodness, but because of His GRACE. He called me to believe in His Son. And He even sent me to preach about Jesus to the Gentiles. If all this is true, WHY IN THE WORLD would I have sought out MEN to train me up in the Gospel since I already had God as my tutor?!”
The Holy Spirit led Paul and others to write down what God had taught them. So, today we find ourselves in the same situation that Paul was in. We have the revelation of Jesus, not in person like Paul had, but in the Bible.

And the Bible was intended for ordinary people to read! I know sometimes it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Galatians was originally written in Koine Greek. That’s “common Greek”, the same language that the butcher and the baker down the street would have used in Galatia. The New Testament wasn’t intended for scholars to ponder over in their studies, it was intended for you and me take in hand. To read. To know God’s things. To give us direction, wisdom, hope—all these wrapped around the Son of God’s gift of complete forgiveness for our sins.

We need to take God’s Word into our minds. In Paul’s day there were detractors and false teachers, and there are today too. They use the same methods. Discredit the teacher, dismantle the message. We need to be constantly learning from the Bible, because our faith is constantly under attack.

Paul couldn’t hardly even get out of town before false teachers came into the congregations of Galatia. When you leave this house of worship you’ll be exposed to anti-Christian ideas, lifestyles, and attitudes even before you reach your next destination. And even after you reach your home, the attacks on your faith will continue through all the communication devices of this information age. False teachers and false ideas will fish for your allegiance through television, movies, blogs, etc.
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, it says…

19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn” (Isaiah 8:19-20 NIV).

We may not ask the local palm reader about our future. But when we take man’s word over God’s we’re doing just about the same thing. Instead, let’s do like Isaiah says and go to God’s Word first.
Do you know how the books of the Bible got put together? That was one of the things that I really wanted to know when I got to seminary. I assumed that there was some great counsel that was held where church leaders chose the books that were to be put in the Bible. But when I actually got a chance to study how the books of the Bible were recognized as God’s Word, the truth blew me away. It was much more powerful.

The Holy Spirit lives in the books that He caused to be written. He works through these books to create faith in Christ, and to preserve that faith. But the Holy Spirit does not live and work through books that He didn’t inspire. You won’t find the Holy Spirit’s testimony in the Book of Mormon. You won’t find it in the Koran.

Over the years, Christians received letters from various apostles and teachers. Because the Holy Spirit at work in the books that He inspired, Christians recognized them as the Holy Spirit’s books. Eventually, the line-up of the New Testament had been so secured by individual Christian acceptance, that nobody even thought about it anymore. These were God’s books. Only after that did “mighty” church councils come along and says, “Yes, these are God’s books”.

And because the books of the Bible come from the same Divine Author, they agree with one another.

Now, this isn’t to say there aren’t hard things to understand in them. Thing that seem like contradictions. But if these are the books of God, then if we dig into our questions about them, we’ll find answers. When we have a question about God’s Word, we should go to God’s Word FIRST. Most of the time God will clarify what is said in one section of the Bible, by what He says in another. 
When Paul received the Gospel from Jesus Himself, Paul didn’t seek a second opinion. He didn’t seek the apostle’s blessing. He just went and started teaching the message that had given Him peace.

We don’t need a second opinion either. With a solid English translation in hand, we have God’s Word. We don’t need the priest’s blessing, we can start sharing the message that gives us peace.

The Word of God is the power here, especially the message of the Gospel. Let’s go to the Word first in every situation. Today, let’s rededicate ourselves to being ready ahead of time to defend the things we believe in, and give a reason for the hope we have because of Christ.


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

June 16, 2013

Shepherding is All About Grace - June 16, 2013

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2 Samuel 24:10-17 (NKJV)

 10 And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
11 Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, 12 “Go and tell David, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.” ’ ” 13 So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”
14 And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
15 So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died. 16 And when the angel stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
17 Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”


In July of 2005, 1,500 sheep jumped off a cliff in the Van Province of eastern Turkey.  450 of them died.  The other 1,000 survived because the pile of sheep at the bottom broke their fall.  Why did they run off a cliff?  The shepherds said that one ran off first and the others just followed it.

In 2010, 67 sheep were hit by a train in Germany.  Apparently, they were fleeing from two dogs and ended up running head-on into a freight train.  It was good that they ran; it was too bad where they ended up.

There are stories of sheep crowding so tightly together that they suffocate each other; sheep getting stuck is unlikely places; stories of sheep doing all sorts of foolish things that sheep do.     

How would you feel about taking a sheep and making him a shepherd?   Who would ever do that?  God would.  That’s what He did when He called a tax collector to be a disciple and evangelist.  This is what He did when He took the church’s most notorious persecutor and turned him into the church’s most famous apostle.  This is the God who saw our wretchedness and still chose us to be His own and then called us to shepherd His people.  These actions are not the result of logic.  These are evidence of grace.

Whether you are a called worker in the public ministry, or whether you are engaged in your private calling as a child of God,  one thing is true about every person in this building, It’s all about grace…   1. It’s all about grace that is needed because of our sins 2. It’s all about grace that is provided because of our Savior.

1. For David, this was a time of introspection and sad regret.  It was day three, and he stood helplessly  by, watching the consequences of his sin ravage the people of Israel.  As each new report came in, the pit in David’s stomach grew larger.  Finally, he prayed:   ‘Behold, I have sinned and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, What have they done?  Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.’”

It is a little surprising that these words came from this man at this time in his life.  This was not a rookie mistake.  David was a seasoned veteran.  He had weathered enough problems and temptations that he should have known better.  He was even warned by Joab, of all people, that numbering the troops was an extremely bad idea.  And yet, he did it anyway.  And that tells us something.  We never out-live our need for God’s grace.   About the time we think we’ve got one temptation figured out, the devil comes with a different one. Our weaknesses may change over time.  So, Satan finds just the right temptation to send us jumping off a cliff or lunging in front an oncoming train.

What was behind David’s desire to number the army?   Maybe he was trying to divide his trust between God and the size and strength of his military.  Or, maybe it was pride.  Three chapters earlier, David was banned from the battlefield because old age had robbed him of his quickness and agility.  It’s bad enough when you have to take the car keys away from a senior citizen.  What happens when a mighty warrior is told that he is no longer needed, and, in fact, is a liability and should stay home?  The devil tempts him accordingly.  

When our military took over Iraq in 2003, it didn’t take the insurgents long to identify a weakness.   Despite our high-tech weapons, the armor-plating on the bottom of some of our vehicles was dangerously thin.  The enemy exploited that vulnerability by planting roadside bombs.  They were detonated by cell phone as the vehicles passed over the top of them. 

Satan found David’s weakness.  Where will he find yours?  All of us have to deal with pride, don’t we?  How much we’d all prefer hearing praise about our work than hearing something honest and critical that was meant to help?  Maybe you battle the same temptation I do, to let sermon preparation get pushed back to the end of the week.  When crunch time hits, you’d rather do anything – mow the lawn, clean the office – anything rather than the hard work of producing  a fresh message from God to His people.  Maybe, we are the type who like to win every argument or control everything that happens in the church.   Perhaps, it’s a secret addiction to alcohol or prescription drugs.  Whatever the weakness, Satan will find it and exploit it.

David’s sin brought grim consequences – primarily to the people he was called to lead.  The number of casualties was horrific: 70,000 men died, roughly 23,000 a day.  And for what?  For the vanity of their leader?

There is no way David could have foreseen the hefty price his sin would command.  But that’s how it works, isn’t it?  The price of sin is never posted where you can see it.  The consequences are more like a bomb than a bullet.  It’s not just the person who sins that pays. There is collateral damage all around. 

Imagine that you were David, looking at the carnage your sin has caused.  Or imagine that you were Paul.  How would you feel if you had dedicated your life to choking off the Christian faith -- and then, one day, you realized that you were totally wrong?  How could you ever undo the damage that your sin had caused?  Suppose, in your effort to eliminate Christianity, you even coerced some people to abandon the faith?

The very last thing that any of us wants, is for our sins to impact our people.  But that is the ugly reality.  If we neglect our children because we are too busy in our calling, there is a price that they and we may have to pay. If we talk ourselves out of making the difficult pastoral calls, someone may pay a price.  If we neglect our ministry, even for the most seemingly pious of reasons, consequences follow, don’t they?   All of us can understand the sentiment David expressed:  “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done?” (NIV)

2.  Aren’t you glad that shepherding is not about getting what we deserve?  Shepherding is all about grace.  Grace that is desperately needed because of sin – and wonderfully provided because of Christ.

It’s amazing that God gave David a choice in his chastening.  He could choose 7 years of famine, 3 months on the run from his enemies,  or 3 days of plague from the Lord.  Why would God want David’s input? Because God was extending an invitation of grace.   Were it not for His mercy, the Lord would not bother to ask.  He would simply consume David and every other sinner in sight.  But He did ask, and David knew exactly what to do:  rely on the Lord’s mercy because God is the God of all grace.

David wished that the fallout of his sin could be charged to him and his family instead of letting it fall on his people.  And that is exactly what would happen.  A thousand years would pass, but the Lord would take the punishment for David’s sin and load it upon the shoulders of One from David’s line.   This time, instead of 70,000 paying the price of one man’s sin, one Man would pay the price of an entire world of sinners. 

David’s Son would be charged with the sin of numbering the army. He would be declared guilty of lust, adultery, murder, poor parenting -- of every mistake or deliberate sin that David had ever committed.  He would also be charged with pride, neglect of duty, addictions to alcohol or drugs or pornography.  Any sin that you can possibly name was charged to His account.  On the altar of His cross, He willingly bore the sins of every pastor, professor, teacher, or lay person.  When His grave was found empty on Easter morning, the message was powerfully clear: The payment has been accepted.  Because of Christ, you are hereby declared “Innocent of all charges!” by God above.

When we come face to face with the reality and magnitude of our sins,  then we begin to appreciate that shepherding is all about God’s grace.  This isn’t about how well we perform; this is about how well Jesus performed as our Savior.  Our ministry should not be driven by guilt or fear.  It should be driven by a message. The message is this: We have a Savior who loves us and pardons our iniquities.  God forgave the Church's most zealous persecutor and He's forgiven you and me, as well.  No  matter what we've done, God's grace is always larger and more abundant than our sin. We could never atone for a single misdeed, but Jesus already has atoned for them all!

The fact that God would choose sheep to be shepherds is a powerful testimony to His grace.  Paul described it in this way:  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

What about the fallout of our mistakes? God’s grace can take a really bad situation and turn it into a blessing.  That happened at the end of this chapter.  David purchased the threshing floor on which to build an altar to God.  That small chunk of land would become home to the temple – a landmark of grace.   David could have had the property, the altar, and the sacrifice for free, but he insisted on paying for them himself.  He wanted the altar and sacrifice to cost him something personally -- not because he had to make up for his wrong – but because his heart was touched by God’s grace.

That’s what shepherding is all about.  It’s how the Gospel has changed our lives eternally so that we want to share that message with everyone we can.   It is a great story-line that God rescues a sinner like David, or Matthew,  or me, or you, and then uses us to do His work.  But it’s more than that.  It’s the effect that grace has on all who taste its sweetness firsthand.

I once read that the oldest known picture of Jesus was found in the catacombs of Rome.  It showed Him as a young Man with a lamb cradled over His shoulders.  It must have brought comfort to Christians, who were suffering for their faith, to know that their Good Shepherd was watching over and protecting them.

That’s the blessing we have.  All of us are sheep who love to wander, who do dumb things.  Instead of giving us what we deserve, our Shepherd picks us up, forgives us completely, and allows us to share in the work of His eternal kingdom.  Our shepherding is not about us.  It’s all about His grace.  Amen.

Sermon originally presented by Jim Albrecht, Pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Okabena, MN. 

June 9, 2013

Confirmation of Noah Gamble - June 9, 2013

Today Noah Gamble professed his faith publicly and became a member of Redemption Church in this year's confirmation service. Instead of a sermon you can listen to the questions that Noah answered as part of his public examination. Sorry, no script is available.

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In Service to Christ,
-Pastor Caleb Schaller

June 2, 2013

First Things First: The Gospel Must Predominate - June 2, 2013

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Do you find it easy to get distracted? I do.

I go to clean the garage so I can actually walk around in there, and at the end of the day, it’s still not done. First I had to organize my tools. Then I paused to fix some things that had been waiting on the workbench. Then I had to take a trip to dispose of all that old oil. On the way back I remembered that I still needed a couple things for supper. After battling with grocery store amnesia, I ended up filling a cart. It was all stuff we needed, but it was also stuff I had to put away when I got home. By then my wife needed to run out to an appointment, and the kids needed supper. At the end of the day, the garage is still a mess.

Maybe it isn’t cleaning the garage for you. Maybe it’s some other task that eludes you because of the distractions that push and pull at your time. The little rabbit trails you allow yourself to follow. Sometimes we struggle to put first things first.
Today we’re going to start a sermon series based on Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. We’re going to call this series, “First Things First”.

Talking about  Galatians, one Bible scholar has said,

“Together with the epistle to the Romans, Galatians ranks first in doctrinal importance, because in both letters Paul discusses the fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith” (Book of Books, p.250).

This fundamental doctrine is the Gospel.

Now, the reason why Paul focuses this letter on the Gospel is because the Gospel was being altered in Galatia.

Paul was the missionary that first brought the Gospel to the people in the Roman province named Galatia. But recently he was told that there were new teachers springing up in the congregations there. And these new teachers were adding things to the message.
Paul had grown up believing that God can’t stand sin. The teachers of his youth had instructed him that the way to get your sins forgiven was to obey God’s laws better. If you really kept the Ten Commandments, and brought the right sacrifices to the Temple, and observed the right religious ceremonies, then you could work your way back onto God’s good side.

The religion which defined Paul’s early years was a work-righteous religion. Any religion that teaches that you have to do something to work your way to heaven is a work-righteous religion. Paul took the work-righteous religion of Judaism fully into his heart. He was so convince that Judaism was the way to God that when Christianity sprung up in Jerusalem, Paul tried to crush it.  

You see, the Christians weren’t following all the religious ceremonies that Paul felt were crucial to reaching God. And they were teaching more and more people that real religion meant trusting that God had sent a Savior to take everyone’s sins away. They said that Jesus of Nazareth was really God’s Son, and that through His suffering and death the penalty for our sin had been erased. Paul didn’t buy it. Paul saw Christianity as a sect that was stealing people away from the true religion. And so, Paul began to hunt Christians.

He would try to get them to say something bad about God, so that there would be reason to stone them. When this didn’t happen, Paul had Christians arrested and put on trial for their beliefs.  

But one day when Paul was traveling to city in order to find the Christians there and arrest them, the risen Jesus suddenly appeared to him. And through the things that Jesus told him, Paul realized that he had been tragically wrong. Jesus explained to Paul that what the Christians were saying, was absolutely true, and that even Paul’s sins had been paid for. He was free from the treadmill of work-righteousness. Though he didn’t deserve the tiniest bit of God’s mercy, even through he had been actively hunting God’s people, Paul was forgiven all, through the suffering and death of God’s Son.

Paul was baptized, and went on to be one of the greatest ambassadors for Christ that the world has ever seen.
Now, because of Paul’s history, he could smell work-righteousness a mile away. And because of the astonishing forgiveness that Paul had received, he would have nothing to do with work-righteousness anymore.

Paul understood that the Good News of forgiveness is a gift. It cannot be earned or deserved. Like a delicate machine part that has been crafted by precision instruments, any addition or alteration to the Gospel of Christ renders it incapable of doing what it’s supposed to do.

In our reading for today, Paul sets forth a number of reasons why the Gospel of Christ is precious, and must remain pure and unchanged my man.

Galatians 1:1-10 (NIV)

1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers and sisters with me,
To the churches in Galatia:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!
10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.
First of all, Paul says that the Gospel message must remain unchanged, because it come from God.

When Paul went out to persecute Christians, he was following his own, human counsel. But when Paul later went out to tell people about God’s gift of forgiveness, then he was following God’s orders. The truth of Jesus’ message was verified most clearly to Paul when the resurrected Jesus appeared to him in person. Only God can raise the dead, and He doesn’t raise false prophets back to life.

If Christianity were some organic religion that had grown out of a collection of human ideas, then sure, we could go ahead and change it however we want. But if the Gospel comes from God, than we dare not alter its substance. What Jesus taught, we should also teach and believe.
Second, Paul says the Gospel must remain unchanged, because of its immense value. In verse 4 Paul says that Jesus Christ,

“…gave himself for our sins…” (Galatians 1:4 NIV).

Just how valuable is the Gospel? How much did it cost for God to make it available? Well, the Son of God had to take on human flesh and blood. He had to be tempted in every way, but not sin. He had to suffer horrible physical and spiritual torture. He had to die. How valuable is the lifeblood of God’s divine Son? When we try to calculate the value of what the Son of God was willing to do it ends up sounding like people who talk about billions and trillions of dollars—what does it even mean? It’s too much for my mind to grasp.

C.S. Lewis once tried to described the incarnation of Christ like this…

One may think of a diver, first reducing himself to nakedness, then glancing in mid-air, then gone with a splash, vanishing rushing down through green and warm water into black and cold water, down through increasing pressure into the deathlike region of ooze and slime and old decay; then up again, back to colour and light, his lungs almost bursting, till suddenly he breaks the surface again, holding in his hand the dripping, precious thing he went down to recover” (Miracles, chpt. 14, by C.S. Lewis).

We are that thing.

If we can grasp just a tiny bit of how difficult this was for the Son of God to do, then we might just begin to understand how it must insult God when preachers claim part of our salvation hinges on what we do. “Yes, God’s So did this, but we must also do something to help Him save us. We must add our own efforts and thus help pay for our sins”. God forbid that we ever think this way. The praise for our salvation belongs to God alone, for He has done it by Himself. We cannot lay any claim to earning that which is a gift.
The third reason Paul states for leaving the Gospel unaltered, is the practicality the Gospel. Someone might ask, what does the Gospel really do for me? The answer to this question tells us how practical the Gospel is.

Because God’s Son suffered hell in our place, we won’t have to spend eternity apart from God. Because God’s Son gave Himself for us, we can stop trying to earn God’s love.

Maybe you noticed as we read through this first section in Galatians that there are NO ASSIGNMENTS here. There’s only a list of things that God has done FOR us. There isn’t any work-righteousness here because Christ’s Gospel isn’t about working our way to God. It’s about how God cleansed us for eternity with Him. He did the work!
But just as it’s easy to get distracted in our daily activities, it’s also easy to get distracted in spiritual things. But when it’s the Gospel that we’re being distracted from, that’s a danger to our souls. If our faith were to be severed, we would lose everything Christ came to give us. That’s why Paul got so upset when he heard what was happening in Galatia. People were accepting the idea that our forgiveness hinges on something other than what Christ did on the cross? NO! The Gospel must not be corrupted. This is a matter of life and death.
When I was training to become a pastor, we were taught that in all our preaching the Gospel must predominate.

To predominate means to be the stronger or leading force. To have numerical superiority or advantage. To surpass other things in authority or influence. To exert controlling power. To appear more noticeable or imposing than something else.
Thinks about it like this. When you go to buy something, what attracts you to a particular product? Sometimes it’s where it came from. “Made in Taiwan” may not draw you in. But if you’re buying a decorative rug, “Made in Persia” might.

Sometimes the draw comes from the markdown. It was originally selling for $500 but now it’s going for $50? I’ll take it.

And even if we don’t know where it came from, or how much the original price was, sometimes we are drawn to things because we have a need, and we know that what’s on the shelf is exactly the right thing.

So, where’s the Gospel from? Well, it was planned out in the eternal counsels of God before the creation of the world.

So, how much is it worth? Well, the sinless and divine Son of God had to suffer and die in order for it to happen.

Okay, what does it do for me? Well, it takes all your sins, past, present, and future and washes them off the board, thus ushering you into a Father-child relationship with the only true God. Oh, and this relationship will last past your earthly death and into eternity.

This is why the Gospel must predominate in a preacher’s sermons—it is from God, it is more valuable than anything in the universe, and it gives forgiveness and eternal life to sinners who receive it.  
But the Gospel deserves center stage in more than just our Sunday meditation. The Gospel deserves to surpass every authority or influence in our everyday lives.

In stead of REDEFINING THE GOSPEL like the false teachers did in Galatia, we must instead be REDEFINED BY THE GOSPEL. As sinners reclaimed by God we must begin to look at everything through the lens of the Gospel.

We can begin to see everyone around us as people God wants to reach. Precious people that God’s Son died to save.

Parents can begin to bring the Gospel into their discipline. At the close of each correction we can remind our children that we forgive them, because Christ forgave them first.

We can begin to see our own sins and failures through the lens of the Gospel too. Not excusing our bad behavior, but also not allowing guilt to gnaw at our peace. All we have to do is look at our sins through the lens of the Gospel to see that they’re not there anymore. They’ve been forgiven.  

And we can also begin to forgive others like God forgave us. Completely. Freely.

On the grand scale, or on the small scale, God’s Gospel is thoroughly practical.
Speaking about the Gospel, Jesus once said…

44 ‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.
45 ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. 46 When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.’(Matthew 13:44-45 NIV).

Obviously, Jesus’ point isn’t that we buy the Gospel. His comparison is this, when you find something this precious, you do everything you can to hold onto it.

Dear Christians, don’t be distracted. In your hearts and in your lives, in the way you think and in the decisions you make, let the precious, soul saving, life giving Gospel—predominate.


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