Three days ago Pastor John got us started on the Apostle Paul's letter to the Galatians. We will examine Paul's message over the next several weeks, seeking to grasp its meaning for us today. Pastor John began our newest journey by reading Galatians chapter 1 verses 1 through 9:
“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 to live in 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!”
Pastor John invited us to see the difference between the Gospel (which the Apostle Paul preached) and heresy (which was being aired in Galatia by various religionist entrepreneurs after Paul had left the region). Pastor John illustrated the difference by comparing basketball, which you fellows know a lot about, with “slam-ball” which at first seems like basketball but it actually has a lot of differences.
Pastor John examined the problem with religion. Religion of one kind or another can have many people who are morally upright but spiritually bankrupt. They presume that morally good people go to heaven and morally bad people go to hell.
Being “good” can be really bad – proud, judgmental, legalistic, with no need for Jesus
Christianity is not a religion with a rule book, it is first and foremost about a relationship with Jesus. Paul preached the risen Savior. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commands. By contrast, the religionists who came to Galatia after Paul left preached that Jesus was good but that He was not enough; you needed to also adhere to all of the rules in the Jewish rule book. In Paul's absence they seemed to be getting followers from the Christian congregations in Galatia. Paul was upset hearing that some of his sheep were going astray. So Paul wrote to them:
“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ”. – Galatians 1:6-7
The gospel is NOT based on OUR merit or works. Jesus died for our sins; He rose again. That is the Gospel. That “we must be saved by Jesus Christ AND by being circumcised and keeping the sabbath and eating kosher foods only” - That is NOT THE GOSPEL.
We are saved by God's grace alone. Jesus plus anything is nothing. Jesus plus nothing is everything. A good analogy that Pastor John gave us is: Water by itself is perfect. Water with a drop of cyanide is death. Gospel (+ education, + politics, + worship.) is that same death.
The Gospel is news not an instruction manual. Jesus gave himself and delivered us from the present evil age. This is a fundamental change in our lives but we must apply it in our lives for it to have effect. All of this is done according to the will of God; that is His great mercy.
Lastly Pastor John quoted from C.S. Lewis. He was an Englishman who died in 1963 but his words are still instructive today. It is useful to keep this quote in mind to distinguish the Christ from some morally inspirational figure or self-help guru or other professional religionist:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
The bottom line: God is adopting us into his family. It is 100 percent His will. We who believe are accepted never forsaken. But, the offer of His grace must produce in each of us a yes/no response. Do you fellows remember at end of Pastor John's sermon the video of the precious little girl getting adopted? For that little girl there was no middle ground. She said YES to her adoptive parents' love.
God's love is like that!
Last Lord's Day Pastor John started us off by reading 1 Thessalonians chapter 1 verses 2 through 3: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Pastor John recounted to us a recent scene from the Fourth of July fireworks display at the Orange County Fair. For some older folks there is no awe or fascination with the colorful extravaganza; they've seen it all before countless times. By contrast, see the little girl – it's all new and fresh to her!
So: How about each of us? Do we have the same breathless, child-like AWE for God's love? Do we have truly precious hope for eternal union with our Maker?
Pastor John spoke of the work of faith. He said firstly, that faith produces works. The Apostle James (a half-brother to Jesus) explained that at length to us in his letter near the end of the New Testament. If you have true faith it will produce a definite reaction, especially in crisis. Faith works from the inside out. And, it isn't the “size” of your faith that is crucial but the object of your faith that is key. We read Matthew 17:20 “He replied, 'Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.'"
Pastor John further illustrated this with his visual of somebody dangling from a cliff, just holding onto a tree rooted in the side of the cliff. If the roots, which is to say “faith”, are strong and deep into the cliff, then the man will be able to be saved. If the roots/faith are weak and shallow, then the poor fellow is doomed to fall to his destruction. Pastor John further quoted James Innell Packer, a Canadian evangelist who died just this last week after a very long life: “Your faith will not fail while God sustains it; you are not strong enough to fall away while God is resolved to hold you.” If God loves you (as He loved Jacob but not Esau; as he loved Moses but not Pharaoh) He will draw you to Himself and sustain you through whatever comes.
The Apostle Paul was the last to receive Jesus through personal revelation, on the road to Damascus. From that time, through thick and thin and thinner still, the Apostle Paul held on to the faith he received THAT ONE TIME on the road to Damascus. He suffered but never complained about it instead he rejoiced that he could suffer because he found that he was closest to intimate communion with Jesus when he was enduring suffering in this life.
Pastor John recalled also the case of the party of Korean missionaries to Afghanistan in 2007 who were betrayed by their Afghan bus driver and delivered into the hands of the extremely anti-Christian Taliban. Especially the two pastors among them, the missionaries felt privileged to be able to witness their faith to their hostile captors in the remote mountain wilderness of Afghanistan, to the point of death. And both pastors were slain by the Taliban before the rest of the Korean missionary party were ransomed.
Making us mindful of all this, Pastor John bid us to apply knowledge and faith in Jesus to whatever situation we find ourselves in. Just as we read in Romans 5 verses 3 to 5: “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
It is this holding on in faith through WHATEVER situation that we find ourselves in that leads to real intimacy with our suffering savior Jesus. We do not seek comfort in a Christian bubble, but rather we actively seek to live life for real glory through the fellowship of suffering. We each affirm: “Jesus is the reason I live. Someday I will see him face to face. No suffering can compare to that glorious hope. Jesus you are worth it!”
Fellows – three days ago Pastor John gave us his last sermon in his series on genuine faith. Thanks to his three previous admonitions to us, we've become fairly well grounded init. So in this last one he recapped and summed up. He began by reading from the Apostle John's first letter, chapter 4 verses 1 through 6:
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world. You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit of truth and the spirit of falsehood.”
I take it upon myself to read again that first sentence: “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Sounds as if the Apostle John is writing to us right here today! We certainly need to hear that, given what is bouncing around in the world today all around us.
Pastor John then asked us” “what are the most important determinants of genuine faith?”
He splashed on the Vision Chapel screen a scene from fireworks in China. Early most every calendar year you have in China the Lunar New Year celebrations. For many centuries these celebrations have included fireworks displays, handled both by local authorities in China and by individual celebrants. In contemporary times these fireworks have been banned by authorities because of injuries frequently suffered by misuse or accident. However these fireworks bans have not lasted long because of widespread popular opposition. Popular belief from ancient times to the present in China and elsewhere in east Asia is that loud noises from the fireworks drive away evil spirits. Pastor John used this as “exhibit A” in illustrating to us the concept that beliefs (including superstitions) drive attitudes and actions.
Pastor John then showed us a photograph from a concentration camp in eastern Europe in the early 1940s. Under Adolf Hitler the Germans maintained a network of such concentration camps, mostly in conquered Poland. They brought millions of people that Hitler and his party considered undesirable to these camps, to be either gassed or starved to death. Millions thus died horrifically, because of the beliefs of this one man. His beliefs and dominant personality drove the attitudes and actions of the thousands of people that were necessary to carry out the campaign of mass extermination. This you may call Pastor John's “exhibit B”.
How then to determine what is true and false in beliefs that drive attitude and actions?
Pastor John tells us to go to the claimed source to see if the supposed notion is true. This brings us to “exhibit C” President Donald Trump, Time magazine, and the magazine's famous annual “Person of the Year” designation. President Trump claimed that Time Magazine was considering designating him “Person of the Year” recently, but that because of the conditions tied to it he told the magazine “no thank you”. The magazine editors when asked about his claim stated that they never tell a “Person of the Year” designee in advance of their plans.
So from exhibit C we must learn to verify the truth. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good,” In other words, don't accept or dismiss a prophetic claim out-of-hand, but instead check it out first. Go to the source.
Pastor John's “exhibit D” had to do with the debate over the necessity and efficacy of vaccinations, especially early childhood vaccinations against infectious disease. Pastor John noted that children die because their parents are told lies about vaccinations and believe these lies. More recently in our Covid-19 emergency there have been claims and counterclaims about the necessity and efficacy of wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and quarantines, among others. In such matters we can easily fall into a trap of fallacy if we do not learn to test and verify.
So also with faith!
Christians use the Truth we have in the Bible to cut off lies. Read from the Gospel of John, chapter 14 verse 6: “Jesus answered, 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
So then, just what about prophecy? As we saw above, do not despise prophetic pronouncements out-of-hand, but test them. If someone, no matter how emphatic in speech and attractive in his or her manner says “God just spoke to me and said....” then test it.. If it is is founded in the Bible, and not taken out of context, then such modern day prophecy can be credited. But if it is contrary to the Word, then obviously it cannot be believed. Sorry to say, false prophecy is much more common than the truth. Jesus warned us this would be so – read Matthew 24:4-5 “And Jesus answered and said unto them, Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many”
All false claims how to counter them? Remember that our faith is rooted in God's faithfulness.
To illustrate this Pastor John mentioned his “Adventure of the Flat Tire”. He was at the side of the road with flat tire; he had to change it. He'd done that before, so it was no problem as he told those with him. But...Pastor John experienced...a sudden mental blank – he had forgotten how! His quick reference to YouTube was a welcome help to solve the problem, while his past knowledge didn't help. This is why we read our Bible every day! We remind ourselves to anchor ourselves in the things of God. Rather on relying just on our recall of past teaching and experience to remind ourselves of what God has done. This is a critical part of how we care for our most precious possession, our genuine faith. Our genuine faith breeds genuine obedience.
Lastly Pastor John bid us to remember that with this genuine faith we can handle anything in life. In bad times and through dark events, our faith frees us from anger and bitterness and depression when they creep back in because we remember His assurance that He is always in control. In good times through genuine faith He calls us out of our comfort zone to His purpose. God does not tell us to "shape up or else", but rather through our faith we fall in love with the Word and the Way. That is God's hold on us.
That is genuine faith!
Fellows, Pastor John is really trying to teach us to carefully separate real stuff from the fake goods that are everywhere. And that ability is no more important than when we are talking about what matters for all eternity – faith.
So, last time at church on-line he read 1 John 3:19-22 “This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him”
Okay: that word “condemnation” - what does that mean, especially for us?
Pastor John made brief visual reference to Judge Judy, who has been dispensing justice in small-claims court on television for many years. As Pastor John said, in her courtroom it gets pretty intense because when two people are in a dispute, she must eventually condemn the position of one party and uphold the position of the other.
Pastor John also made reference to cultural condemnation: you fellows may recall that he explained briefly how “cancellation culture” is affecting our society today. Maybe you yourselves have seen it is popular entertainment and social media. If so then you know better than teacher Rand how that is. Anyway, the point is that in these contemporary situations moral condemnation is levied against this person or that. I must say though that today often the persons or parties doing the condemning have the least standing to do so from a Christian perspective.
Having reminded us of the current worldly scene in its dark colors, Pastor John then went on to give us God's perspective. He read Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“...are in Jesus Christ” meaning “have put their faith in Him” !!
And 1 John 3:20 “If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”
And Romans 9:1-2 “I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit”
Conviction to a follower of the Christ: Pastor John urges us to rejoice because of our conviction that the Holy Spirit is at work in each of us, drawing each of us closer to God.
Pastor John contrasted the Christian conviction to a non-christian conviction, where one must suppress or excuse the sin. Pastor John further illustrated the point with Paul writing to the Corinthians, (again): 2 Corinthians 7:8-10 “Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it—I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while— yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”
How about that last sentence? “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” This is at ground zero of Pastor John's message here.
What do you think about that word “condemnation” now?
To sum up his teaching on condemnation and repentance as a mark of genuine faith, Pastor John reminded us that godly grief leads to repentance, while worldly grief leads to death because we are being desensitized to real evil, coaxed step-by-step to compromise with sin.
To put it another way, the devil knows you by your name but calls you by your sin. God knows your sin but calls you by your name.
Years from now, the time may come when one or another of us believes that he has fallen badly in his walk with God and “really done it” and that there is no way back to God.
At that dark moment must remember this: the devil knows you by your name but calls you by your sin. God knows your sin but calls you by your name.
Good morning to each and to all! Just for this morning I won't recite our litany of names, but I will observe that my own dad, some decades ago, remarked that the morning “June gloom” departs about the 4th of July and summer really starts. So far it looks like this year that date will hold true!
The early morning video message with Pastor Bryan started our Bethel Church KM adults this morning with the Apostle Peter's first letter. As you will notice in a moment, this letter was intended to be read in congregations of believers (perhaps at that time more like overgrown cell churches, really) throughout what is today western Turkey. I am inspired to bring this up because right away in his letter the Apostle Peter centers on “genuine faith”, just like Pastor John is doing right now:
1 Peter 1:1-8 (NIV) Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood: Grace and peace be yours in abundance. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and (now read this next part as if it were highlighted in yellow):
“into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy,”
genuineness of faith! Greater worth than perishable refined gold! And what is the reward for sticking with your faith through thick and thin? “ praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” Wow!
Had Peter been an Irvine Unified School District school boy before he took up commercial fishing with his brother, I doubt that he, (quite unlike many of you!), would ever have won any awards for being a star pupil. He didn't have a Korean mom. Yet through his time with Jesus, and then through Pentacost, he became the amazing person who could write such a letter.
Now, last Lord's Day Pastor John started out by reading from the Apostle John's first letter:
1 John 4:7-12 “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
Pastor John wants us to check ourselves and our faith to see if it is genuine. He does not suggest this to scare us but just to get us to check ourselves the same as we would if we look into a mirror before stepping out into public view. Looking into a mirror should not be a cause for despair, but just a means to check ourselves so we can adjust ourselves accordingly.
Pastor John noted that our human kind of love is naturally conditional, in that it depends on petty considerations; conventional, because we like reciprocity, and comfortable, because we love when we feel like it.
By contrast God's love is unconditional; He loves His faithful children even when due to their sinful natures they fall down during their travels on the road of sanctification. It is like how Pastor John loves his baby son Elliot no matter how often Elliot soils his diapers! Also, God's love is unconventional. Pastor John had us read Matthew 5 verse 44: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That idea of love could not have come from a human being, just as Pastor John pointed out.
Finally, God's love is uncomfortable. We read these famous verses from 1 Corinthians: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
That DOES take us out of our comfort zone.
When we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit because of our prayers and we come to have love like that, we are living out the genuine faith that the Apostle Peter wrote about.
Check your faith in the mirror?