Dear Journey Fellowship,
I began this task of writing to you, as a baby church, navigating the dangerous waters of planting a church in an outwardly moral / appearance driven community, last week. I started by reminding us, as Journey Fellowship, who God has called us to be and I will finish this commission to share how we are to accomplish our purpose.
I remember God tapping me on the shoulder a few months ago, while I was preaching through the Galatians letter, to write Journey Fellowship a letter applying the truths found there. In order to cement what we as church had learned over the last year. A written anchor, if you will, that we can look back on and hold on to in the future when threatened by things or people trying to distracts us from what really matters, Jesus.
We can never walk away from the only thing that can transform us, free us and change us into who we were truly created to be. You know what I am talking about because I have clearly preached the gospel of justification to you over and over again: we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
Someone might come to church or to one of your Journey Groups and ask, “What is it that I need to be saved from?” or “Why do I need grace or faith or Christ for that matter because I don’t even know who Christ is?” These are valid questions that you need to be able to answer. As your pastor, I want to help equip you, to understand how to reach your fellow neighbors who are lost.
Most people in America believe they are born free to pursue happiness and accomplish their dreams. But the opposite is quite true: we, as mankind, are born slaves to sin and death and work really hard to cut the chains off from around our necks that bind us, but in the end fail in our own strength. The dream of pursuing happiness becomes a vain practice of selfish ambition in trying to satisfy the sinful heart.
Is this true? Look at every aspect of society: government, judicial, military, law, mental health, medical, business ethics, law enforcement etc... All are put in place to deal with something God calls sin. We try so hard to control sin, to manipulate it, to curve it, to cage it, to medicate it, to destroy it, and escape the consciences of it, but fail because in the end the truth is we are in bondage to this evil.
The same is true with death we try so hard to run from it. We exercise, take vitamins, wear seatbelts, buy cars with airbags, drink special water, take whatever pill the doctor tells us to, just to keep ourselves as far from death as possible, but we cannot break away from death’s grasp.
The good news is that God loves us enough to rescue us, to save us, from this dictator called sin. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul wrote, “God made Him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. “ Or in other words be saved, be rescued, be made right or as the Bible puts it, be reconciled to God and become the people we were created to be. To actually realize and live out the big questions of “why am I here and what is my purpose in this world?” To become a “new creation!”
These people, who are asking questions, might not understand what sin truly is. Remember when I taught you about God’s law, not man’s law that is put in place to control sin, but God’s law that was given to reveal sin for what it really is. Remember when I explained God’s moral law was given as a means of coming to know and love God and to see how far we have fallen in our sin:
Some people use God’s moral law as a checklist or a to- do list. They are trying to manipulate the all knowing God of the universe; by thinking they can obligate Him in to giving them eternal favors by their moral acts. This is a mistaken way of looking at the laws of God because as I have studied the moral commands of God I hear Him saying something completely different than that:
· 1st I want to be in an exclusive relationship with you. I don’t want you flirting with other things that can rule and ruin your life. I want to be number one / the only One in your life.
· 2nd I don’t want you to make statues of me or try to make images that represent me because I understand you and know that you will began to worship the picture rather than the real deal.
· 3rd I do not want you to use my name as a curse word or I do not want you use my name as a means to sell your ideas and your agendas.
· 4th I know that you will want to work and become too busy so I want you to take one day to rest and stop working. And focus on me.
· 5th I have given you a family as a blessing and as a picture of how you and I are to be in a relationship, so respect and honor you parents because it will teach you how to respect and honor me.
· 6th Do not kill one another but learn to love each other and to forgive those who hurt you, just as I will forgive you, when you come to me and ask for forgiveness, in faith.
· 7th Do not cheat on your spouse because this destroys relationships and the family that I have given you. Not even in your heart because this is where the actions really begin.
· 8th Do not take what is not yours. This hurts people and keeps you from contentment in me – Trust in me, I will provide all that you will need.
· 9th Don’t get caught up in lying to others, it leads to bondage and masks and pushes you away from me because you know that you are not living the way you should.
· 10th Be content in me and your joy will be full. Keep me as the center of you affections and you will not want what is not yours.
Yet, as we see the heart of God, reveled to us here, we know that we fail miserably to come close to this standard. This falling short or breaking of God’s moral law is called sin. We stand condemned under this law. Paul wrote in Galatians 4:4-7 “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, Abba, Father, so you are no longer a slave, but a son, and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.”
As we put our faith in God and He declares us righteous by what Jesus did for us on the cross we can become His kids and live our lives as heirs knowing our inheritance is coming. Our lives can glorify God only when we stop trying to be righteous and let Jesus be our righteousness for us. What I find very ironic is the more we try to focus on morality or righteousness and be good people, it’s like quick sand, the harder we try the quicker we fail. This is because this “quick sand” is called self-righteousness or pride and God cannot have anything to do with such an evil thing.
As we learn to love Jesus more and more He tells us we are to obey him out of a heart of love not duty or legalism, because those who love him will do what he says.
Let me use an everyday example that is easy to understand: I know for me that the more I fall in love with my wife the more I want that relationship to be right. Whenever there is something wrong I work hard to figure out what it is and how I can make it right. In the same way when I am at peace with Jesus, on good speaking terms and we have no sin barriers between us I have a sense of peace and know that my relationship with God is good. This brings me great joy and the ability to face everyday life with courage and boldness because of the assurance I have in that relationship. In contrast, if there is something wrong, if I have not spoken to Jesus in a while, sin has crept into my life, or a self-righteousness has begin to rule my heart, then I feel distance, the peace is gone and I know that I am not right with God and I need to repent and bring reconciliation between Jesus and me.
That is the gospel, the good news! We need to keep the main thing the main thing and not let anything else get in the way! That main thing, is Jesus! It is Jesus that sets us free from the slavery of sin and death. So we must be diligent to not lose this freedom we have been given by letting other things get in the way.
If we are honest with ourselves and with each other we can admit that it is easy to get passionate about something and forget about Jesus. We can find ourselves chasing good things like evangelism, healing, children’s ministry, church buildings, programs, morality, scripture memorization, baptism, theology, eschatology, philosophy, you get the idea. But people can be passionately chasing these things right into hell. There will be plenty of people who have handed out gospel tracks in hell, people who want to build huge churches there, people who have memorized countless scripture verses, people who have been baptized, people who are great theologians, people who are moral, you could find all of them separated from God in hell. But you know who you won’t find there? Someone who loves Jesus.
How is this impossible task of loving the creator of the universe even possible? Even if we come to know Jesus and love Him, put our faith in Him and turn from our sins, we still have the problem that we cannot be a Christian by trying harder! There is nothing inside of me that gives me the capability to please God on my own! Not to mention who I truly am at the core of my heart! Evil!
Rob Lacey put it this way in his book called “The Word on the Street:”
My advice? Tune into God’s Spirit; let him run the show – and your dark side won’t get a look in. Your dark side wants what God’s Spirit hates and vice versa. … If your dark side’s in charge, this is you: you’re a twisted, filthy old letch, with only sex on the brain. You waste hours on the latest craze to have seduced you, sometimes just worthless, sometimes full-on demonic. You’re hateful, argumentative, jealous angry. You’re a drunk, a pervert, all “me, me, me”. You’re an ultra-competitive back – stabber, a stirrer, a divide-and-conquer control freak who dies inside every time someone else makes it. … But if God’s Spirit is in charge, then this is you: you’re loving, alive, vibrant, sparkling. You’re calm; you walk into a room and friction walks out. You can handle delays; you’re not pushy. You’re generous with money, with time, with people. You’re good and solid, always ready to help. You don’t double-cross people; you don’t use your fist in anger; you don’t lose your cool – you’re in control. You’re never in trouble with the police. That’s you! You’re connected with the Liberator, Jesus and you’ve murdered your dark side with its “must have” attitude.
The point is that our only hope to live reconciled to God and to people is surrendering our lives to the will of God’s Spirit! There is no other way!
One last thought before we close the book on Galatians – this Christian life we are called to live by grace, though faith in Christ, surrendered to the Holy Spirit is meant to be lived out in community with other Christians. A thing we happen to call church! You are not alone and never will be!
Grace and peace to you
Your Pastor, Jason Neal