Disciplers Are Reminders

During a sermon recently, I joked that I’m avoiding the word “change” and instead will use the word “adjustment” or “realignment.” In evaluating all we do with the question, “How will this help us be and make hopeful, joyful disciples of Jesus?”—we come up against a mission that affects our strategy in making this a reality. In a fundamental effort to obey the Great Commission of Jesus, we may come up against longstanding patterns in our lives and in ARBC that do not move Jesus’ mission forward. So what do we do?

As I mentioned at the leaders retreat and again at the February Members Meeting, if our only goal is to maintain a religious institution for our sake rather than move forward a mission for the sake of the gospel, then the institution should not exist. Each worship service, each small group, each conversation must be laced with encouraging reminders of the beauty of Christ’s salvation in our hearts and that the Spirit is in us, never to leave us alone.

Thus, we celebrated the love of God at a worship concert Friday, February 15th. Reminders! We will have a Week of Prayer for North American Missions and collect for our Annie Armstrong Easter Offering with an ambitious goal of $10,000, every penny of which will go to North American missions and missionaries who are called to make hopeful, joyful disciples of those who do not know Jesus. Reminders!  We will have another First Sunday on March 3 where we will see what exactly true faith is all about by using three chairs. Reminders!

This is critical, especially when we begin having conversations regarding matters such as properties and pews. That is, when the ad hoc team (voted in last members meeting) is populated and begin to explore and bring conclusions to the church regarding the future two homes that we own on Penrose Court; and the conversations which will ensue regarding the Auditorium (pews or chairs, carpet, and such), we will come as disciples of Jesus, evaluating how this will help us not merely maintain an institution but be and make hopeful, joyful disciples of Jesus.

The important part of it all, ultimately, are the relationships we develop as disciples of Jesus. We prayerfully ask God to empower us as a church to reach 50 for Jesus this year. Again, it’s not praying God will save 50 (which we pray He will) but for a readiness and a willingness to say, “I want to be used by you, dear Jesus, to share the gospel wherever, whenever, to whomever.” It’s a willingness to learn how to share, it’s a desire to strengthen each other in the task, and it’s an insatiable appetite that develops with the Word of God and prayer.

As I close, have you seen the GLOBE? Thanks so much to Kathy Peterson and the Penrose Proceeds Allocation Team for populating and providing the funds, respectively. The purpose of that room is a place for relationships to develop as we strengthen each other in Christ and for Christ. Another purpose will be a place for me to talk with guests and those who have inquiries about ARBC or the message they just heard.

It’s not just about programs for us—it’s about personal relationships with others that flow from a personal relationship with Christ.

Be. Make. Multiply. Send. A biblical strategy fueled by the Great Commission. Are you in?

All in this together,

Pastor Matt

[This is from the March 2019 newsletter of our church.]

Remember. Consider. Imitate. Obey: Examining the Leaders God Places in the Local Church

“Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. . . . Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Hebrews 13:7, 17).


Remember and obey your leaders… why? Not because of themselves, but because of the Word God has given them as overseers/elders/pastors in your church.

They Preach from the Scriptures

Each Sunday morning (or at whatever appointed time a local church gathers), a pastor stands up to preach either from an actual Book, or a tablet, or from a screen–but the content comes from the God-breathed Scriptures which makes the man of God equipped and competent for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In 2 Timothy 4:1-5, the apostle Paul charged Timothy to preach from these very Scriptures:


I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Timothy 4:1‭-‬5 ESV).

The readiness of preaching stems from the gravity of the charge of the apostle Paul, but also effectual nature of the Scriptures themselves, empowered and inspired by the Spirit of God Himself. So those who receive this call do not pigeon-hole their preaching simply at an appointed time of, say, a worship service. If God provides other opportunities to preach, the Spirit’s compelling fuels, not for the sake of celebrity, but for the sake of the Gospel!

The aspects of preaching and proclaim the Word as a herald in the neighborhood of God’s people and in our community has a threefold shape of “reprove, rebuke, and exhort.” To reprove comes from the root of conviction of sin. Thus, preaching deals honestly with the Word, and that will often come against the way we may look at matters which are away from God’s design. To rebuke is that of ordering and charging something (like Jesus ordered the winds and the waves to be still), and so those who are pastors charge stringently for the flock to turn from sin and turn to Christ as disciples! To exhort is that of comforting and encouraging; in this case, to not simply reprimand for something done wrong, but to encourage as disciples to move toward Christ!

They equip from the Scriptures

To expand on 2 Timothy 3:17, which says, “… that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Pastors exist not to do all of the work of the ministry, but to also equip those in the congregation to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12).  They equip through the Word that is not only preach but modeled. Hebrews 13 tells us to remember the leaders who preach the word to us. But there’s also the aspect of imitating their lives. One of the great ways to learn how to preaches to preach. One of the great ways to learn how to evangelize is for pastors to come alongside to show how to evangelize, and then work to give their proteges opportunities under that supervision to evangelize. The best way to equip others to make hospital visits and counsel and care is to model these things and then give them the opportunities to execute those things as well.

The Scriptures equip pastors for every good work, therefore the Scriptures must be the primary textbook by which they are equipped. No shortage of books regarding preaching, pastoring, evangelism, discipleship, ecclesiology, and leadership exist giving all sorts of helps and tips in moving the church or organization forward. Sadly, many works appear to use the Scriptures to bolster their ideas rather than making sure their ideas conform to the ways of Scripture.

They Care for the Flock

Pastors are, as the term indicates, shepherds of a flock. The apostle Peter reminds us not only that pastors are to be shepherds, but some basics on what shepherds should embody:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed; shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight; not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:1-4).

The nature of the pastor’s oversight embodies a willingness, an eagerness, and as an example. What it must not embody is outside compulsion from others, a love of money, and bullying. Our compelling comes from Christ (2 Cor 5:14); our eagerness comes from His call, not from how money talks; and our leadership comes from love for His flock, not leveraging our position for control.

The idea of how pastors stand as examples connects with Hebrews 13:7 in a call for Christian to imitate the lives of the pastors who are led by Christ and His Word. Paul alluded to this in his final talk with the Ephesian elders:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be alert (Acts 20:28-30a).

So care for the flock is not simply for their physical needs to make sure they are comfortable; pastors also for their spiritual growth and protection. Some may come from the outside, but some will also rise up from within the fellowship of believers. Caring for the flock means an alertness and attentiveness to this all-important aspect of their discipleship.

They Pray.

Peter told the Jerusalem congregation that the spiritual leaders of the church need to focus on “prayer and the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). A great exercise on the study of prayer is to go through the book of Acts and count how many times the church prayed–specifically, what caused the church to pray, the nature of their prayers, and how God responded to those faithful pray-ers.

We are all servants of Christ, part of the body of Christ which composes the church of Christ. Regardless of the gifting or calling to which God has called, we all submit to the will of God in Christ. So even as leaders, we are followers of Jesus, disciples who chase hard after Christ and run hard away from sin. Prayer is the key to connecting with Christ, leaning into humility in reliance on Christ, and recognizing that the way to understand and apply the Word is by this connection, humility, and love toward Christ.

We are all broken sinners in need of a Savior, but God calls those to shepherd the church as servant leaders. They will have to give an account. Praise God Christ promised to never leave any of us alone (Matthew 28:20).

Book Review: Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the Twenty-First Century

MacDonald, Gordon. Who Stole My Church? What to Do When the Church You Love in Tries to Enter the Twenty-first Century. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2007. 248 pp. [Paperback | Kindle]

As a seminary chancellor, former pastor, author, and magazine editor, Gordon MacDonald brings a vast wealth of knowledge and experience to a book that, while fictional, addresses the significant challenges churches and leaders face in addressing change in established churches. MacDonald serves as Chancellor of Denver Seminary in Denver, Colorado, where he also served as interim president from 2008-09. He is also Editor at Large of Leadership Journal and is Pastor Emeritus of Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts. MacDonald authored twelve books dealing with all areas of Christian life.

Synopsis

Who Stole My Church? comes from an actual conversation from a long-time member of a church who felt betrayed by the numerous changes taking place under the leadership of a new, young pastor. When this man told MacDonald, “Our church has been stolen out from under us”—this served as the genesis for this work. MacDonald brings this work from the perspective of the people affected by the change. Though fictional, this work brings many of the issues and patterns that arise when changes take place in an established church.

MacDonald provides his working definition of church as it relates to moving forward into the 21st century:

Here and there, however, are marvelous people who seem to understand that a church is not meant to be a club organized for the convenience of insiders but a cooperative where people combine together to grow spiritually, to worship the triune God, and to prepare themselves for Christian living and service in the larger world (viii).

Who Stole My Church? is set in a small New England town, an area of the country MacDonald knows well given his tenure as a pastor in Massachusetts, and centers around a series of meetings eventually named the Discovery Group. The pastor called this group to address tensions that arose in the recent past at this New England established church. These tensions came to a climax at a business meeting when the discussion for a name change to the church took place. The outcome of the vote was close but surprised the pastor and most others in attendance when the measure did not pass. When the Discovery Group convened, they each voiced their respective opinions and emotions regarding the changes taking place in the church as well as the culture. Each of the members loved their church and had served in their church for many years, each growing up with certain programs in place, certain styles of dress, preferred styles of music and preaching, the centrality of the church building as a place for ministry—among other matters.

As the book progresses and the Discovery Group discusses each of their concerns, the pastor systematically takes them through each of their concerns and through the rationale behind the changes in a way where they begin to understand his rationale. Some see the value of the vision and immediately came on-board, some struggled to adapt but they would follow if the church approved because they loved their church, and some refused to adapt and would thus leave the church. MacDonald seeks to help both pastors and laypeople understand the other to reach the culture in the 21st century.

Evaluation

For pastors of an established church, Who Stole My Church? will serve simultaneously as a helpful and challenging read; not due to the difficulty of understanding MacDonald’s writing, but on understanding his message all too clearly about the potential difficulties that arise in these types of churches. In my denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, we have 47,544 cooperating churches. Approximately 85% of these churches are either plateaued or declining; and approximately 45% of these churches have a worship attendance of 200 or less. While the fluctuation or amount of attendance does not indicate health or decay, the truth is that established, non-plant churches make up much of our denomination and are in trouble, with approximately 900 closing every year.[1]

Structurally, MacDonald provides the reader with all the topics under examination in the first chapter as each member of the Discovery Group unloads their concerns and critiques—items all too familiar to pastors of established churches wishing to affect change. As painful as this could be for these pastors, they could benefit from realizing they are not alone in their pastoral plight. This book will serve young and seasoned pastors alike who come into ministry with a certain degree of naïveté. Even those who are disciples of Jesus can come with a particular set of challenges when change is suggested or executed. The reader (pastor or otherwise) will learn some valuable lessons.

First, the pastor must know his members. At the beginning of each chapter, the ‘pastor’ takes copious notes regarding a particular member of the Discovery Group. Clearly, he knows their personalities, their stories, their tendencies, and conveys an unconditional love for each member. This is the charm of the book. MacDonald, wittingly or unwittingly, conveys to his pastoral readers that pastors must know, stand among, serve with, and lead their sheep. They cannot lead their flock unless they know the flock whom they are leading.

Secondly, a pastor must communicate with his members, recognizing that communication is a two-way endeavor: talking and listening to them. Communication and misunderstandings present their own challenges in regards to church world. When a misunderstanding or disregard for what the pastor communicates takes place, the pastor’s temptation is to write off these members if they cannot follow his lead. MacDonald’s ‘pastor’ applies the principle found in the Epistle of James: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger: for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20). MacDonald expertly provides examples from his own experiences of how to engage those who are struggling with change, and that is to listen! His willingness to gather together those who struggled with the implementation (or even the suggestion) of change demonstrates a key principle: a pastor’s vision should not mean more than his people.         

MacDonald takes on the contentious subject of church music, rightly calling this “arguably the most volatile issue in the church today” (89). The so-called worship wars pit genres and generations against each other. In the Discovery Group, the pastor navigated them through a brief history of church music, spending significant time on Isaac Watts (1674-1748), but also on numerous other developments that affected their musical tastes unbeknownst to them. When the pastor shares the story of how state of church music with the monotonous psalmody congregation sang in that day frustrated Watts, his father did not chastise him but rather encouraged him to find a solution. Surprisingly, many congregations refused to sing Watts’ hymns because they were not psalmody, but over time, his works took their rightful place as one of the most represented even in modern hymnals today. The example finds traction for every new style of music that comes into the church in every generation—that new style is embraced by some, resisted by others, and not always along stereotypical demographic lines. MacDonald wrote, “How does each generation open the door for the next generation to sing the gospel in its own fresh way” (113)? A poignant question indeed! How a church answers this question will speak volumes about its future!

Toward the end of this work, MacDonald takes the reader through the pain of broken friendships that happen among pastors and parishioners due to the threat of change. The hard truth from this scenario is, even when a pastor or leader communicates (again, both explaining and listening), not everyone will listen. Some will question the motives of leader, and will possibly leave the church. MacDonald notes the sadness and betrayal that a pastor often feels during these episodes. 

I was incredulous. John had been a part of this church for more than twenty-five years. He had led several building-renovation projects. He was signed up every time the men took an outdoors trip. John would have been included on any list of people who made up the core of this church. And now with almost no warning he told us he was probably going to leave the church. How can a man do that (156)?

Most if not all pastors sympathize! These actions not only dishearten pastors but also congregations (157). MacDonald brought out the reality and the warning of this possibility.

Who Stole My Church? outlines the challenges of bringing change to the 21st century church. Granted, many of these lessons are only learned by experience, but this book prepares and warns young pastors for the issues that will likely transpire and will also help experienced pastors recognize ways to tweak their approach by reminding them to know and communicate with their people. Pastors of all ages and experience will benefit from the lessons in this book. 


[1]“Legacy church planting revitalizes dying churches,” by Margaret Colson. cdli:wiki, http://www.sbcannualmeeting.net/sbc15/newsroom/printfriendly.asp?ID=61.

Removing the Obstacles of Discipleship: Why the Acts 15 Conference Was So Crucial

[This is the manuscript of the sermon preached on February 17, 2019 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO. I do not preach straight from this manuscript–this only served as my research for the prep. Should you wish to hear the audio, click here.]

Anytime we begin to speak of discipleship, we do not simply discuss and implement what Jesus says about the nature of discipleship, but also recognize what the obstacles are, and them work to remove them. Our aim is to be and make hopeful, joyful disciples of Jesus so that all of Denver to the nations believe… and here it is … Jesus is enough. Yet, this concept is hard to grasp sometimes–especially in this transition.

This is why Acts 15 is so earth-shaking in regards to one’s relationship with God and each other. This is, I dare say, why understanding the core doctrines of Scripture are so important. Christianity is more than just doing the right things at the right time in the right way. Mark Twain struggled with churches in his day by saying, “They are good people telling good people how to be good people.” But we aren’t. We are broken sinners–all of us–looking for a way to be put back together again by the one who designed us in the first place.

In Acts 15:1, a question arises: “But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” So the question we have is simply this: how does one become a disciple? How can one become righteous before God? What does one have to do to receive His approval in becoming a Son?

Change is difficult! I joked with our Church Council this past Tuesday that instead of using the word “change,” I would use the word “adjustment” or “realignment.” For centuries, God’s chosen people, the Jews, had a system in place which said, “This is the way you are right before God.” It would involved sacrifices of certain animals for particular outward sins, attending worship at the local synagogue or pilgrimages to Jerusalem at the high feast days, and the keeping of certain ceremonial covenants–and, in this case, circumcision. For these men, no circumcision, no salvation. Salvation was obtained and maintained through surgery. This runs polar opposite of New Testament Christianity which, in the most distinguishing aspect of our belief as opposed to other religions and worldviews, we are saved by what someone else has done on our behalf–we are saved by grace through faith.

Join me in verses 2-12 as we set the table:

2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.[a] 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. 5 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”

6 The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. 7 And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. 10 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? 11 But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” 12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

Beware the Temptation of Christ-Plus Religion

The men who came to Jerusalem believed that the rite of circumcision still applied to those who wished to be considered righteous before God. In Genesis 17:9-14, God established this covenant with Abraham:

And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”

The last verse is the key verse: “Any circumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (v. 14). These who were raised and trained in the OT religion and customs understood the gravity of these words. But now, the culture changed: no longer did it seem necessary for this particular surgery to take place. Now something else was happening. They were, in a desire to keep the truth, were bringing dangerous and destructive heresies by requiring something that had already been fulfilled.

In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul wrote about an incident that happened among the apostles and a group called the circumcision party (a.k.a., the Judaizers), who believed and taught that one must keep the Mosaic law and customs in order to be right before God.

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 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. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 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?”

Galatians 2:11-14, ESV

This event, approximately ten years ago, addressed the issue that was taking place in Acts 15. Paul’s response was quick:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 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.

Galatians 2:15-16

One can see now the danger that this question, while well-intended, would bring danger, division, and destruction to the church. This is a false gospel for which one would be accursed, cut off from the Kingdom (Galatians 1:8-9). The apostle Paul addressed this in his epistle to the Romans:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Romans 2:28-29, ESV

Circumcision was abolished as were the rest of the ceremonial laws when Christ came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets, because they were simply a copy and a shadow of the reality–in this case, circumcision of the flesh as ordained through Abraham was now been fulfilled in the circumcision of the “flesh” of the heart and will.

Listen to trusted  testimonies as to how God works

Paul and Barnabas, on their way to Jerusalem to discuss and debate this matter, “passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers” (15:3). In 15:7, the Apostle Peter recalled his encounter with God and, later, the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10-11) how “God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.”

They not only preached changed, and not only did their listeners profess they believed, but they saw the change as God took control by the Spirit of Jesus. We can tell, dear believers, when Christ changes the heart of someone. We realize an inconsistency when someone says they believe in Christ, but their lives do not reflect this.

“Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we will believe that we will saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will” (15:10-11). Rabbis used the word “yoke” to refer to the law as a way to keep the Israelites on the right path. While the law is good (Romans 3:20), the law could not save. Phil Williams said, “The law is the light that reveals how dirty the room is, not the broom that sweeps it clean.”  Instead, the law served to show God’s path, the impossibility of us to fulfill that path, and that we are sinners in need of a Savior who would fulfill those laws on our behalf (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus did not carelessly use this in Matthew 11:29-30 when he said “yoke is easy, and [his] burden is light.”

We need to listen to each other. Otherwise, as Craig Groschel noted, two things will happen:

[It] leads you to focus on the external rather than the internal. Religion requires a behavior-oriented path toward pleasing God. Religious people, often well-intentioned, focus on an outward expression rather than an inward transformation. Religion is our effort to close the gap between sinful humans and a holy God. Sadly, it reduces the beauty of the Gospel to a checklist of do’s and don’ts. Rules try to regulate religion.

Craig Groschel, Why Rules Create Toxic Religion .

Not only does religion focus on the externals rather than the internals, but this external emphasis produces an internal pride. Rule-following religious people believe their behavior and beliefs are right and everyone else is wrong. It’s like a piece of food that spoils—not only is it nasty and ruined, but it omits a noxious smell as well.

Religion focuses on the external, the outward which puffs up internal pride. Each of the testimonies given here shows an internal change, evidence of a transformation.

Ground everything in God’s Word

James, the lead apostle of the Jerusalem church decided it was time to preach.

13 After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. 15 And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written,

16 “‘After this I will return,

and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;

I will rebuild its ruins,

    and I will restore it,

17 that the remnant[b] of mankind may seek the Lord,

   and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,

    says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’

19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.”

James, the leader of the church in Jerusalem, stands up to preach from Amos 9:11-12. How interesting this is that the circumcision party cherry-picked one text, while James showed from the prophet Amos that God had all along sought to include the Gentiles into the Kingdom.

Even though they were free, they still needed to take care not to cause new believers to stumble. In that context, eating food from idols, food that has been strangled, and blood all would be too much for weak consciences converted from the Jewish faith to handle. Yet, the sexual immorality is a moral law found throughout the entire NT and shows that these moral laws are still very much in play.

The leadership then wrote a letter to Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia to address the situation (15:23-28), and what was their reaction? Rejoicing! Judas and Silas encouraged and strengthened the brothers, then were sent back.

30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement.32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.

Conclusion

Friends, Jesus is enough for your salvation! We are saved by grace that He applied to us by His work on our behalf. Are you relying on something else besides Christ and His work on the cross for your hope and joy in being right with God?

When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.

The judge asked, “Guilty, or not guilty?” When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, “That’ll be ten dollars — a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.”

Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. “You have violated the law,” he said. “The fine must be paid–but I am going to pay it for you.” He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! “That,” said Billy Graham, “is how God treats repentant sinners!”

It’s not Christ-plus, but Christ is enough! Listen to testimonies of how God has changed someone’s life and tell that testimony to others if He has changed you. And ground it all in the Word of God. And there will be a life of hope and joy because every obstacle has been removed.

__________

Matthew Perry serves as the Lead Pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church in Centennial, CO. He received his M.Div. and D.Min. from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, and is now pursuing a Ph.D. at the Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO.