Tag Archives: grace

galatians 1.1-10

1 Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father,who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia:

 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,  who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

10 For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

 
The greeting of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia stands out.  Simply stated, that’s what it does.  
 
It is different.  
 
Of all his thirteen letters, Galatians is unique in that it lacks many traditional elements while it includes additional.  For example, in virtually ever Pauline epistle, there is the naming of Paul, a greeting, a naming of the recipients, and an immediate thanksgiving.  In Galatians, however, we find that Paul names himself and then adds a defense of his apostolic credentials.  Similarly, he extends his greeting with a theological confession and doxology (in v.3-5 he says more than “grace and peace”), even as he replaces the traditional thanksgiving with a shocking word of rebuke.  
 
Perhaps the uniqueness of the Galatians intro could lie in the fact that this was Paul’s first letter and he would develop his “traditional” form in time.  Maybe but doubtful.  More than likely,  the reason for the differentness of Galatians was the provenance of his writing.  Paul had something to share with an attitude of urgency – so his greeting launched with a personal defense, theological underpinning and tenor of astonishing rebuke (why not just skip the thanksgiving when you have something like that to say!)
 
What did Paul have to say?  What is his point in the first 10 verses?
 
What is his point? His point is that anything different than the gospel is not good news!  No, its more than that.  Anything even slightly different than the gospel (as defined in v.4-5 about what Christ gave up for us, not about what we give up for him)… it is no good news at all.  Paul is amped up from the beginning of this letter.  In this section he gets to the point.  He curses (calls anathema twice) anyone who has preached to the Galatians anything other than the gospel of Christ and his righteousness.  He declares that to distort the gospel or to turn to something beyond Christ is to desert God in full (v.6-8).  And all this he says immediately after a bizarre greeting in which he does not thank the Galatians for their faith, but mainly defines the gospel (v.3-5) and defends his authority (v.1-2).
 
There is no fear of man in Paul… only fear of the God of the gospel.  What he says must be said, regardless what his detractors may say of him… not that it matters – for if I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ. (v.10)
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rediscovering something old

I am rediscovering weakness… or even pursuing it again.  I think, I pray, I hope with a new actual awareness (or alomost awareness) of all the weak and broken parts of myself that the Lord has shown me over the past year.  Indeed it was a year ago that I enjoyably blogged about discovering the gospel in weakness, reading and recording the thoughts of Henri Nouwen (Wounded Healer) or  Richard Sibbes (The Bruised Reed) or Kyle Strobel (Metaphorpha) or just my own musing thoughts.

Through the past year, the Lord has, I think, shown me his Fatherly affection by placing me over his knee and WHACK.  Chastening the child he loves.  Showing me my personal fear of weakness/sin/struggle even as I “theologically” engaged it with passion.  Putting me in a place where the wrestling match with weakness was… hell.   May I say with truth and candor: church planting has been the most difficult life experience, even as God has grown his church and planted us in the “west valley.”    I am so thankful for the fog of last Fall, and the slow unfolding of a spiritual Spring over the past few months.  I have seen life come from death.  Energy returned.  Weakness confessed.  Habits exposed.  Righteousness (my own) revealed as filthy.  Gifts (preaching and teaching) used as a cop-out for true pastoral leadership.  Otherness revealed as a serious weakness.  Exhaustion evidencing gospel-thirst.  Excessive work falsely defined as “success.”  Being at home with my family confronted with what it truly is to “be home” and undistracted.  Loving my wife compared to laying my life down for her.  On we could go.

Maybe this is what freedom feels like.

We are in confining quarters, indeed, when we are enclosed in self, but when we emerge  from that prison, and enter into the immensity of God and the liberty of his children, we are truly free.

Though it sounds strange to say it I am rejoicing that God has reduced [me] to a state of weakness.  Oh, how painful, but how beneficial these times of weakness!  As long as any self-love is remaining, we are always afraid it will be revealed.  But God does not give up as long as the least symptom of it lurks in the innermost recesses of heart, God pursues it, and by some infinitely merciful blow, forces it into the open.  And the sight of the problem becomes the cure.  Self-love, forced into the light, sees itself as it really is in all its deformity and disgrace.  And in a moment, the flattering illusions of your whole selfish life are dissipated.  God sets before your eyes your idol: self.  You look at that spectacle, and you cannot turn your eyes away.  Nor can  you hide the sight from others.  To expose self-love in this way without its mask is the most mortifying punishment that can ever be inflicted.

When you finally see self for what it is, weakness has become your only possession.  Strength is not even in the picture.  And if you had any, it would only make the agony longer and more distressing.   If you die [to self] from weakness and weariness, you will die more quickly and less violently.

What, then, shall we do?  Do nothing.  Seek nothing.  Hold to nothing.  Simply confess everything, not as  a means of getting relief, but because of humble desire to yield unto Jesus. (Fenelon, Let Go)

But [Jesus] said to me, My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.  Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamaties, for when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

O Lord my God, thank you for this church planting weakness exposition – all for your glory and display of your grace.  Amen.

 

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Letting Go, by Fenelon

A church member and friend has coerced me into reading a book by Fenelon, “Letting Go: to get peace and real joy”.  I say coerced because I know he asked me to dig through it (short but stout) because of my desire to control aspects of life that, well… are in need of God’s continual control.  Say, like pastoring a church plant that is the living body of Christ.

It is a brief book of letters written by Francois de Salignac de La Mothe Fenelon, the Archbishop of Cambrai, France during the seventeenth century.  He was writing to a small group of people at the Court of Louis the Fourteenth.  Apparently they lived in a world of shameless immorality and struggle, kinda like us.  Try his words on for size and may they be a blessing to you.

The good that comes from any experience of personal weakness is the realization that God wants us to be lowly and obedient.  So may the Lord keep you!

I am amazed at the power that comes to us through suffering; we are worth nothing without the cross.  Of course, I tremble and agonize while it lasts, and all my words about the beneficial effects of suffering vanish under torture.  But when it is all over, I look back on the experience with deep appreciation, and am ashamed that I abore it with so much bitterness.  I am learning a great deal from my own foolishness!

The great Physician who sees in us what we cannot see, knows exactly where to place the knife.  He cuts away that which we are most reluctant to give up.  And how it hurts!  But we must remember that pain is only felt where there is life, and where there is life is just the place where death is needed.  Our Father wastes no time by cutting into parts which are already dead.  Do not misunderstand me: He wants you to live abundantly, but this can only be accomplished by allowing Him to cut into that fleshly part of you which is still stubbornly clinging to life.

Learn to cultivate peace.  And you can do this by learning to turn a deaf ear to your own ambitions and thoughts.  Or haven’t you yet learned that the strivings of the human mind not only impair the health of the body, but also bring dryness to the soul.

Love of self, which the world advocates, is a thousand times more dangerous than any poison.

Be careful about your motives in this eager chase for knowledge.  You are aware, aren’t you, that all we need is to be poor in spirit, and to know nothing but Christ and him crucified.  Although being a know-it-all makes us feel important, what is really needed to strengthen Christian character is love.  You certainly don’t think it possible that the love of God and the dethroning of self can only be reached through the acquisition of knowledge.  You already have more knowledge than you can use.  You would do better to put into practice what you already know.  Oh how we deceive ourselves when we suppose that we are growing in grace because our vain curiosity is being gratified by the enlightenment of our intellect!  We need to be humble, and to understand that we cannot receive God’s gifts from man.  The love of God comes to us only from Jesus.

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blogging about weakness, believing in election

It has been some time since a flapped my gums, or played sticky fingers with my laptop … since I’ve blogged about weakness.  The whole point of this whole thing is a deep confidence that the whole of ourselves is wholly weak the whole time we live in this whole life under the sun!  So why have I failed to blog about weakness… or at all for that matter.

First, personally things are busy and hectic at home and at West Valley PCA.  God has continued to bless and work in our home as we adjust as a family (even 3 years into this) to living in the North East.  We just bought our “lifestyle” house, a mile from the home we have owned the past 2 years.  What a blessing to still be able to walk/bike to work, to the coffee shops and farmers market… and yet to be a bit removed from the buzz,  and to have a house with some space and kids rooms and play room and garage!  Thanks to God for his undeserved gifts. 

On the church-front, we are continuing to seek the face of God and be astounded by his provision at West Valley.  God is gathering weak believers, missional believers, in addition to weak and broken unchurched skeptics who return hungry for something that is just beginning to whet their palate.  So I am trying to learn how to lead a church that is 9 months old and dealing with gospel-incarnation, community needs,  space constraints, and vision/identity ownership!  May God remain central and glorified, gathering whom he would for his glory – our SOVEREIGN GOD alone is planting this church.  We long to be the conduits of a kingdom that is from eternity, to eternity “in our West Valley as it is in heaven.”  Suffice to say, my joy and submission to God’s calling our family here for such a time and season and people and gospel-work as this is envigorating.  As such, blogging has been less-exciting, and less of a call to my wandering mind than it was before the winds of my soul have changed…  Thank you for dropping us off here, O God.

And so I say all of that to blog an ounce about weakness.  Specifically, this morning I think of all my weakness (tiredness, sin-ness, self-ness,  soreness, etc.) in connection to believing in the comforting biblical truth that God has providentially ordered all of our days, our finances, our rooftops, our street names, our church facilities, our growth stages, our discipline needs, our hard-lessons learned, etc… even as he has predestined our “election” as his eternally redeemed children who have no other hope than his call and care and conservation of our very selves whom he has effectively given his grace, first to last.

What am I saying? 

I can’t believe I am a recipient of the mercy of Christ, by his sovereign grace and election alone.  That in my weakness I am all the more in Christ who rescued my broken frame from a world of pain solely because of God’s election to glorify himself by the extension of his mercy to one who has done NOTHING (Eph. 1:4; 2 Timothy 1:9).  I deserve to be a recipient of wrath, that he might be glorify his own justice.  But in Christ who gave my righteousness and took my just punishment, I am a recipient of grace, that God might glorify his own mercy!  And so I ask the only thing I can ask (even as a PCA pastor who has studied and made vows regarding the biblical doctrine of election): why me, O God?  I did nothing to deserve or receive your mercy!  Weak and impotent that I am to stop sinning, to love others well, to speak truth in love, to pastor people the gospel-treasure… Why me?

That question changes everything.  Everything is put in context!  I am weak but will worship my electing rescuer.  I am humbled to engage the broken around me, because I have done NOTHING to not be broken – God and God alone has elected to restore what I can’t fix.  I pray you know this gospel of God’s sovereign grace to bind up the broken of NOTHING in them and ALL for his glory.

How many Christians stumble on in weakness, burdened with doubts that would be erased if only they knew their salvation rested not in themselves but in God?  The doctrine of election tells us that it was God who sought us and not we who sought him; that God called us to him self in time because he chose us in eternity.  (Richard Phillips)

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weakness quote

If dependence is God’s agenda, then weakness is actually our advantage.

-Alistair Begg

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