“Breaking Free”

Susan and I did away with regular television over four years ago. We did it to save money in order to go to Israel and never added it back. Now, that doesn’t mean that we do not watch shows because we have Amazon Prime and temporarily subscribe to CBS All-Access to watch a few shows during the winter and early spring. And I subscribe to Sling for four months while I host guys for the Football Fellowship during the fall. But otherwise, we do not have regular TV.

However, that does not mean that we are not inundated with commercials for certain types of pharmaceuticals. And nothing has changed related to these commercials. A new drug is promoted on a commercial, and the benefits are mostly clear, but the potential risks seem to be the bulk of the advertisement. Why? Because the medicines we take are foreign substances and our bodies do not always react well to them. These medicines are manufactured to help our bodies, but our bodies’ natural reaction to the foreign substance causes other problems. And these reactions can cause bigger problems – largely because of the response of the immune and the lymphatic systems – systems designed to prevent foreign substances from causing us harm.

Those two systems have been the emphasis for the month of June. We have reviewed these reactions with a comparison to an invasion by the enemy during a time of war, a deception by the enemy to prevent war, and an eroding of a nation’s health over time which caused the need for a drastic treatment. Today, we will look at the idea of being free from the trappings of religion to focus on the purity of the relationship with God as we emphasize the idea of being a hub of ministry.

The text this week is one we have reviewed a couple of years ago, but it is a great passage about freedom. The passage is Galatians 5 where Paul tries to stir the churches in the region of Galatia to embrace the truth of the freedom all believers have in Christ, to accept the responsibility that comes from the freedom, and to live according to the Spirit which brings that freedom.

Background

The churches in Galatia had received the truth of the gospel. That truth was shared by Paul, but others came to refute that truth and were claiming that the people needed to do certain things to truly be saved. A major part of that claim involved circumcision, but regardless a false gospel was being proclaimed (Gal 1.6-9). And that false message was causing people to question their faith. With that brief introduction, let us turn to Galatians 5.

Read Galatians 5.1

We Are Free in Christ (Galatians 5.1-12)

Galatians 5.1 could be the focus of sermons for an entire quarter. But let me get to the idea Paul is sharing here. I mentioned above that Paul was trying to refute a false gospel – and that message included the need for these Galatians (as mostly Gentiles) to be circumcised. After all, that was the “mark” of God’s people in the Old Testament. But the mark of a New Testament believer is a heart that is circumcised. And we cannot see the heart; rather, it is evidenced by the change in a person’s life. But that change brings true freedom when the change is due to Christ. That is Paul’s point in these first several verses of Galatians 5.

Paul uses metaphors to make his point. These metaphors relate to the rules and regulations that others were requiring of the churches in Galatia. Two such metaphors are being “hindered” (v. 7, in Greek, being “cut in on”) and emasculation (v. 14), both of which apply to the  idea of circumcision. Paul explicitly says that to view the religious rituals as necessary is to be bound by works and when that happens, we fall from the grace of God, content to earn salvation for ourselves. But we cannot earn salvation as Paul stated here and elsewhere. Our salvation comes from Jesus – nothing more, nothing less.

Now, as we will see below, we do have responsibilities because of our faith, but not to gain faith. We are free because of Christ and thus we should live like it. But that leads to one final thought before we move beyond this point. Galatians 5.1 means that we are free in Christ; we are not simply free. The freedom we have is from Christ, and therefore the freedom we have is in Christ. As we will see in our third point, that freedom does not mean extreme liberty. As Paul wrote in Romans 6.1, our freedom does not provide a right to sin; rather, that we have forgiveness when we do.

We Are Called to Serve (Galatians 5.13-15)

In the middle paragraph of this passage, Paul provides our true responsibilities. Again, he has just refuted the need to do anything to EARN salvation (it cannot be earned, Ephesians 2.8-9), but we should respond TO the salvation we have received. How? Verse 13 says we are to serve. Furthermore, that service is to be through love.

The whole purpose of our Hub Sunday focus each month is to share the idea of our need to serve others. Today marks the 12th Hub Sunday and we have settled into a routine with this idea. Much of the service is the same, and when I preach I often tie the message to the monthly theme, but this focus at the end of each month is more about what God has called us to do in serving others. Thus, next month, we will begin to hear testimonies from how others are serving. Some of that may be shared from time to time in the newsletter or in comments made from the pulpit or in a teaching/classroom environment, but people in the church are serving and that should be celebrated. So, beginning next month, we will bring more focus to that on Hub Sunday.

Additionally, you will hear from other people. Many of the Hub Sundays have seen others preach, but oftentimes, you are still hearing from me. As I mentioned last month, that is about to change. For instance, I already have individuals who have agreed to preach on Hub Sunday for each of the next six months.

The key for Paul and thus, the key for us, is that as we find ourselves free in Christ, we are free to serve as He calls us to do. Again, that service is to be done in love, and, hopefully in the coming months, we will learn of ways our congregation is involved in loving and serving which should inspire us to do more as a church as well as allowing us to celebrate what God is doing through this church.

We Are to Live by the Spirit (Galatians 5.16-25)

The last part of this chapter is rather well known. It contains a list of activities that are not reflective of Christian behavior and, even more well-known, a list of the various parts of the Spirit’s fruit. These nine parts of the fruit of the Spirit are to govern how a believer lives. That is, if we are free in Christ, then we have the Spirit of God within us, and we should find ourselves maturing in each of these areas. The areas are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

As we begin to excel in these areas, we will find ourselves truly experiencing the freedom we have in Christ, and desiring to serve God by serving others in love. That is, as we become more like the Christ (which is God’s goal for us), our selfish desires will change (see verses 17-21) and we will desire what God desires which was evidenced by the life of Jesus.

CONCLUSION

I began this message by discussing that all of the medicine we use has side effects. What I didn’t mention then is that the same is true with most vitamins, mostly because of how we take them – for instance, many are in capsule form. When I began taking more vitamins a few years ago, one that Susan offered to me was called Milk Thistle. I had never heard of this vitamin, so I asked what the purpose was. Her reply, “to help the liver because of all of other vitamins.” Now, in reality, milk thistle may help in many other ways, but many studies have been inconclusive. However, I had extreme jaundice as a baby, and my liver has always been suspect when tested, so if milk thistle helps the liver, then I am all for it.

But again, I am taking another pill to help offset the other pills. The same is true with another pair of medications I take. Thus, we try to become healthy, but can find ourselves becoming more ill. That Galatians knew this well. They wanted freedom in Christ, but were being bound by traditional religious customs. Please do not misunderstand me. Observing some religious practices are important/ The Bible is clear that are to be in fellowship with one another (Hebrews 10.24-25), worship in song and practice (1 Corinthians 10.31; Ephesians 5.19-20, Colossians 3.17, 23), etc., but much of what we claim to be necessary is not biblical (like circumcision in the case of Galatians 5). Alternatively, some of what we do not think is important (i.e. attending church) is actually important based upon the verses I just mentioned above (and many others).

Thus, we need to keep Jesus as our focus. It is Jesus who purchased our freedom. It is Jesus who deserve our allegiance. Therefore, our…

JOURNEY letter for today is:  JJESUS.

Jesus has made the way. And the Spirit is now our guide to that way. And the way we are to live is about serving others through love – a love that begins with God and is given to others.

PRINCIPLE: Our freedom in Christ will lead us to serve Him and others.

QUESTION:  Will you live in the freedom of Christ or in the fear of religion?

OPPORTUNITY:  Focus on the Spirit of God.

NEXT STEP(S)LIVE:   Live by asking yourself how the Spirit would have you live according to His fruit. Too many Christians focus on what they do (or might do) wrong. Yes, we should ask for forgiveness when we sin, but when we focus on what the Spirit would have us do right, rather than what we might do that is wrong, we will live our lives in freedom instead of fear. And that is a part of the victory that come with knowing Jesus!

“Strike the Arrows” (Hub Sunday)

Last July, we began Hub Sunday. Hub Sunday is a monthly focus to specifically remind us that our church is a hub. We are a hub intent on engaging people to be on mission within the community and around the world.

As I mentioned last month, my intent is to provide opportunities to others to share what God has laid on their hearts on Hub Sunday. I can stand and convey my thoughts, and I will from time to time, but you hear from me most every other week. So, hearing from others, gives us all a chance to hear how God is using the church as a Hub, rather than me simply trying to encourage us to be a hub.

Now, I know the response from some may be that, “Well, what are we paying you for if you are not preaching every week?” But the reality is that equipping others to serve, including to preach, should be a key part of my responsibility – particularly, according to the Bible. And God has gifted all of us in some way to serve Him, and a part of my gift, and more specifically right now, my development, is to equip and empower others.

A part of that empowerment is why we must think of ourselves, as Fairfax Baptist Church, as a hub. If we think about the messages this month, as it relates to building our muscles of faith, hope, and love, we can see why being a hub should be paramount.

We have hope – something that most people do not have.

We have faith – in Someone most choose not to believe.

We can love – with a purpose that most people cannot give.

As a true hub, we can show others the love of God, because of our faith in God, and give others a reason to have hope in God as well.

Showing love and sharing our faith is absolutely required according to Jesus’ own words in the Great Commission. It was echoed by the NT writers like Paul when writing to the churches to do this work. Why did Paul need to write then? Because of the same reason we need to review his words now. Because most people, including myself, do not follow the commands of Christ as we ought. And when I say most people, I mean all but just a very select few, at least most of the time. Why do I say this? Because I am convinced that the world is filled with four types of people. We will concentrate on the last of these today, but first let me define the first three.

People Who Do Not Know

This group of people represents most of the world. Estimates are that 7.7 billion people live in the world (more than double the number from 1972!). In 2015, the number of people who call themselves Christian was 2.3 billion, and I believe that number is VERY generous. Still, 2.3 billion is less than one-third of the total population which means approximately 70% of the world does not know Jesus. They need people to leave the hum long enough to tell them what they do not know.

Quote: “The gospel is only good news if it gets there on time.” – Carl F.H. Henry

People Who Do Not Grow

This group of people may know about Jesus, and may be a part of that 2.3 billion who call themselves Christian, but they do not grow in their faith. This group would also include those who may have been a part of a (or this) church for a while, but assume they already know enough and/or get bored with God. Thus, they may or may not be Christian, but they do not care about growing to be who God has created them to be.

Quote: “The church exists for one reason – to draw men unto Christ, to make them little Christ.” – C.S. Lewis

People Who Do Not Go

In one sense, this group includes those who might not go to meet with others who are born-again, such as at a church service like this. In fact, church researches now call those who attend church less than 15 times each year – the nominally churched. This percentage of people is growing. Sadly, they think they go to church, and will tell you they do, if asked, but the math says that 15 times per year is not much more than once per month.

But the other sense of this idea is the people who may go to church, but do not engage with what God is doing within the walls of the church, and are especially unengaged beyond the church walls. In that sense, they literally do not GO. They are tied to the hub and will not release out to be a part of the spoke. Many reasons exist, but fear is the primary reason. And, frankly, even the most dedicated Christian will claim that excuse at times.

Quote: “Untold millions are still untold, you have one business on earth – to save souls.” – John Wesley

But, we still have one more group to cover. And this group is even more true of most Christians most of the time, including myself. And, we find an example of a person in this group in 2 Kings 13 verses 14-19.

People Who Do Not Go Far Enough

In this story, the King, Joash (also Jehoash), seeks the counsel of Elisha. Why? This holy leader is dying and the King wants a blessing from him. The phrase the king cries out may seem strange, but this is the exact phrase that Elisha cried out when he saw Elijah being carried up into the whirlwind (2 Kings 2.12). Thus, Joash was linking the power of Elisha and Elijah – two of the great miracle-working prophets of the Old Testament.

So, Elisha tests him. First, Joash is instructed to take a bow and draw it. Then, with Elisha’s hands on Joash’s, Elisha says to have the window opened and to release the arrow. The king did so and Elisha said that Israel would be victorious over Syria (their enemy).

Then, Elisha instructed Joash to take the arrows and strike the ground with them. Again, the kind did so. But then we get an unexpected surprise. Elisha was angry and said that Joash should have struck them several more times to make the victory complete. What we must realize is that Elisha said to strike the ground. He never said stop.

The issue is that very few people are willing to go as far as God wants them. I will admit, I have had a few times when I have been determined to go that far, but most of the time, I do not. Some will say that I may go further (and/or farther) than others, but that is not what God asks. God asks us to go as far as He leads.

The Example of Jesus

Think about Jesus in Gethsemane. In Mark 14, Jesus leads His disciples to the garden. He tells the main group to stop before leading Peter, James, and John deeper into the garden (v. 33). But then, He tells them to wait and the text says, “And going a little farther…” (v. 35). Jesus went a little farther. The problem for most of us is that we think Jesus will ask too much of us. We may be willing to go, but we are not willing to go too far, lest we find ourselves in trouble. But notice that Jesus did not do that with his disciples, and He will not do that to us. He knew what His disciples were capable of doing, and how far they were capable of going at that moment. He will lead people farther, but prepares us along the way. It was true then; it is still true today.

The Example of Paul

At the end of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul talks about running the race to win the prize. He says that he disciplined his body so he would be ready and not be disqualified. I hear a lot of athletes who say, “I am just grateful to be here.” For Paul that was not enough. Paul wanted to win. And it was not just a race of running with his legs; it was the race of faith which he later says he finished (2 Timothy 4.7).

Both Jesus and Paul did not quit until they were told to quit. But Joash did. We are not told how many arrows he had. Maybe it was three, so he struck once for each arrow. Or maybe he struck three times because three was a ritualistic number in Old Testament times. We simply do not know that answer. But we can know that he stopped short of what was required, and thus, Joash and the nation of Israel would not receive the benefit he, or the nation, desired.

In the words, used earlier, Joash was willing to go, but he was not willing to go far enough.

Quote: “Never pity missionaries; envy them. They are where the real action is, where life and death, sin and grace heaven and hell converge.” – Robert C. Shannon

Our JOURNEY

As we consider the idea of a hub, each one of us has to ask the following question: Which category best describes me? Are you one who does not know, who has not grown, who does not go, or, like me, one who often does not go far enough?

You cannot truly engage the JOURNEY until you honestly answer that question for yourself. But if you want to be on a true JOURNEY with Jesus (which certainly implies going!), then you have to ask yourself the next question: What will I do differently to move to the next type of person? Or said another way: What can I do to move beyond these classifications and truly be who God has created me to be?

Our vision is to be “a large church in a small town” which is based upon Jesus statement that we ARE the light of the world. Are you shining or have you burned out? The more we shine individually, the brighter we are collectively, and the benefit, in Jesus’ words, is that the Father in heaven will be glorified.

Again, Jesus will not push you too far too fast, but He does expect all of us to grow and go further than we are currently going. Like with His first disciples, He took them as far as they could go in that moment, but eventually He sent them into all the world.

What’s Next? The Challenge

You might recall the question I asked so often last year. I have modified it a bit, but for our light to shine and to be the church God wants us to be does not require rocket science. It requires obedience to serve in a way that He has already gifted you to serve. Thus, in going a little further, a practical outlet can begin with the question:

What can I do, if done well, can benefit this church and the Kingdom of God?

I need to engage other people in the process. You need to let others know what God is doing in your life. We all need to simply encourage one another, and to inspire others, and then invite them to join. But unless we all go a little bit further, we will not be as effective as God wants us to be, as Wayne Cordeiro reminds us in the following quote.

“I’m convinced that the influence a church has on its community will be determined in large part not by the personality of the pastor, the size of its building or how long the ministry has worked in the community. It will be determined instead by the percentage in the ministry of each member.” – Wayne Cordeiro

We have everything we need to overcome any problem we are facing. But we must have faith in the One who has given us what we need to use what we need to accomplish what He needs.

God’s work will be done. He is waiting for people who will go a little further to make it happen in our midst. He is waiting for people to be obedient to what He has called them to do. As Gandhi said, “The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problem.” If that is true for the world, then it must be true for this church, and it certainly is at the heart of what Jesus wants from us for His Kingdom.

“God’s work done God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” – Hudson Taylor

Next Step:        LIVE – Go a little further even if that means going a little farther.