I want to share this week an article that has some very thought-provoking concepts. It fits right in with what we’ve learned from Galatians and Ephesians and will tie in with next week’s letter to the Philippians.
Five Day Reading Plan for Ephesians:
Day 1 – 1:1-2:13 – The Christian’s Blessings
Day 2 – 2:14-4:16 – The Christian’s Family (the church)
Day 3 – 4:17-5:20 – The Christian’s Character
Day 4 – 5:21-6:4 – The Christian’s Home
Day 5 – 6:4-6:24 – The Christian’s Battle
As we progress into the teachings and instructions that the Apostle Paul gave to the first century churches, we begin to notice a pattern in Paul’s style of communicating. He beautifully blends into every letter a combination of the following: personal; doctrinal and practical. Even though letters such as Galatians and Romans seem to be more bent on doctrine, when one looks closer you will note that Paul was very much into how the truths of the gospel should affect a disciple’s behavior.
Preaching and teaching today should strive for the same type of balance. All doctrinal preaching (what I grew up on) builds strong convictions but leaves little to live life by. All practical, behavioral style motivates one to right living but can leave one hungry for some biblical depth. And any type of preaching that is not personal (pastoral in nature, sharing from one’s life) certainly opens the door for dullness and Pharisaism (“rather tell you than show you”).
As you read through Galatians this week, linger on the thought of how we can apply the freedom from “Law” to our lives today. We are certainly enslaved to not only the laws of this world (sin) but also the laws of many who distort the gospel today (universalists, cults, authoritative sects, mainstream “religion” to name a few). For those of us who come from the roots of restoration thinking, we would do well to savor the emphasis Paul gives to living by faith and following the law of love. “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
Plus we must always be on the alert for two types of false teachers and what they seek. One, the charismatic leader who by his or her charm has a way with words that can control one’s emotions. Two, the authoritative leader through his or her emphasis on doctrine or discipleship creates expectations which can control one’s mind. These leaders and their respective movements lead many down a path that doesn’t clearly align itself with Paul’s teachings and leaves one “astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.” (Galatians 1:6).
Live in the freedom of God’s love and according to God’s truth. If you focus on a relationship with Christ instead of the religion of Christ, it’s not as hard and complex as we make it out to be. Live free, “but do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Galatians 5:13)
Five Day Reading Plan for Galatians
Day 1 – chapter 1 – Paul’s authority from God
Day 2 – chapter 2 – two Apostles clash over the Law
Day 3 – chapter 3-4 – legalism versus God’s grace
Day 4 – chapter 5 – the Freedom Chapter of the Bible
Day 5 – chapter 6 – our response to others
Among the things that few churches can survive are: division; moral failure; and a sustained period of either plateau or decline. Church growth studies show that, just like most things God created including people, churches also have a life cycle. These studies further show that very few churches which exist longer than 50 years will experience continued growth. Most will plateau, decline and eventually die.
The church in Corinth was not that old but certainly its life span was in jeopardy because of the other issues. The question facing them in Paul’s first letter was – will they repent, accept correction and turn things around? The monumental problems they faced made that possibility very tenuous. Churches are notoriously difficult to change once set on a downward path.
But occasionally there is hope and good news. There are some incredible stories in modern church growth that highlight “breakout” or “turnaround” churches. These are churches that were locked into mediocrity, traditions and sinful practices, but found God’s grace and power sufficient to see changes occur and a growth pattern reestablished. Usually that comes with a combination of: a “godly sorrow” that leads the members to repent; a gifted and passionate leader surfaces; the sinful element being purged; and a period of revival that allows joy and evangelism to resurface.
Corinth was the poster child for amazing comebacks. Paul writes his second letter to tell how happy, proud and thankful he was for them and their heart to still follow God. Amidst that joy, he and others were going through some painful sufferings and challenges. And so this letter comes to them, and remains for our benefit, to be encouraged that in spite of sufferings, issues, and sin, God still loves, cares and empowers his people and his churches!
Here’s the five-day reading plan for 2 Corinthians:
Day 1 – Chapters 1-6 – Discover who you are in Christ
Day 2 – Chapter 7 – The crux of the matter
Day 3 – Chapter 8-9 – A life of trust and generosity
Day 4 – Chapters 10-11 – Paul’s defense
Day 5 – Chapters 12-13 – Paul’s “thorn” and his heart for them
“As it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.'” 1 Corinthians 1:31
There is a book in my library titled, “The Perfectly Imperfect Church.” You would think it’s written about the church in Corinth. If there ever was a church who took the perfect plan of God and wound up with an imperfect model, it was Corinth.
If you’ve ever thought of the congregation you are a part of as beyond help or woefully short of the first century churches, you might be encouraged to know that this particular body of believers was messed up beyond description: a brother sleeping with his stepmother; members coming home from church drunk; divided into at least four factions (most would have split the church at two!); wild misuse of tongue speaking; settling disputes in the public courts; etc. It’s enough to make you feel rather proud of your church!
But important – as fouled up as they were, they were still God’s church in that city. They were still in the kingdom of God and Christ’s representatives to influence and impact their community. God doesn’t disown them nor give up on them – but rather uses the Apostle Paul to rebuke, correct and guide them in the right path.
One of their issues was one we are still tempted with. We bring too much of the “world” into our churches. Being from Corinth, a city of wealth, wickedness and wisdom, they had substituted the simple gospel for a “wisdom” of man that brought with it sin, immorality, contentious actions, worldly behaviors, Greek philosophies and a “showy” style. Question – what modern “wise” philosophies plaque our churches today? (Some are: materialism; hedonism; relativism; narcissism; authoritarianism; etc.)
The bottom line is – they were a defiled, divided and disgraced church. Paul wanted them to see the simplicity of God versus the wisdom of man. Paul wanted them to get back to the basics of the gospel – “…nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified”. Or, as the Message Bible puts it, “I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did – Jesus crucified.” (1 Cor. 2:2)
If we are to boast about anything, let it be about Jesus – who he is and what he did!
Here’s the five-day reading plan for 1 Corinthians:
Day 1 – chapters 1-4 – Divisions in the church
Day 2 – chapters 5-7 – Sex, marriage and lawsuits
Day 3 – chapters 8-11 – Mid-course corrections
Day 4 – chapters 12-14 – The body of Christ, the most excellent way, and spiritual gifts
Day 5 – chapters 15-16 – The gospel and resurrection
“The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)
This theme of Romans is also found in Galatians 3:11 and Hebrews 10:38, yet remains elusive for many of us affected by the common tendency to lean on our works for salvation and a right standing with the Lord.
From the first century teachings of the Apostle Paul, he speaks against the trusting of our own righteousness for our salvation. Yet in the centuries following, from the early days of Catholicism to current churches, sects and cults, many still follow a system of securing acceptance through performance. It’s a futile attempt as it breeds frustration, failure and guilt.
The exciting truth of the gospel is that God, with perfect righteousness, offered a perfect Savior to pay the penalty for our sins. All we have to do is to get in on it. The “gift” has already been credited to our account!
Add to that the amazing work of our Father who was both the Just and the Justifier – “he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)
5 Day Reading Plan for this week:
Day 1 – Chapters 1-3 – No one is righteous; Jesus Christ is perfectly righteous
Day 2 – Chapters 4-5 – Justification by faith
Day 3 – Chapters 6-8 – How we are freed from the power of sin, given a new life, and live in a right relationship with God
Day 4 – Chapters 9-11 – Israel in God’s plan
Day 5 – Chapters 12-16 – Right living and right relationships
Welcome to my new blog.
For the first several weeks, it will be devoted exclusively to the teaching series for this summer at the Ranchland Church where I serve as Pastor. After that we will broaden out the topics on the general theme of churches and disciples staying spiritually healthy and well-balanced.
The thirteen week summer series is titled “First Century Facebook” centering around the 13 letters of the Apostle Paul and imagining that were Paul writing today, he would utilize most of our communication tools, including social media. Of course, the Word of God does stay alive and relevant to every age and culture!
But how do you cover in one Sunday message or even one week’s time the incredible teachings found in each of Paul’s letters? It will obviously be fast-paced and concise as we seek to do an overview of each book. To do that I am using as a resource the world-renown “Be” series of commentaries authored by the prolific writer, commentator and pastor, Warren Wiersbe. His “Be” series now cover not only the New Testament but the Old Testament as well. One of the unique features of this monumental work is that Wierbe sums up each book of the Bible with just two words: “Be _______________.”
Using his titles and themes, here are the topics we will be following during the summer both in this blog, but also on Facebook, Twitter and the Sunday messages at Ranchland Church (www.ranchlandchurch.com):
- Romans – “Be Right” – June 5
- 1 Corinthians – “Be Wise” – June 12
- 2 Corinthians – “Be Encouraged” – June 19
- Galatians – “Be Free” – June 26
- Ephesians – “Be Rich” – July 3
- Philippians – “Be Joyful” – July 10
- Colossians – “Be Complete” – July 17
- 1 Thessalonians – “Be Ready: For Christ’s Return” – July 24
- 2 Thessalonians – “Be Ready: In Spite of Hardships” – July 31
- 1 Timothy – “Be Faithful: To Your Calling” – August 7
- 2 Timothy – “Be Faithful: In Your Beliefs” – August 14
- Titus – “Be Faithful: In Your Station” – August 21
- Philemon – “Be Faithful: In Your Relationships” – August 28