Pastor and Bible teacher Francis Frangipaine was once asked what spirit is most often the source of opposition to churches and ministries. He responded, “The Holy Spirit.”
How would you feel if you learned that the main reason your ministry (professional or otherwise) was difficult/impossible was not because you were opposed by the devil, but because the Spirit of God opposed you? In today’s Bible reading, James tells us that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. James is alluding to Proverbs 3:34, “Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he gives favor.” (ESV)
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Could it be that your ministry is unnecessarily hard because God is opposed to your pride? I know that’s a hard word to swallow. But it could very well be the source of your difficulty. Now, I’m not saying that all ministry should be easy, smooth sailing. In fact, I believe that all God-glorifying ministry will be met with opposition — sometimes significant opposition — from our enemy.
But as we press into God’s leading, seeking to glorify Him, edify other Believers, and testify to the lost and dying world, we should do all that we can to gain and maintain humility so that God will undergird our ministry rather than oppose it.
Spend a few minutes asking God to search you deeply and reveal pride. (Psalm 139:23)
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about rebuking Cephas (Peter) for his hypocrisy. It’s very appropriate for Paul to bring this out in light of the heresy of the Galatians. They had deserted the real Gospel for a false gospel (Galatians 1:6–7) that said if you want to be a good Christian, you have to be a good Jew, submitting to all of the aspects of the Law, particularly circumcision.
As I said yesterday, Paul spent seventeen years digging into his Bible (the Old Testament) reconciling the Jewish faith with the new revelation of Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection. So when Paul heard Peter — the apostle to the Jews (Galatians 2:7) — preaching this false gospel and siding with the legalistic Jewish Christians, he knew that the error must be exposed.
Paul drives home the point that everyone — Jews and Gentiles — is justified the same way: (1) by grace (2) through faith (3) in Jesus Christ alone (Galatians 2:15-21, Ephesians 2:8-9), three of the key doctrines recovered during the Reformation.
The legalism heresy Paul exposes in today’s reading still lives. It didn’t die with the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15). It just morphed a little, but it’s still the legalism heresy. It says that Jesus isn’t enough to give us a right standing before God. But Paul concludes chapter two saying emphatically that if we could contribute to our salvation, Jesus wasted his life and death; He died for no reason. (Galatians 2:21)
People today — people in the church — often say that if you want to be a good Christian, “You can’t drink, dance, or chew or go with girls that do”, you have to be in church every time the doors are open, and you have to give 10% of your income (the “whole tithe” Malachi talked about [Malachi 3] was closer to 30% and was a tax to support the Levites and their service in the Temple), among other things. A moralistic life looks really good, but it’s empty transactional religion instead of a relationship with Jesus that Paul spoke so much about.
Yes, Christians’ behavior will reflect a growing faith. yes, church attendance is very important. And yes, giving sacrificially from a grateful heart is very important. But doing these things will not make God think any more of you. Not doing these things will not make God think any less of you.
Those who would add to (or subtract from) the true Gospel demonstrate their ignorance of the true Gospel. Jesus is sufficient to give us a right standing before God. And Jesus is sufficient to keep us in a right standing before God. Let’s keep the horse (grace) before the cart (behavior) and avoid the Galatian heresy.
In today’s Bible reading we complete our reading through Hebrews. The writer of the book of Hebrews encourages his readers to avoid the love of money and be content with what you have. Then he reminds them that Jesus said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” He adds, “So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Hebrews 13:5-6 ESV)
How much time do we spend worrying about tomorrow? What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear? Throughout Scripture, we hear that God promises to take care of His children. (Psalm 37:25) God withholds nothing from those who live righteously. (Psalm 84:11) Jesus plainly told his Disciples, “Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough worries for itself.” (Matthew 6:34)
I said yesterday that the primary lie of the Prosperity Gospel is that Jesus isn’t enough. The true Gospel says that Jesus is more than enough. If Jesus promises “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (the eight words) we can truly say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”. (Hebrews 13:6; Psalm 118:6)
If God promises to provide for His children and then He promises to never leave us, what could we possibly need?! And what could we ever worry about?
Aside from a brain chemical imbalance, I suggest that if you’re consumed with worry and anxiety, you might need to go back and revisit the verses in this devotional from time to time. Memorize these precious promises from God in His Word.
Today’s Bible reading is in direct contrast to the message of the Prosperity Gospel. The Prosperity Gospel can be summed up with, “Name it. Claim it. Blab it. Grab it. Believe it. Achieve it and receive it. Or live in doubt and do without.” “God wants you to live a prosperous, healthy and wealthy life.” “You can live your best life now!”
The message of the Prosperity Gospel preachers is that if you have enough faith, you too can drive a Bently and fly in your own private jet. OK, they may not spell it out that blatantly, but if you take their message to its logical conclusion, you can control your destiny. The Prosperity Gospel preachers will tell you that if you have any type of illness or if you have financial problems, you just lack faith.
The world is filled with Prosperity Gospel rejects. They’re the ones who sent their “seed money” to the TV Preacher, trusting that God would make good on the promise of the preacher. It is essentially a transactional religion. If you do this, God is obligated to do that. If you’ve ever bought a candy bar from a vending machine, you know that if you put the money in, the machine will give you what you want. The Prosperity Gospel ignores the plain teachings of Scripture that you will have trouble in this life. (John 16:33)
The problem with the Prosperity Gospel and transactional religion is that God never makes the promises the Prosperity Gospel peddlers do. God never obligates Himself to anything or anyone. The bottom line is that God is God. And you aren’t.
Hebrews 12 says that God disciplines His children. The writer urges his readers to take heart when they experience God’s discipline because God disciplines His children. One of the proofs that you are a child of God is that God disciplines you. The flip side of that has tremendous ramifications: if you aren’t disciplined by God, you may not be a legitimate child of God. (Hebrews 12:5-8)
The next time you encounter God’s discipline, take heart! You’re one of His! And He loves you too much to leave you where you are. He wants the best for you. He wants you to look like Jesus. And to do that, He has to break off everything that doesn’t look like Jesus.
Sometimes He may discipline you as you read His Word. Sometimes He may discipline you as you listen to a sermon. Sometimes He may discipline you as you listen to Christian music. Regardless of how He does it, press into Him and ask Him to use this to make you more like Jesus. Ask Him to draw you closer to His heart during this time.
The primary lie of the Prosperity Gospel is that Jesus isn’t enough to satisfy you. It appeals to your pride. The truth of the true Gospel is that Jesus is more than enough to satisfy you. And the true Gospel requires humility.
In addition to reviewing the once-for-all sacrifice Jesus gave for our atonement, today’s Bible reading includes one of the most compelling arguments for being regularly involved in a local church.
As a pastor, I often hear excuses from people who have no interest in going to church. One of the most popular arguments is that they can attend church online. True, you can watch any number of Bible teachers and preachers online and on TV. Some are better than others.
Honestly, you can get a lot of good Bible teaching online and on TV. But instruction and music aren’t the only reasons we go to church in the first place.
Let’s go back to why we meet as churches to begin with. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us in today’s Bible reading that we shouldn’t neglect meeting together. Why? So that we can “stir up each other to love and good works” and encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25) We all need to be encouraged. We all need to be stirred up to love and good works. All of us.
I don’t care how good the preacher or Bible teacher is. You can’t be stirred up to love and good works and you can’t be encouraged with an online church experience, compared with an in-person church experience.
Besides, when you watch church on TV, you may not be watching a live-stream of a real worship service. Christian TV and radio ministries often heavily edit the content of their programs to meet time constraints. Instead of “watching church”, you may be watching a pre-packaged, edited production. I admit, before posting the audio of my sermons online, I run it through software to remove long pauses and then I remove coughs, sneezes, etc. But otherwise, I very rarely make any other kinds of edits.
Do I believe someone will be denied heaven because they don’t go to church? Of course not! There are times and seasons when it’s nearly impossible to get out of bed on Sunday Morning, much less to get dressed and make it to church. And there are times when you or people around you aren’t well and need to stay home.
But one thing you don’t need to do is to try to make excuses. If you are well — and sometimes when you aren’t well! — you need to be in church on a regular basis. You simply won’t be equipped for the work of your own personal ministry without it. Also, if you aren’t there, your fellow church members won’t benefit from the spiritual gifts that God has given to you to use in your church. So for your benefit and for the benefit of your church, you need to be there regularly.
As I type this, state and county Emergency Management Officials are doing something they’ve never done before. They are canceling all meetings and activities where there will be lots of people in attendance and in close proximity. This includes area churches and school districts. As a consequence of their unprecedented decisions, church leaders are having to make difficult decisions in light of the Covad-19 global pandemic. I live in Tarrant County (Fort Worth) Texas. Both Tarrant and Dallas Counties currently have “community spread” cases of Covad-19. In other words, people who have not traveled out of the country and who have not had contact with people who have traveled are testing positive for the virus. I pastor in the next county (Parker County) to the West of Tarrant County. As of right now, no one has canceled mass gatherings in our county. But I’m sure we will have to make decisions in the coming days as the virus continues to spread. Pray for us. Pray for people in our community. Pray for God to stop the spread of the virus. This is no time to panic. And this is no time to be calloused to those in our communities with fragile medical conditions.