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Category Archives: Encouragement

The Spirit-Fruit: Joy

I’m continuing my look at the Fruit of the Spirit found in Galatians 5:22-23.  Today we’re going to talk about joy.  It’s another word that we take for granted because of the world’s usage of the word.

When we think about being joyful, most people equate it with being happy.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  True joy has no connection at all with being happy.

The words happy and happen come from the same root word.  When something just happens it’s a random occurrence.  We get happy because something good happens.  Joy, on the other hand, has nothing at all to do with what’s happening around us.

The textbook definition of joy is to be calmly happy or well-off.  The fruit of joy goes a little further than that.

We need to understand God’s definition of joy.  Jesus talks about receiving His joy in John chapter 15.  It doesn’t take much reading to see that the main emphasis of that chapter was for us to remain in Christ.

“Remain in me, and I will remain in you.  No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine.  Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
John 15:4

Here Jesus talks about remaining in Him and bearing much fruit.  So the fruit of joy must be included in that.  But what, specifically, about remaining in Him brings us joy?  The Lord goes on to talk about it with His disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.  Now remain in my love.  If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.  I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.”
John 15:9-11

It’s a wonderful thing to be in Christ.  But there’s another step to take if you want His joy.  You have to cultivate that love relationship with Him.  That’s remaining in His love.

When you’re in a relationship with someone, then you know your place in that love.  In a relationship, I love you, and I know that you love me.  That’s what this joy is all about.

The joy of the Lord is the assurance from the Holy Spirit of who I am in Christ.  It’s knowing who Christ is, and who I am in Him.  If I’m in the Healer, then I’m healed.  If I’m in the Provider, then I’m provided for.

It’s the sense of well-being that springs from knowing who I am in Christ.  It doesn’t matter what comes my way.  If something bad happens; that doesn’t change the fact that I’m in Christ and He’s already provided the answer for it.

James understood this fact.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.
James 1:2-3

Why is a trial counted as joy?  Because it will show off the truth that I’m in Christ.  It will display who He is and why I trust Him.  What I’m going through will cause others to trust the Lord the way I do.

A great example of this was the Macedonian Christians that Paul bragged about.  When he was collecting an offering for the poor, he didn’t expect much from them, because they weren’t very wealthy.

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.
2 Corinthians 8:2

Extreme poverty and rich generosity really shouldn’t be used to describe the same people.  That is unless they know who they are in Christ.  That makes all the difference.  That’s the fruit of Joy.

Question: What was a recent time that you saw God’s joy operating through you?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

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Posted by on October 11, 2017 in Encouragement, Faith, Sonship, Spiritual Walk

 

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Religion is Slavery

Slavery is evil.  But when someone chooses to be a slave to an unworthy master, that’s just plain foolish.  It’s so unfortunate that this is the position many Christians find themselves in.

As we continue our look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he begins to talk about this problem.

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.
Galatians 4:8

Paul tells us here that before we experienced the true God, we were under the yoke of slavery.  Now, having come to Christ, we’ve learned the freedom that’s only available in Him.  Paul is perplexed about why anyone would ever want to go back to the old ways.

But now that you know God — or rather are known by God — how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles?  Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?
Galatians 4:9

Paul makes it clear that this slavery is not to a person.  We choose to be enslaved by certain principles.  And his description of these principles – this way of ordering our lives – makes it sound like it’s not worth serving under them.

He says that they’re weak, without any power.  I want my life to change, but trying to serve a set of rules doesn’t bring about that change.  I’m the same person I always was, but now I’m struggling to act differently than my natural desires.

He also calls these principles miserable.  The word he uses means a fearful, beggarly existence.  In other words, you want God’s blessing, but you’re so afraid that at any step you’ll do something wrong and lose it all.  You’re hoping that by your good works you’ll convince God that you’re worthy of His blessings.

I can tell you from experience that this is a miserable way to live.  And yet there are many who only serve God in this way.  They’re in constant fear of making God mad at them.  They’re in slavery to a no-win lifestyle.

You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!  I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.
Galatians 4:10-11

The bottom line is that God isn’t pleased with us because of our rituals and observances.  He loves us because we’re in Christ.  He sees us under the blood – washed clean and delivered from our past.  It’s not about ritual but relationship that brings us closer to the Lord.

I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Philippians 3:10-11

Please understand what Paul is saying here.  It’s not that he wants to know about, read about, or learn about Christ.  He wants to know Christ deeper and deeper on a personal level.  The more he knows Christ, the more like Him Paul will become.

Instead of fearing that we’ll get God mad at us, we should be drawing on our relationship with Him.  Spend time in His presence.  Let the Holy Spirit work in you as He wills.  Don’t waste time by putting yourself back under a yoke of slavery.

Question: Why is relationship better than slavery?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2017 in Encouragement, Legalism, Spiritual Walk

 

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Is there a “Glass Ceiling” in Christ?

Many people accuse the Apostles of being male chauvinists.  They say that in their writings they speak mostly to men and assign women to a lower position.  I believe that this is an inaccurate assessment based upon a mere surface reading of the Bible.

As we continue our study of the book of Galatians, Paul begins to talk about the concept of sonship in Christ.  It’s an important truth that all believers – both men and women – need to understand.

Let me start by saying that I’m not going into a detailed discussion of women in the ministry.  However, a careful reading of who Paul greeted in his letters, and how they were titled, shows that Paul ordained women as both pastors and apostles.

There’s no Scriptural “glass ceiling” that would keep a woman from attaining to any position or calling. It’s all based upon the will of the Holy Spirit in the life of the individual.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Galatians 3:26-29

What I really want to talk about is the use of the words son and sonship in Scripture.  Unlike what many teach, it was not the Apostles trying to make the church a Patriarchy.  In reality, it was just the opposite.

In the cultures of the day, which included Roman, Greek, and Middle Eastern peoples, the place of women were at the bottom of the social ladder.  At best, they were a piece of art to be seen and appreciated.  At worst, they were treated as property, slaves, or a family pet.

In Peter and Paul’s letters, this concept was totally done away with.   They elevate women to a new level of equality unheard of in their day.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.
1 Peter 3:7

Peter used a word in this passage that’s translated heirs with you.  It’s literally the word co-heirs.  This means that the wife is someone with an equal share and claim on the inheritance.  This was unheard of in those ancient cultures.

Women rarely, if ever, shared in their family inheritance.  But in the family of God, all this has changed.  Now women are considered of equal importance in the spiritual inheritance of the Lord.

In Christ, there’s no longer the differences and limitations placed upon us by society.  These have all been done away with at the cross.  In the first verse we looked at, Paul says that there is neither…male nor female. YOU ARE ALL SONS.

Why would the Apostle make such an absurd sounding statement?  He did it to emphasize the truth that in the Kingdom of God women have all the rights and privileges of a firstborn son.  God sees a woman on the same spiritual level as a man.

For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.
Romans 8:15-16

If you’re a woman of God, then never feel inferior or of less importance than a man.  You can go as high in ministry as the Holy Spirit will bring you.

Question: How has the ministry of women positively affected your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2017 in Encouragement, Ministry, Sonship, The Church

 

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Blessed with Abraham

Do you expect the same blessing that was on Abraham’s life?  You should.  In the book of Galatians, one of the foundational writings of the New Testament, Paul explains it with great clarity.

Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Galatians 3:6

He starts by explaining the basis of Abraham’s blessing.  It had nothing to do with Abraham’s good works, and everything to do with faith.  Abraham was declared righteous simply because he believed God.  That’s why God could bless his life abundantly – he was walking in God’s righteousness and not his own.

Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham.
Galatians 3:7

This is one of the greatest promises of Scripture.  If I believe God – just like Abraham – I can receive his family blessing.  Please understand that on our side of the cross, trusting God means that we believe and act on the fact that salvation is only through the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Now, once I’ve acted on this faith, I’ve been miraculously placed into Abraham’s family.

“Wait a minute, Nick, I’m not Jewish.  How could I possibly get in on the blessing of Abraham?”

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”  So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
Galatians 3:8-9

This is the Good News.  Way back, in Abraham’s day, God announced to him that the Gentiles would be able to receive the same righteousness that was available to the Jews.  What at one time could only be given to Abraham’s bloodline was now open to all nations.

That’s something I’m particularly glad about.  My ancestors are from Italy, not Israel.  But because of Christ and His work on the cross, God treats me as a son of Abraham.

It’s hard for us to see just how powerful this promise is because of the translations.  If you look at what was promised to Abraham, in both the Old and New Testaments, it puts it in a whole new light.  The promise literally reads; all nations will be blessed in you.

When this was given to Abraham, the entire DNA that would make up Jesus’ earthly body was in Abraham.  Since it’s in Christ that we receive this blessing, God could tell Abraham that we would be blessed in him.

That’s an important truth.  When I bowed my knee to Christ, God didn’t give me a separate blessing that was not quite the same as Abraham’s.  Because I’m blessed in Abraham, it’s the exact same blessing that he received.

That thought is repeated in the next sentence of the verse above.  The Holy Spirit clearly reveals to us that those of the same faith are blessed with Abraham.  It’s not a different blessing.  It’s the same one that God bestowed upon the first man of faith.

Please don’t get the idea that all God wanted to do was to save you and get you on the road to heaven.  He has much more planned for you.  You need to live each day with the expectation that God is at work in you, the same way He worked with Abraham.

And just to give you a “heads up,” as we continue through the book of Galatians, Paul will present this truth in even greater detail.

Question: What is your expectation for God’s grace in your life?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on August 11, 2017 in Encouragement, Faith, Legalism, The Gospel

 

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Leaders Care

I’m posting about First Thessalonians, one of the foundational writings of the New Testament.  At the end of the letter, Paul is giving some final principles that will help their growth.

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.
1 Thessalonians 5:14

It’s obvious that Paul is talking to the church leadership in this section.  The word, warn, in this verse is the same word admonish, that was used in the previous verse.  (I talked about it in my last post.)

These are things that true leaders should be watchful over.  The problem is that in our generation, so many people don’t want their leaders to be looking out for them.  We want to live however we choose with no accountability for our choices.

Then, if a leader truly cares about us, and warns us of the dangers of our lifestyle, we get upset and leave the church.  If God’s people are going to become a great spiritual force, then we need to listen to the exhortation of our leaders.

The first thing Paul says that a leader must do is to warn the idle.  This literally means to warn those who are out of order or unruly.

We know that the Lord we serve is a God of order.  The church, as well as our private lives, needs to be arranged according to His plan.  When we start deviating from His order, then we need to be warned of the trouble we’re getting ourselves into.

The next thing Paul tells us is to encourage the timid.  This is actually a very important part of being a leader.  The phrase literally means to relate near to the weak-souled.  The Greek word for relating near to someone implies telling your story to them.

A lot of times those who are weak in the faith think that those in leadership were born into it.  They don’t know the struggles, challenges, failures, or insecurities of those who lead.  When we share our stories with them, they begin to see what God can do through anyone who’s willing to follow the leading of the Spirit.

Another part of leadership is to help the weak.  This means to stand next to, and hold up the unestablished.  There are those in the body of Christ who haven’t put their roots down deep yet.  We need to be there to help those people to stand strong.

In a garden, there are times when you have to tie a young plant to a pole, to keep it stable, until its roots are deep enough to sustain it.  It’s the same with God’s people.  Many need the support and encouragement of a stable believer until they can stand firm on their own.  Too often we’re guilty of letting young believers fall away because we assume they know how to live for Christ right from the start.

The final part of leadership is to be patient with everyone.  Now that’s the tough one.  I’ve heard people say that they’re praying for patience.  That’s actually not the best way to become patient.

The reason for this is because patience is not a commodity you can receive; it’s a choice you have to make.  Patience is a choice to be willing to wait for God’s perfect timing in a matter.  It involves seeing things from God’s perspective and knowing that the final chapter of someone’s life hasn’t been written yet.

These are all important goals in the ministry of church leadership.  We, as leaders in the body of Christ, need to realize the truth that the Lord is looking for these qualities in us.  We aren’t judged on their response, only on our willingness to care for and encourage those under us.

Question: What growth have you seen in the lives of people who you’ve encouraged?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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Not Surprised

I’m looking at Paul’s teaching in his first letter to the Thessalonians. In this section, he’s answering their questions about the Second Coming of Christ. Now, Paul is going to move on to answer the next question posed by the church – when is it all going to happen?

Now, brothers, about times and dates we do not need to write to you, for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
1 Thessalonians 5:1-3

Paul’s talking here about those that aren’t prepared. Jesus used different words to convey the same meaning. The Lord said that to those not ready, He was going to come like a thief in the night. But He also said that the saints weren’t going to be caught unprepared. Even the way Paul describes it shows this truth.

Paul said that it was going to come suddenly like labor pains on a pregnant woman. Please realize that most women make it to the hospital in time. A mother-to-be knows that there’s a baby on the way. She even knows, within a few weeks, when the baby will arrive.

The woman can feel that there are things happening in her body. Sometimes they can even say, “It’s only a day or two now.” Why? Because she can feel within her that something is going on.

And then finally, when the labor pains arrive, she knows that it’s time to get to the hospital. She can feel them mounting. She knew what to expect, and it didn’t take her by surprise. Very few women experience labor so quickly that they don’t make it to the hospital.

That’s what it’s going to be like for us. We know what to expect. We’ll not be taken by surprise. The labor pains may come upon the world quickly and unexpectedly, but the delivery – the coming of the Lord – will not be a surprise to the church.

But you, brothers, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief.
1 Thessalonians 5:4

That’s why we, as believers, should not be worried or anxious about all we see happening around us. We have the light of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. We know what’s coming.

We should be living for Christ with the knowledge that God is bringing all things to the fulfillment of His will. This should cause us to be excited about the future, not worried.

We know how the Book ends – WE WIN!!

Question: What is your anticipation level when you think about the return of the Lord?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

NOTE – If you want a more detailed look at the Second Coming of Christ, then click here to read about my new book.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2017 in Encouragement, Faith, Return of Christ

 

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The Hope of Resurrection

I’m continuing with my look at First Thessalonians. As I’ve said before, Paul had sent Timothy to that Church to see how they were doing. Timothy returned with a good report of their growth. He also brought some questions that the church had asked during his visit. Now we’re going to see Paul’s answers.

One of the questions they asked was this: When Christians die, does that mean they’re going to miss out on the Second Coming of Christ? That’s a good question. Let’s see the apostle’s answer.

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.
I Thessalonians 4:13

Please realize that the term ignorant was not being used in a bad sense. Paul means that he didn’t want them to be without knowledge. He didn’t want them to be lacking in their teaching on the Lord.

He also uses the term fall asleep. The early church used this to signify that someone was dead. They realized that when a believer dies, they don’t cease to exist but rather enter the presence of the Lord. Their body, however, looks like it’s sleeping.

His first instruction to them is that they’re not to grieve as the world does. We’re not to act as people who don’t have any hope. We have an eternal hope.

We know about the resurrection of the dead on the Last Day. Because of this knowledge, funerals don’t hold the same fear over us that the rest of the world has. We shouldn’t act like we’re never going to see the departed Christian again.

Yes, I realize that there’s a parting process. You’re not going to see that person for a long time – so there’s going to be that kind of grief. But don’t grieve as if you’ve lost them forever. Don’t mourn like somebody who has no hope.

We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
I Thessalonians 4:14

Because of the foundation of the teaching of Jesus Christ Himself, we know that Paul is talking about the day when Jesus returns. He’s speaking here about the Last Day, the Day of the Lord.

We remember how Jesus taught that on that day, when He returns, every eye shall see Him. This passage reminds us that on this day, He’s going to bring with Him those who have died in the Lord. All the saints that Jesus referred to as being gathered from one end of heaven to the other will be there.

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words.
I Thessalonians 4:15-18

In other words, those who have already died in Christ have a better place in the resurrection than we do because they’re the first to be called. The Scripture says here that we’re not going to precede those who’ve died in the Lord. There’s a divine order to the resurrection.

Obviously, it’s going to take place in an instant. It’s not like we’re going to have to wait around for an hour. But in that instant, when we’re resurrected, the dead in Christ are going to be resurrected first.

Paul is calming their fears that those brothers and sisters who have passed on before us will not be missing out on anything.   They have a good place in the resurrection.

This should be an encouragement to each of us. What we see of the material world is not all that there is. We have a hope that goes beyond the natural. We should be looking through an eternal perspective.

Question: How should our future hope affect our present way of living?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

NOTE – If you want a more detailed look at the Second Coming of Christ, then click here to read about my new book.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2017 in Encouragement, Faith, Return of Christ

 

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