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No Man-Made Gospel

I’m continuing to look at Paul’s letter to the Galatian church.  It’s a letter of correction because they were beginning to fall into legalism.  He had to warn them that a gospel of legalism was no gospel at all.

He begins by telling them of his personal walk with God.

I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.  I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Galatians 1:11-12

Paul tells us that he did not preach a man-made gospel.  It was received from Jesus Christ by the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

This is important for us to understand.  It’s the first time that Paul shares about his conversion to Christianity.  The book of Acts had not been written yet when Paul wrote this letter.  So he’s explaining the most important parts of his transformation.

Paul was a Pharisee.  He had to be trained for that role.  He went to a Jewish seminary.  He had huge portions of the Scripture memorized.

Yet, with all that training, he needed the revelation of Jesus Christ in order to preach the Gospel.  That tells me that the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus – has to be learned by the Spirit.  Paul makes it clear by describing what happened directly after his salvation.

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.  I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.  But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.
Galatians 1:13-17

I think that in our efforts to read through the Bible, we sometimes miss the little, important details.  The fact is that Paul preached a revealed Gospel rather than a taught Gospel.   But we say, “That was the Apostle Paul.  He was a special case.  He was writing most of the New Testament.”

In reality, Paul was human, just like us.  The difference was that he had already gone through the process of getting his theology from other people.  Now he wanted to operate by grace.

In telling us that he got his Gospel by revelation, he was not saying that Jesus Christ personally appeared to him in his room.  Jesus didn’t show up and audibly teach Paul the Gospel for three years.  That’s not the method the Lord uses under the New Covenant.

The key phrase in the above passage is when Paul says that God was pleased to reveal his Son in me.  The Lord was not revealed TO Paul, but IN Paul.  That’s what we need to grab hold of.

An understanding of the Scriptures concerning our salvation is a plus.  But in all honesty, our post-Christian generation couldn’t care less about what the Bible says.  It’s all about Christ revealed in us.

The true Gospel is not a list of memorized Bible verses.  It’s the story of how Jesus Christ broke into my world.  How He revealed Himself in my circumstances and changed my life.  The Gospel is not hearsay, but a valid testimony of what I’ve experienced.

That’s why we need to rely on the Holy Spirit.  Praise God for the New Testament Scripture that can teach us about God’s grace.  But we need the Spirit to make it relevant to those around us.

They don’t want to know about the Book you’re reading, they need to know about the Savior you met.

Question: How did Christ first reveal Himself in your situation?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 24, 2017 in Legalism, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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Which Gospel?

The Gospel is the Good News of what Christ has done for us.  Did you know that it makes a difference what good news you’re listening to?  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is very clear about this issue.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all.  Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Galatians 1:6-7

Paul has an open motive in writing this letter.  It’s to keep the church on course in serving Christ.  That’s why the Holy Spirit gave this Scripture as one of the foundations of the New Testament.  It’s important for all believers, for all ages, to be anchored firmly in the true Gospel.

There are a few things that are apparent from this verse.  First of all, there are many gospels that people claim to be the Gospel of Christ.  The unfortunate thing is that these other gospels are not Good News at all.

I think that part of the problem is that we never updated the word, gospel.  It’s simply the Old English word for good news.  But because we’ve turned it into a religious word, we’ve lost the actual identity of what it means.

I’ve heard many people preach what they call the gospel.  But I have to tell you, it didn’t sound like good news to me.  They were basically telling me all the things I had to do (or not do) so that God wouldn’t be mad at me.

I think we’ve all heard the saying that if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably isn’t.  In the same way, if it doesn’t sound like good news to you, then it’s probably not the true Gospel.  At least that’s the way Paul understood it.

All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.
Colossians 1:6a

The Good News of Christ is not about what I need to do, but it’s all about what God has done for me by His grace.  That’s what this letter to the Galatians is written for.  That’s what I’ll be looking at in detail over the next few weeks.

There’s another truth that the Apostle brings out in the verse from Galatians.   When you walk in legalism, you transfer out of God’s grace.  That’s what the word, deserting, means.

This is probably one of the most important subjects that believers need to hear.  It’s the call for us to steer clear of legalism.  It can rob you of joy, power, and fulfillment in Christ.

Paul had some strong emotions concerning those who preached this perversion of the Gospel.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!  As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
Galatians 1:8-9

I hope that you’ll be able to stick with me as we look at the book of Galatians together.  If you haven’t already done it, subscribe to this blog so you won’t miss a single installment.  I believe it’s that important.

Question: How would you define the word legalism in regards to being a Christian?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Legalism, Power of God, Spiritual Walk

 

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The Value-Added Gospel

If you ask the world what the church is all about, you may get some surprising answers. Many times I’ve heard the statement, “They only want your money.” Unfortunately, for so many people to have that attitude, it must be true in some cases.

As God’s people, we have to be very careful not to portray this type of greediness to those around us. We can’t play into the devil’s hand.

Of course, I do understand that the Gospel needs to be financed. I also see the huge amounts of money that pours into the entertainment and professional sports empires. I’ve heard some make the case that all these venues want is your money.

What makes the difference? Why do people spend incredible amounts on sports and entertainment, while at the same time they begrudge giving anything to the church?

The Apostle Paul had an interesting take on this issue.

You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed — God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else. As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.
1 Thessalonians 2:5-8

I would imagine that Paul had quite a ministry team. When he traveled, it was never by himself. Timothy, Silas, and Titus are just some of the men that traveled with him.

Think of the logistics involved. Going from city to city around the Mediterranean. He needed to constantly be thinking about food, transportation, lodging, and clothing expenses.

Yet, in spite of all that, he never came across as simply looking for their money. The reason is in the fact that he was willing to pour himself into the lives of the people he ministered to. People received something tangible from Paul’s ministry.

When I go away on vacation, I usually find a local place to worship on Sunday morning. I always approach the church, wondering what it would be like if I didn’t know about Christ. How would this church minister to me?

Most of the time, I’ve found wonderful churches that are doing a great work for Christ. But there are times that I walk into the church, and it’s as if I entered a 1970’s time bubble. People, who look like they don’t want to be there, are singing songs that don’t move anyone.

Then a soloist gets up and sounds like they haven’t ever practiced the song. Someone gives a speech that’s totally irrelevant to what anybody is facing right now. But when it’s time for the offering – the appeal is heartfelt – we’re told to give sacrificially.

Now please don’t get mad at me for this stereotype. We have to understand that this is how the world sees us. Remember, the average person is comparing us to the other places they go.

Earlier, I talked about sports and entertainment. Here’s the reason. The athletes that people pay millions to see give their all on the field. The actors we like literally pour themselves into their roles.

How can we give anything less for Christ? When we talk about how much Christ has done for us, and how much He means to us; our lives should show it.

Like Paul said, we don’t just give the Gospel message. We have to put ourselves into it. We have to lose ourselves in our ministry for Christ. Only then will people see the value in the Gospel.

Question: How have you shared yourself with the Gospel to someone else?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on May 26, 2017 in Ministry, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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What is the Gospel – Really?

In my last post we began looking at the second Word that the Holy Spirit gave to the church. It was Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Today we’ll look at an important “first”.

It’s always good to note the first time a word is used in the Scripture. It helps us to understand what the Holy Spirit means when He uses it elsewhere in the Bible. Sometimes preachers call it the “law of first use.”

Do you have any idea the first place in the New Testament when the word Gospel is used? I’ll give you a hint; it’s not in the Gospels. That’s because the Gospels weren’t the first books written. The Gospel of Mark was probably the fourth book written; which is close, but not the first to use that word.

Actually, the word Gospel is first used in Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians. This was the first of Paul’s epistles. He was writing to a young church he started with only a brief stay in the city of Thessalonica. Here’s what he wrote them in the opening verses of his letter.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.
1 Thessalonians 1:4-5

That’s a very interesting comment to make. The first time the word Gospel is used in the Scripture, it means more than just words. It’s a complete presentation of the power of Christ. Paul is very clear in saying that it’s not just words, but also includes power, the Holy Spirit, and conviction.

It’s unfortunate that in our day there are those who think the Gospel is simply a cleverly crafted message designed to convince a sinner to get saved. When we believe that, we’re only working with a small part of the Gospel. For it to be the true Gospel of Jesus Christ there must also be a demonstration of power.

If I’m going to demonstrate something, then I need to know what it is. In natural terms, power is the ability of something to produce change. If nothing changes, then there’s no power.

Paul tells us here that when the true Gospel came forth – things changed. It’s not like many of our meetings today where we say, “That was a powerful message.” By we simply meant that we were stirred emotionally or felt goose bumps.

My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.
1 Corinthians 2:4-5

As you can see, I’m not using some isolated verse without context. This teaching runs throughout the New Testament. The Good News must be demonstrated. That demonstration can only be energized by the power of God.

I fear that too many Christians allow their faith to rest on man’s wisdom, because they’ve never seen a demonstration of the power of God.

There are so many believers that have never seen a healing or a miracle. As a result, the Good News, in many cases, has merely become an intellectual debate. Sometimes, what we call the Gospel today, is void of any power to change the direction of a life impacted by it.

The Gospel has to be a Word from God, not just a convincing argument. When I speak what God is saying, then the Holy Spirit is free to confirm the message. People are convicted by the Word and their lives are forever changed.

We need to get back to being a people who spend time listening to their God. Then, once we’ve heard His voice, we need to step out and speak what He’s saying to us. This is the true essence of the Gospel. This is what will change our society for Christ.

Question: What would church look like where the true Gospel was preached?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on May 12, 2017 in Faith, Power of God, Revival, The Gospel

 

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Indonesian Testimony – Part 1

img_1935As many of you know, I just made a Vision Trip to the nation of Indonesia. A group of us were looking to partner with some church planters in that region. I’m going to take a few posts to talk about what we saw, did, and learned as we were on the island of Sumatra.

It was a very tiring trip. It took about 24 hours of travel time on three different planes. I found that it’s more exhausting sitting on a plane for six hours, than working at a job.

As I relate to you the stories about our trip, you’ll probably notice that I don’t mention any of the names of the people involved in the ministry there. That’s because Indonesia is a Moslem nation. Therefore, I don’t want the lives or ministries of these native workers to be in jeopardy. So they must remain anonymous.

Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world. We arrived at the city of Medan. It’s the largest on the island with 13.5 million people.

What first hit me was the “lostness” of the area. It’s a very dark place, spiritually. There are many Moslem, Buddhist, and Hindu influences in their culture. Of course, that doesn’t include the native tribal religions.

As I looked into the eyes of the crowds of people bustling by me, I was hit by the look of resignation in them. The average salary there would only translate to a few hundred dollars a year in US currency. It’s as if they know that their situation is not ideal, but they don’t see any way out of it.

But there’s more to the people of Indonesia than that simple snapshot. They are very warm and hospitable to visitors. Whenever they shake hands in greeting, they lightly brush their chest with their right hand. This means, “welcome; meeting you brings joy to my heart”.

We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
1 John 5:19

It was a strange experience being in a country with a people who so obviously need to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. What’s so unfortunate is that we don’t view the USA in the same way.

I realized that the same zeal that I expressed to reach the Indonesians must be carried over to the US. We may be more affluent financially, but spiritually we need an awakening. My prayer is that my time away helped to magnify my commitment to make Christ known in my field of ministry.

Because of the freedoms we enjoy in America, it’s so much easier to share the Gospel with those around us. Unfortunately, it’s also easier to put it off and wait for someone else to do the job.

It’s time for us to wake up to the fact that we’re no longer in a Christian nation. If we don’t proclaim Christ, then no one else will.

I invite you to pray for the people of Sumatra. Pray for the workers who are bringing Christ to that area in spite of great challenges. Over the next couple of posts I’m going to share some of their stories. My hope is that it will be an encouragement to you as you serve the Lord wherever you are.

Question: What short-term missions have you been involved with?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2017 in Missions, The Gospel

 

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Sowers and Reapers

agricultureIn my last post I talked about Jesus’ view His ministry. He told His disciples that He had food that they didn’t know about. He was talking about finishing the Father’s will.

Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.
John 4:35-36

In the natural, you can tell when the harvest is coming. You can tell how ripe the wheat is just by looking at it.

In the same way, there should be a spiritual sensitivity to when hearts are ready. I should be just as obvious to us that someone is ready to hear and receive the message of Christ.

One question that needs to be asked when we read this verse is; who is the reaper that’s receiving his wages? The answer should be obvious – it’s Christ!

The Apostle Paul talked about some of the same things.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.
1 Corinthians 3:5-8

Usually we think of this reward for our labor as future. But we need to remember what Jesus said. The reaper IS RECEIVING His wages. I HAVE food you don’t know about. The sower and the reaper can be happy together.

It sounds to me like there’s a reward in this life for fulfilling the Lord’s will. That’s something we need to think about.

Who was the sower that Jesus referenced? I believe that He was talking about the woman. Listen to what the townspeople said about her.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”
John 4:39

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
John 4:42

What was her reward? I don’t really know. It might have been children, or a stable family of her own. We have to wait to find out about her in Heaven.

Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
John 4:37-38

Which is harder – sowing or reaping? I think that it might be the sowing. Especially if we don’t see the fruit of the seed we plant into someone. Sometimes a soul that we spoke the Gospel to, is brought into the Kingdom by someone else.

There’s no need to get jealous about it. It’s the Kingdom of God that’s increasing. Everything in our lives is all directly related to the principle of sowing and reaping.

The bottom line is that the Samaritans ultimately believed because they heard Jesus speak. It’s our job to bring people to a personal encounter with Christ. That’s where we receive great rewards.

Question: What are some Gospel seeds you have planted?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2017 in Ministry, Spiritual Walk, The Gospel

 

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Missions Opportunity

indonesiaI want to share some exciting news with you about a great opportunity that’s opened up for me.

I’m on the leadership team for our association in the Southern Baptist Convention. Recently we received a call from some Christian believers in the nation of Indonesia.

The original missionaries to Indonesia came from the Boston area. They were martyred for their faith. Now a group of Christians from that country are asking if there are any churches in the Boston area that are willing to help them plant a church right now on the island of Sumatra. We felt God’s unmistakable leading to answer that call.

I will be part of a team that’s taking some Boston area pastors on a Vision Trip to see the work being done and to meet the church planters involved. Our goal is to form a solid partnership between our churches and these missionaries.

In order to make this trip, I will need to raise about $2000 for transportation and other expenses. I would ask you to pray about whether the Lord would want you to help out financially.

If you can’t donate money, then I ask you to support this work in your prayers. We want to see a huge impact for Christ in this part of the world.

We will be leaving January 14-29, 2017, so it’s important that I raise my support as soon as possible.

Any money that comes in above the needed amount will be used for future mission trips that the Lord has on my horizons.

I believe that this partnership could change thousands of lives for eternity. I would be very grateful for your support and prayers.

To financially support this trip, click here.

For more details about this trip, click here.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2016 in Newsletters

 

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