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The Trial of Sickness

As we continue our look at Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we come to a point where the Apostle makes a personal comment.  He speaks about his first visit to that area.  He was the first to bring the message of Christ to these people.

I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you. You have done me no wrong.  As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you.  Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.  Instead, you welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself.  What has happened to all your joy?  I can testify that, if you could have done so, you would have torn out your eyes and given them to me.
Galatians 4:12-15 (NIV)

Paul brought the Gospel to this region.  When they heard it, they accepted it as from the Lord, Himself.  They turned to Christ wholeheartedly and were saved.  Paul has a fond memory of this time.

But there is a controversy surrounding this passage.  There are those who use it as a proof text to show that God doesn’t want to heal everyone.  They say that this verse shows that Paul suffered from an ongoing eye problem that was never healed.  And, therefore, healing isn’t for everybody.

I believe that Jesus Christ paid for our healing on the cross.  It’s freely available to all who believe.  For a more in-depth look at this subject, you can read my Healing 101 Series and my Healing 201 Series.

For now, I simply want to look at what Paul is actually saying in this passage.  Normally I like the NIV translation because of its simple language.  In this case, however, it hasn’t been very accurate with the original Greek.

I believe that the NKJV is closer to the original.

You know that because of physical infirmity I preached the gospel to you at the first.  And my trial which was in my flesh you did not despise or reject, but you received me as an angel of God, even as Christ Jesus.
Galatians 4:13-14 (NKJV)

In these verses, Paul refers to the sickness in two ways.  He first calls it an infirmity in his flesh.  The next thing he calls it is a trial in his flesh.  This is a very important statement in understanding sickness.

Remember this – trials are NEVER meant to be permanent.  Paul said that it was – past tense – in his flesh.  By referring to his sickness as a trial that happened in the past, he is also testifying that his healing has already manifested.  He has no permanent, ongoing eye problem.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:2-4

What is the end goal of a trial?  To bring you to the place where you’re not lacking anything.  Are you lacking health?  Consider it a trial bringing you to a place where you’re physically healed and whole.

Christ is the Healer.  Paul believed it.  James believed it.  I believe it.  Don’t let anyone, who doubts the Scripture, steal your joy.  Jesus paid the price for your healing.  Trust Him to bring it to pass.

Question: Do you have a testimony of God’s healing power?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

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Posted by on September 6, 2017 in Faith, Healing, The Gospel

 

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Religion – An Easy Trap to Fall Into

Why do you serve God the way you do?  Because people are watching you; or because you’re trying to please God?  Religion wants you to look at what people think.  It can make you do some strange things under the pretense of serving God.

I’m glad that when the Holy Spirit inspired the Bible, He didn’t whitewash the lives of the apostles.  We see them as they were – with all their faults and challenges.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he recounts a confrontation between the Apostle Peter and himself.  It all had to do with religious observances and trying to please men.

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong.  Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles.  But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.  The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
Galatians 2:11-13

According to ancient Jewish customs, it was not proper for a Jew to enter the home of a Gentile or to eat with them.  But now that we’re in Christ, these outward appearances should hold no sway over who we fellowship with.

There were those in Jerusalem, however, who felt that these customs needed to be carried over into Christianity.  These were the Judaizers that I talked about in a previous post.

At this point in his life, Peter had already understood that he was free to fellowship with Gentiles.  The Lord revealed it to him and then sent him to a Gentile home to preach the Gospel of Christ.  (Acts chapter 10)

When he first arrived at Antioch, the site of the first largely Gentile church, Peter had no problem fellowshipping with the believers in their homes.  But when those of the Judaizers arrived, he wanted to stay on their good side and stopped eating with Gentiles.

What’s important to see is that even though Peter didn’t believe that it was necessary to separate himself from Gentiles, he was sucked into a religious observance.  Religion places customs above faith.  When that happens, we alienate people.

Paul understood that it needed to be stopped before any permanent damage was done to relationships.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew.  How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?”
Galatians 2:14

The truth of the Gospel is that we’re all one in Christ Jesus.  Who’s house I enter, or who I eat with doesn’t make me any more or less holy.  The outside observances only serve to impress people (or push them away).

We need to be able to take a step back and question our own motives.  Why do we do what we’re doing?

Please understand that I realize there are many different styles of worship.  Some services are highly formal and ritualistic while others seem to have no structure at all.  It doesn’t matter what style you’re comfortable with, as long as you don’t invalidate those you’re not comfortable with.

Don’t let religion control who you fellowship with.  Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you can do something to make God love you more.  In Christ, you’re already loved more than you could ever imagine.

Question: How have you seen religion alienate people?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
 

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Different but Effective

I don’t know about you, but in some circles, I’ve found Christianity to be very judgmental.  No, not about sin, but about other Christians.  I’ve heard so many believers commenting about a ministry they saw on TV.

“I don’t know if they’re really saved.  I’d never preach like that.”

As we go through Paul’s letter to the Galatians, we see that the apostles understood the Gospel.  The message will always be Jesus Christ – crucified, buried, risen, and ascended.  The methods we use to bring out the message will always change.

Here’s what Paul found when he met with the apostles in Jerusalem.

As for those who seemed to be important — whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by external appearance — those men added nothing to my message.  On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.
Galatians 2:6-7

I think that it’s interesting to note what Paul had to overcome.  When he met with Peter, James, and John, he knew that formerly they were fishermen.  None of them had any Temple training like Paul did.  Yet he humbled himself and submitted his ministry to their scrutiny.

This is a sermon in itself.  There are times that God has us serving under people who aren’t as smart, trained, or experienced as us.  We have to watch our attitudes, stay humble, and be committed to our calling in Christ.

But what I really want to bring out is that in this meeting, the apostles understood that there was a Gentile method of preaching and a Jewish method of preaching.  They didn’t try to change one another.  They realized that there’s no cookie cutter for the ministry.

The methods may change depending on who you’re trying to reach with the Gospel.  I find that this alone causes a lot of strife in the body of Christ.

“I just visited a church where they let their people take coffee with them into the sanctuary.  I think that’s sacrilegious.”

“That pastor preaches in jeans and a t-shirt, how can he be a real minister?”

The simple fact is that my methods and personality will never speak to everyone.  If we want the world evangelized; different cultures, generations, and education levels; then we need to embrace the different ministries that are speaking to these people.

For God, who was at work in the ministry of Peter as an apostle to the Jews, was also at work in my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles.  James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me.  They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews.  All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Galatians 2:8-10

The bottom line is that in all of these methods, the Holy Spirit is at work.  People are being saved.  Lives are being changed by the power of God.

Yes, there may be some churches that I wouldn’t feel comfortable attending.  But that simply means that their method doesn’t speak to who I am.  It in no way invalidates that ministry.  I’m glad that the work of the Gospel is not limited to my comfort zone.

Question: How often do you pray for ministries that are very different from yours?

© Nick Zaccardi 2017

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2017 in Ministry, The Church, The Gospel

 

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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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