Justified by Faith Alone ~ Pastor Andrew

The date was October 31, 1517.  The 33 year old monk Martin Luther headed to the chapel of Wittenberg, Germany.  As a professor of biblical theology, Luther wanted the Catholic Church to discuss and debate the issues surrounding indulgences.  Like others who wanted to post academic ideas for discussion, Luther nailed his 95 theses to the chapel door. The Catholic Church of the time had made a practice of selling indulgences.  By purchasing an indulgence, the buyer was given a promise that loved ones could have time off of their suffering in purgatory. What drove Luther to challenge the religious system that controlled Western Europe?  Why question indulgences?  For Luther, indulgences kept people in bondage and condemnation, and this had been his previous experience. Earlier in his life, Martin had been saved from a near death experience.  In response, he became an Augustinian monk, applying himself to be the best monk possible.  Taking seriously confession and obedience, Luther became wracked with guilt.  He could never perfectly obey, nor could he find peace even after confessing sins for hours. Luther’s confessor and spiritual advisor, Johann von Staupitz, was becoming exhausted by the monk’s inability to move past his sin.  In a pastorally wise move, Staupitz pointed Luther away from continual introspection and directed him toward the merits of Christ. He taught that true repentance does not involve self-inflicted penances, but trusting in Christ’s atoning death.  He directed Martin to study and teach the Bible. Luther had always feared the righteous God.  A righteous God would punish unconfessed sin.  And Luther hated that his conscience never found any peace with God.  But...

Staying in-step ~ Pastor Gary

Do you ever feel that your public actions and statements are ‘out of step’ with your Christian beliefs? Perhaps you have even been rightly accused of being a hypocrite. The truth can hurt and leave us feeling shamed and impotent in our Christian witness. This Sunday’s text (Galatians 2:11-14) will put you in good company with Peter, and I trust, give you encouragement and hope to live in step with the gospel. Recently, we have been blessed by the attention given to some of the key doctrines emphasized during the reformation: the five solas (scripture alone, Christ alone, faith alone, grace alone, all to the glory of God alone). Knowing that our justification and sanctification before our perfect, holy God is by grace, through faith, and in Christ alone is wonderfully liberating, but this has always left some wondering if this means their actions and choices are of no importance. The Scriptures always affirm that godly devotion is an expected fruit of true faith. In this Sunday’s text Paul confronts Peter when Peter’s actions lead to a number of Galatian Christians being “out of step with the truth of the gospel (verse 14).” Our actions are important as they reflect either understanding (or misunderstanding) of truth, and will influence others. Earlier in the same chapter Paul writes that he resolutely opposed the circumcision of the Greek convert Titus, yielding not “even for a moment”, “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. (Gal 2:5)” In Peter’s case, when he came to Antioch he found Jewish and Gentile believers fellowshipping and dining together, and was happy...

Remember the Poor ~ Pastor Andrew

The poor.  I’ve seen them asking for money at intersections in London.  They’re warming up in a coffee shop on a cold day.  Their stories are varied and often complex: abuse, broken relationships, mental illness, injustice, poor choices.  The brokenness of the poor is often manifested outwardly. Yet poverty abounds in a bedroom community where there is a perceived affluence.  Our perception of poverty, however, skews our vision from the needs around us. In the middle of Paul’s defense of his gospel and apostleship, he says that the other apostles made one request of him: Remember the poor (Gal. 2:10).  It seems out of place, disconnected from everything else. Or is it? Our definition of poverty is often shaped by materialism.  People are poor because they lack money or resources.  Yet the Bible’s understanding of poverty is far more comprehensive and holistic.  Simplistic answers won’t do. Before the Lord, we are all seen as poor.  Some of us realize it (Mt. 5:3).  Others do not (Rev. 3:17-18).  Poverty is not merely due to a lack – lack of resources, education, power, or purpose – but due to brokenness.  We lack the shalom of God – that well-being that permeates our whole selves.  We are all beggars before a holy God – needy, sinful, weak, and wounded.  And it is those who recognize that they are poor in spirit who are blessed (Mt. 5:3).  In order to find any wholeness, healing, and salvation, we must come before God as poor as we are so that we might exalt the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, “that though he was rich,...

Generosity Reality Check ~ Pastor Gary

Notre Dame University’s Science of Generosity Initiative (http://generosityresearch.nd.edu/) has recently shone a light upon American’s notions and habits with regards to generosity and giving.  Some of their findings include[i]: About two-thirds of Americans agree that it is very important to be a generous person Americans perceive themselves as a generous nation 45% of Americans gave no money to charity in the previous year (including a staggering 40% of those who said a generous self-identity was important to them!) Less than 25% of Americans gave more than $500 annually. In short, a relatively small number give freely and generously whilst most give little to nothing I am not necessarily surprised by these results, but do find it very interesting to have such a significant gap between ideals and self-perception and the cold hard facts. What is behind this gap between intention and action? Often it comes down to perception again: too often those who are able to give do not see themselves as part of the solution. Giving is for “rich people” and, of course, they do not see themselves as rich. Did you know that to be in the top 50% of world citizens in terms of net assets (value of all assets including your home, car, accounts etc less your debt) all you need to your name is $3,210. Just $68,800 in net assets places you in the wealthiest 10%. The picture below illustrates the wealth level of the average person by country with the yellow nations representing the wealthiest and the blue and green the least. We can all find people close to us who seem to...

Unity in the Gospel Ministry ~ Pastor Andrew

There is something incredibly painful about church division.  In my pastoral ministry, I have seen conflicts erupt over a clock being moved, dishes being washed, and decorations gone astray.  Little things can become massive points of contention. As long as there have been humans, there have been conflicts.  Visionaries and lone rangers have often split and fractured the church.  Gifted and strong individuals are sometimes prone to exercise their gifts in divisive ways.  But the wise Christian knows and sees that the unity of the church was necessary for the success of gospel mission. What is so interesting about unity is this: the more you make unity a primary goal, the more elusive it becomes.  Unity is a fruit of gospel ministry. In Paul’s mission, he knew that the success of his mission was dependent upon having Jew and Gentile share one mind on saving faith.  So he worked hard to build unity on the basis of the gospel.  If the goal is gospel advancement, how do we work together?  Galatians 2 gives us some clues. First, no church succeeds unless they are on the same page (Gal. 2:1).  And differences can become barriers to cooperation.  But not for Paul.   Partnering with Barnabas and Titus, he ensured that their racial diversity as Jew and Gentile did not result in division but in a demonstration of gospel oneness. Second, a church moves forward when they are compelled by God (Gal. 2:2).  No inward neediness in Paul nor outward pressure to please people caused Paul to act.  He was motivated by the glory and revelation of God. Third, mission succeeds when...

Freed from the past ~ Pastor Gary

Sometimes I wonder if I had no past and no future, would I act differently today. That is to say, how are my daily actions limited by past failures and future worries? We know as Christians we are not to be limited by our past for if we are in Christ we are a “new creation (2 Cor 5:17)”, and we ought not fret for our future for just as the Lord cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field he cares for us (cf Matt 6:25-34). Thus, he expects (and enables) us to seek daily the kingdom of God unhindered by past mistakes and future concerns. We then walk in the newness of life promised to us able to glorify God in all we do, whether in word or deed. If you are like me, this is easier said than done. Think of the energy we expend in fashioning our lives in order to manage how we are perceived, what we may accomplish, and who we may impress. It can be an exhausting task. Not that we are to live lives void of ambitions, activity, and accomplishment. Paul spoke of the Lord granting us “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10b)”. Can we trust that He really has prepared us for our day’s work regardless of our past failures and shortcomings? Can we trust that he will make a way for us in the future, such that we are freed to serve him and others today with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do...