Stand firm in your freedom ~ Pastor Gary

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1 Are you a list-maker like me? That is to say do you start your day making a list of tasks for the day ahead? I find it a helpful way to prioritize and organize my day, and I enjoy a sense of accomplishment as I cross things off one by one. These sorts of lists, I believe, are helpful ways for me to be a good steward of each day God gives me. However, there are other sorts of lists that are more troublesome and we all have a tendency to make them; lists, real or imagined, that itemize what we feel we must do to earn favour with God. By now in our Sunday morning study of Galatians I hope as we read Paul’s words from Galatians 5:1 that “Christ has set us free” we have a sense of from what Christ has set us free. Primarily, we have been set free from law-keeping to earn God’s favour. We all tend to gravitate toward the belief that if we do the right things God owes us. We earn his favour by checking items off from a list: right behaviour, spiritual disciplines such as reading his Word or prayer, evangelism, giving, or in the case of the Galatians extra things God does not ask of us. Paul calls this mindset of rule-keeping turning back to the law, or even more pointedly “submitting again to a yoke of slavery.” So many of the things on such lists are good things, what could be wrong in wanting to do them? Well, it is about our...

Raised for Your Justification ~ Pastor Andrew

Around this time of year, mainstream news sources roll out questions about the validity of the resurrection. As sure as the ground hog shows up on February 2nd, questions about the resurrection arise before Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. What shakes me isn’t the mainstream media’s portrayal of Christ – it’s predictable and expected. What shocks me is the Bible’s portrayal of the people within the Bible. When I’m least expecting it, along comes some startling revelation. Consider Abraham, the father of the faith and the example of trust in God. Romans 4:18-21 describes Abraham as believing without wavering, a man who did not weaken in faith, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. But when I read Genesis, I read about a man who believes and doubts. After God promises Abraham many descendants and he believes, Abraham questions God about promised real estate: “How am I to know that I shall possess it?” (Gen. 15:5-8). Similarly, God promises that Sarah will have a son, but Abraham pleads, “Oh that Ishmael might be acceptable before you!” (Gen. 17:18, CSB). The Bible is brutally honest about the imperfect faith and the flaws of God’s people. There is only one hero in the Bible, and Abraham isn’t it. The hero is the Lord Jesus Christ, who takes imperfect faith and perfects it (Heb. 10:14). He takes not only our sin, but our imperfect record upon himself, and by dying bears the blame. But in being raised to life, God affirms the perfect work of his righteous Son and extends the benefits of Christ’s work to those...

Whose your mama? ~ Pastor Gary

What does freedom mean to you? Commonly today we see freedom in political, financial, and personal terms: the right to vote as per one’s conscience, the ability to do as one pleases without hindrance, the liberty to think and act as one sees fit in themselves. One definition says: “Freedom is the power to act, speak, or think without hindrance or restraint.” It isn’t necessarily a bad one, but begs one massive question – from where does such power come? Freedom is one of the fundamental concepts of Western society, but as the West moves further from its Christian foundations freedom is rooted more and more in personal autonomy. Not that this is new for humans, for from our forebearers in the Garden to every generation since, our natural tendency is to root freedom in ourselves and outside of God’s gracious, loving rule. Evidently, we are slow learners! Generation after generation, when we are honest with ourselves, recognize that just like Paul we ‘do not do what we want to do, but do the very thing we don’t want to do (paraphrase from Romans 7:15)’. And yet the human response is to retreat further and further inward toward personal autonomy as our only answer to personal bondage. How do you identify with Paul? Are there ways of thought or habits of action that reflect bondage to law and sin rather than freedom in Christ? Paul warns us that this is a continual battleground for the Christian. “For freedom Christ has set you free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)” As...

A Grief Observed ~ Pastor Andrew

I have some dramatic scars – some from accidents and a couple from surgeries. There are memories from each scar. As much as skin heals, it remains tender. Touch the tissue and it doesn’t feel quite right. Some of the deepest scars people have are from losing a loved one. The loss can be so deep, so painful, so palpable, it can feel like vice grips crushing your heart. Even after years, things don’t necessarily feel quite right. C.S. Lewis, known for his great writings, had analyzed pain philosophically in his book The Problem of Pain. But when his wife Joy died, Lewis reflected upon his loss in A Grief Observed. But Lewis couldn’t put his name on the book. Instead, he used a pseudonym – N.W. Clerk – and referred to his wife as “H” – a reference to her rarely used first name, Helen. The wound was too tender for him to have his or her names associated with this latter work. Grief and loss feels intense, lonely, and dark. We can feel like no one understands. Our broken heart feels the darkness closing in. But we were never intended to bear the burden of grief alone. “Mourn with those who mourn,” Paul says in Romans 12:15. The intensity of our grief can make it hard to mourn with others. So Paul instructs other Christians to have an empathetic response to those around us. Christians know that the Lord Jesus Christ is “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3). He was not merely sympathetic or empathetic of other people’s pain. Rather, His experience of...

So you want to go back to Egypt? ~ Pastor Gary

When the going gets tough to whom or what do you turn? The children of Israel, a mere three days into the wilderness after seeing God miraculously deliver them from Egypt suddenly felt quite comfortable complaining about their circumstances.  The first water they came upon was bitter and so they grumbled to Moses.  They had left Egypt on such a high: behind them they left their oppressors, and the life of slavery and abuse so long endured; and they brought with them the spoils of victory, having plundered the enemy of the riches of the land.  In Exodus 15 we read of the song Israel sang in worship and thanksgiving to the Lord: “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods?      Who is like you, majestic in holiness,     Awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? You stretched out your right hand;     the earth swallowed them. You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed;     You have guided them by your strength to your holy abode… You will bring them in and plant them on your own mountain,     the place, O Lord, which you have made for your abode… The Lord will reign forever and ever.” (from Exodus 15:11-18) Obviously, the awe and gratitude did not last.  In spite of continued provision as the Lord miraculously provided water, manna, and quail for the entire nation, the Israelites would not be satisfied.  In fact just a month into their newfound freedom they so despised their circumstances that they actually longed for the ‘good old days’: “on the fifteenth day of the...

Adopted as Sons ~ Pastor Andrew

“Are they really brothers?” The two boys, one Caucasian, the other with darker skin tones, had been introduced by their father to their hockey coach, and the coach’s question threw my friend. “Of course they are! They’re both mine!” my friend replied. “You know what I mean,” said the coach. Occasionally, parents who have adopted children face these types of questions. “How many are really yours?” The question is understandable – it’s a curious way of asking how many children share the same DNA. The wording, however, betrays what we think is really important when it comes to sonship: genetics. This was the question that was being asked in Galatia. Bacon-eating, former Caesar-adoring Gentiles began confessing Jesus as the Christ. Some from Jewish backgrounds wanted to know, “Are they circumcised? Do they eat kosher? Do they keep Sabbath?” What they were really asking was “Are they really our brothers? They don’t look like us.” Gentiles who knew that they had believed in the Messiah would understand that they had the circumcision not made by hands, a circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:28-29). Yet the questions still came from those of Jewish descent: “Yes, but are you really circumcised? You know what I mean.” This is no small matter. It is a question of identity and inheritance. Paul understood that the unity of the Church depended upon the answer to these questions. As one who was born a Jew, Paul’s identity was now found in Christ’s: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now...