God as Father

by Chad Allen, Lead Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church

Last weekend I taught about God as our Father and us as His children.  There are times when we may doubt our salvation or identity as God’s child, or performance and works thinking will flood our minds or heart, or we slip back into letting our sense of worth and value be determined by our successes and failures in this life rather than what God has said is true of those who have come to faith in Christ.

When that happens , it is very helpful to read, meditate and even pray back Scriptures that affirm that those who are in Christ are truly children God. The title and status of being God’s child and rests not on our character and faithfulness, but on Gods.

If this has been something you have been wrestling with or want to learn more on, I recommend these verses to read, reflect on a pray through:

To drill down even more on this topic of Assurance, I highly recommend reviewing Week 1 (pages 1-18) in our Living New book on Amazon or download the Chapter 1 for free..

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Parenting Through Galatians

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

Conscientious parents often fill up their shelves with great books on how to parent well. That’s not a bad idea. But we know that the best book on parenting is the Bible. When you explore the Bible, however, you will find only a few passages of scripture that deal directly with the topic of parenting. That doesn’t mean that we can’t make application from other sections of the Bible.
I want us, in this blog post, to read through a bit of Galatians 3 and make an application to parenting. As we work our way through the text,  I hope you will see how you can make application of other sections of scripture to your heart as a parent. Let’s start with Galatians 3:2.
2 Let me ask you [parents] only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? [Are you seeking to perfect your child by the flesh – by demanding obedience, by threats and coercion, by your rules that force change from the outside in?]
5 Does He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? Galatians 3:2-3, 5 
Do you want a miracle in the life of your son or daughter? Parent them in the Spirit and not in the flesh. Live your own life by grace through faith and not by rules, rituals, and regulations.
10 For all [parents] who rely on works of the law [to parent his or her child] are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
Nobody can keep all the rules. The best child can’t keep all the rules. So, if you set up a system that subtly communicates that your approval of your child is based on their keeping the family rules, then you are creating a “no-win“ situation for both you and for them.
You have to ask yourself, “What am I trying to produce? Am I trying to produce someone who makes me look good to my mom and dad or my brothers and sisters? Or am I trying to equip someone to follow Jesus? Am I trying to produce someone who will be a success in the eyes of the world? Or am I trying to raise someone who will be pleasing to Christ because they know how to trust and love Him? Am I trying to produce someone who will turn out to be a self-righteous little Pharisee? Or am I trying to encourage someone to be able to humbly walk with their God?
11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law [by keeping the household rules], for “The righteous shall live by faith.”
What we want is for our children to be truly righteous. And the only way they can be truly righteous is not by a “do more, try harder“ life. The only way your child can be righteous is by grace through faith in Jesus.
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God?
Are family rules a bad idea? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. If a family rule could bring life to child, then that child would be right with God through self-effort. There would be no need for Christ, then.
We just need to understand that the family rules have no power to give life to a child’s heart. Instead, the rules serve to expose the rebellion that’s in a child’s heart so that the child will run to Jesus Christ for forgiveness and for an ability to live the kind of life that he or she knows they have to be living.
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law [the do’s and don’ts of the family rules], imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed.
24 So then, the law [the family rulebook] was our guardian [showing us right from wrong] until Christ came [until Christ enters into the heart of your child], in order that we might be justified by faith.
Your family rules are there to show your children their need for Christ so that they might be made right with God through their faith in Jesus.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian
Your kids after coming to faith in Christ have an internal guidance system. The family rules no longer dominate or dictate everything].
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
Your child can be a beloved children of God, alive, and well, and led by the Spirit to keep the rules not from the outside in but from the inside out – not because he or she has to but because he or she wants to.
You can parent in the flesh. Or you can parent in the Spirit. Which do you choose? The choice is obvious, right?
If you are going to parent in the Spirit then you have to stay in step with the Spirit. “A Spirit-led parent will have a fruit filled-home,” says Chad Allen.
  • What other section of scripture do you think you could use in a similar way to help you as a parent?
  • Would you take your time to work through a text, write down your thoughts, and apply the truths to your life as a parent?

Parenting 216 – A Scenario

Please read through this scenario to help you prepare for this weekend’s message. You might want to read it as a family. You’ll find a few questions at the end to use for reflection and conversation.

Zach grew up in a broken home. His dad and his mom fought a lot. Zach’s dad slowly began to check out until one day, he left—for good. He came to an occasional ball game and sent birthday cards with a check inside. But he never really made an emotional investment in his son. Zach never fully felt loved, accepted, or valued.

He tried to find those things in all the wrong places as he grew up. He worked hard to impress his coaches, his teachers, and, of course, the girls.

When he graduated from high school, he went o to an in-state college. He was committed to working and paying his way through school.

But two months after he arrived at the university, one of his high school girlfriends called to let him know that she was pregnant. He came home that very weekend and pressured her to have an abortion saying that they just didn’t have the maturity or the money to take care of a child. Plus, their whole lives were ahead of them.

Back on the campus, the guilt of what he had done began to drag him down into a depression. He started missing class. He started drinking every night. He hit on every girl who would give him even the slightest bit of interest. His grades plummeted. He didn’t even go back for his second semester. Having gone back to his hometown, he held a series of jobs—none with any real future. His drinking grew worse. Once, he was arrested for disorderly conduct after a bar fight. He started experimenting with drugs. He had a series of one-night stands. His life was a mess.

He met a girl that he liked. Megan. She was the most beautiful, kind, and sweet girl he’d ever met. She was a follower of Jesus. So, she politely told him that she really couldn’t date him because he wasn’t committed to Christ.

Zach remembered a coach in high school who also talked a lot about Jesus. He met the coach for breakfast. The coach told him why Megan could not even entertain the idea of having a relationship with Zach.

Then the coach asked, “So, how are things going?” And Zach began to talk about all that was broken in his life. That’s when the coach shared about the grace of God offered through Jesus. Zach learned that Christ loved him so much that He died on the cross to forgive him for the abortion, the bad grades, the wasted time, the partying, the one-night stands, the fights, the drunkenness, the drug use, and the bitterness and anger. Zach learned that Jesus would give him the acceptance, the love, and the sense of worth that he had been looking for all his life.

The coach gave Zach a Bible and told him to read the gospel of John. One night, alone in his room, Zach picked up the Bible and began to read. He came to John 3 where Jesus said, “You must be born again.” He wondered, “What does this mean?” He called his coach. On the phone, the coach led Zach to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior. Zach immediately felt a grace and a love and a freedom like he’d never felt his whole life.

Zach started attending church. Of course, he went to the church that the beautiful, kind, and sweet young woman attended. Megan kept her distance for a while, waiting to see if this commitment to Christ was real. It was. Zach was baptized, helped out in the children’s ministry, rarely missed a service, and went on several mission trips. He was hungry to grow spiritually. After about a year, the girl said “yes” to a date. In another year’s time, they were engaged. Six months later, they were married.

Children came a few years later. Two boys and a girl. Zach was committed to not being an absentee father like his dad was. He was also committed to making sure that his children didn’t make the same mistakes that he had made. He wanted to keep them safe from partying, drinking, drugging, fighting, and premarital sex. So, family rules were established. Any violation was quickly punished—followed, of course, by an embrace and an “I-love-you.” Missing church was not an option. Family devotions were routine. Volunteering was a must. Memorizing the family rules and key Bible verses were a focus. When the kids grew older, a strict curfew was enforced.

At first, Megan loved all of this. All Zach could think about was how to make family life better. But Zach wasn’t really happy. Zach’s voice would rise when the kids misbehaved. His anger too often raged. The kids began to act out. Megan spent many lonely nights staring at the ceiling, listening to Zach’s quiet snore, and wondering, “Why does serving Jesus have to be so hard? What happened to my sweet family? Where are my kids going to end up? How can I get my husband back?”

  • What happened to Zach?
  • Why is he angry?
  • How did this family get where they are?
  • How do you think these kids end up?
  • How can things be changed for the better?

Self-Assessment: Fruit of the Spirit

by Chad Allen, Cuyahoga Valley Church Lead Pastor

Now, I know what you are thinking, because I have thought it many times myself… I look at that list and think, yah.. patience… not rocking it there, or Self-control… what’s that?  IF God has given us this fruit of the Spirit how come it seems like I have some of them but not all of them?

Again, think fruit, think organic, think growth.  we are all developing.

All the characteristics of the fruit of the Spirit are in you, some are just more developed than others.  When it comes to parenting, maybe you have a great love for your kids, but the patience is still growing.  Maybe self-control is strong, but gentleness is still developing.  We are not perfect, we are not fully mature in our faith, we still have areas that God is improving and refining, or to use a bigger theological word, sanctifying.

But we can be highly encouraged and motivated by realizing that if we are cooperate with what God is doing in us, then we will truly see that a Spirit led parent will have a fruit filled home

Let’s take a closer look at what God has given us in Christ through the Spirit. And even have a small self-inspection moment.


LOVE (agapē) – not merely affectionate feelings, but a self-denying and self-sacrificing act of the will to freely give of oneself to another

QuestionAm I growing in my love for others without being motivated by the hope that I will receive something in return, but to just love others freely like Christ loves me freely?

JOY  – a deep and lasting supernatural delight, rooted in the Lord and His purposes, present in both good and bad circumstances.

Question – Am I experiencing a regular joy in my life that is dependent on God rather than things going my way?

PEACE – (eirēnē from Hebrew Shalom) – An inward calmness and well-being even in the midst of difficulties knowing that God is in control and I can rest in Him.

Question –  Am I growing in a sense of peace in my life, even when I’m experiencing a little or massive hardships?

PATIENCE – (makrothumia) makros (long) thumos (temper) longsuffering, to put up with, holding back our temper even when provoked.

Question – Am I experiencing a greater ability to tolerate life’s irritations and inconveniences without lashing out?

KINDNESS  – a compassionate and considerate attitude towards others and wanting to help them and meet their needs

Question – Am I noticing the needs of others and drawn to compassionately meet them?

GOODNESS  – a character of holiness that God is working into your life leading to a greater love for what is good and right

Question – Am I experiencing growth in doing what is good. for me and for others, for the glory of God?

FAITHFULNESS  – one who is reliable, trustworthy and has integrity

Question – Am I experiencing growth in integrity as others around me are experiencing a greater trust in my words and actions?

GENTLENESS  – controlled strength, meekness but not weakness, strength wrapped in tenderness.

Question – Am I increasing in gentleness and tenderness in my words and actions as I interact with others?

SELF-CONTROL – keeping selfish and sinful desires and urges under control

Question – Am I experiencing less control by my sinful desires and more control of the Holy Spirit in my life?

 

Angels of God: Praying for our missionaries and church planters 

By Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

Several years ago I received a framed commendation from our missionary partners in Ghana, West Africa. It was, I felt, very undeserved and way, way, way over the top. It’s, frankly, a little embarrassing. But I’m going to share it anyway because I think it illustrates a truth in our Bible passage from this past weekend – how people should view those who bring to them the good news of Jesus Christ.

Nzema Baptist Association of the Ghana Baptist Convention

Citation: Reverend Rick Duncan

You are God’s shepherd who has not limited your works to a confined area but spread your word to our community.

Reverend, your support has actually been felt to the skeleton of the Nzema Baptist Association. Without you, we would still be wading through the storm.

The Nzema Baptist Association appreciates and acknowledges your continuous support and concern for the upkeep and growth of the new association.

Rick, kudos from all Nzemas. Never relent on your support and good works and Jehovah God will triple all that you might have lost.

May God continue to strengthen and bless you!!

Africa

I do appreciate this, but this is way, way, way over the top. It’s overly effusive language. There are others at Cuyahoga Valley Church who deserve this type of recognition from our partners in Africa much, much more than I do.

But what I want us to see is that when you bring the gospel to people, there is a tangible appreciation that they will have for your efforts.

And that’s what we see in Galatians 2:8-20. A group of people in Galatia, a region of modern-day Turkey, saw Paul, the missionary/church planter who came to them as an angel of God.

Though my condition was a trial to you, you did not scorn or despise me, but received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. Galatians 2:14

I am pretty sure that he never received a fancy gold-framed certificate like I did. But they received Paul as an angel of God – a messenger of God, like he was Jesus Himself.

Being seen as an angel by the people you were sent to reach is, I think, a pretty good goal for every missionary and church planter.

In fact, I think it’s absolutely legitimate for us to pray that every missionary and every church planter that we support at CVC will be seen by the people they were sent to reach as angels of God.

It struck me as I was reading Galatians 2:14 that in this year when we are emphasizing prayer, we might learn to pray for our missionaries and church planters much more faithfully and much more biblically.

I want to give you a little background as to why Paul even came to Galatia in the first place. Before Paul ever went to Galatia to share Christ and start churches, he was sent by his home church in Antioch.

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:2-3

We see here how important it is for missionary work to be initiated by and supported with prayer and fasting.

Pastor John Piper said about this passage, “This moment of prayer and fasting resulted in a missions movement that would make Christianity the dominant religion of the Roman Empire within two-and-a-half centuries and would yield 1.3 billion adherents of the Christian religion today with a Christian witness in virtually every country of the world.”

David Platt commented, “The synergy between the call of the Spirit and the prayerful response of the church resulted in a supernatural spread of the gospel that continues to this day.”

We dare not underestimate and we cannot overestimate the importance of prayer to the advancement of the gospel of Jesus through our missionaries a church planters.

Today, I want us to focus on learning how to pray for those who point us to Christ – especially missionaries and church planters. That’s what Paul was to the Galatians. He was a missionary to them. And he planted churches there. So, we can learn some things from his life and mission that will help us pray more effectively for all missionaries and church planters.

We don’t want to pray generic prayers. “Lord, bless our missionaries“ is an example of a generic prayer.

Instead, let’s learn to pray 7 specific prayers for specific missionaries and planters we know, love, and support. We want them to be received by God’s people as “angels of God.”

Angels of God: Praying for our missionaries and church planters

  1. Pray for gospel clarity. Galatians 4:8-10

Although cross-cultural communication is difficult, pray that missionaries and planters would make the gospel clear. Pray that they would communicate that it is Jesus plus nothing that saves. Pray that they would make sure that people can understand the justification comes by faith alone through grace alone in Christ alone.

  1. Prayer for fruitful labor. Galatians 4:11

Missionaries and church planters don’t keep office hours, don’t have supervisors who are present, and can be tempted to become discouraged, unaccountable, and apathetic. Pray that our missionaries and planters will labor, will work hard. Pray that missionaries would, like farmers, plow, plant, water, and weed to see fruit in their ministries as they seek to make disciples among the nations.

  1. Prayer for cultural relevance. Galatians 4:12

Pray that their ministry approach would be flexible and adaptable in everything except when it comes to the truth of the gospel. Pray for the missionaries and planters to be aware of cultural differences and to embrace them whenever possible. Pray for a minimum of faux pas and offenses. Pray for ways to bridge the cultural divide and make solid connections with the people they’ve been called to reach.

  1. Prayer for opportunistic ministry. Galatians 4:13-14

Pray that our missionaries and planters would look for opportunities in hardship, that problems would become possibilities. And pray that God will keep the missionaries and planters in the condition of health that will best glorify Him.

  1. Prayer for courageous truth-telling. Galatians 4:15-16

Pray that our missionaries and planters would speak the Word with boldness and that supernatural power would accompany its proclamation. Pray for them to speak the truth with courage, soaked with love and grace. Pray that the fear of man would never interfere with pleasing God by proclaiming His truth with passion and clarity.

  1. Pray for spiritual parenthood. Galatians 4:17-19

Pray that our missionaries and church planters would become parents in the faith to many people – that those they’re seeking to reach would come to faith in Christ and trace their spiritual heritage directly back to our missionaries and church planters.

  1. Prayer for Christ-like maturity. Galatians 4:19-20

Pray that our missionaries and church planters would see true Christian maturity take place in the lives of those people that they reach. Pray that the people they reach would have Christ formed in them. Pray that the people, including the missionaries and planters themselves, would live the Christ life and love with Christ’s love as they die to self and live in Jesus.

***

There we have it! Seven prayers that will help us pray for your planters and missionaries to be “angels of God” to the people they’ve been sent to reach.

We want to pray more effectively for missionaries and what God is doing around the world, but the truth is we often forget or have no plan for what to pray. What can we do?

Ideas…

  • Cut, paste, print, and stick this list in your Bible to remind you to pray.
  • Write this out in your planner or prayer journal.
  • Pray this way for missions as a couple or as a family together.
  • Says there are seven prayers, focus on one of these according to a day of the week.
  • Hang up a world map in a prominent place in your home with this list framed of the wall next to it.
  • Put out a globe in a prominent place in your home with this list framed on a table next to it.
  • Pray for our missionaries and planters by name. (Reach out to www.cvcmissions.org to get a complete listing.)
  • What if we changed the way we prayed? What if we began to ask God to make our missionaries and church planters “angels of God“ to the very people that they’re seeking to reach?
  • Consider using these prayers for our missionaries and planters each day for the next 30 days. Ask God to prompt you.

Becoming a Lifelong Learner – Part 5

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor 

We’ve been learning from how Peter responded to Paul’s confrontation recorded in Galatians 2:11-14. He heard, heeded, and helped the one who confronted him. How did he do that? God had given him a gift. Humility.

The key to being a lifelong learner: humility!

It takes a humble man to respond well to a challenge, especially if that man is as strong a leader as Peter.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble. I Peter 5:5 (NASB)

It’s hard to say, “You are right and I am wrong.  Thank you for challenging me, for correcting me.”  But the first test of a truly great man is his humility.  Someone said, “The beginning of greatness is to be little; the increase of greatness is to be less; and the perfection of greatness is to be nothing.”

Fools think they know what is best, but a sensible person listens to advice.
Proverbs 12:15 (CEV)

Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear. Proverbs 25:12 (NIV)

Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. Proverbs 9:9 (ESV)

Now, how did Peter finish after being confronted by Paul?  Did he finish well?  Consider the facts:

  • Late in his life, Peter sat down with a young believer named Mark and told stories about his life with Jesus.  Mark wrote it down in the book that now carries his name.
  • Later in his life, Peter sat down and wrote a letter to strengthen suffering believers scattered throughout the present-day Turkey. It’s the book we call I Peter.
  • He wrote a second book to remind believers to grow in the grace and knowledge or the Lord Jesus.  We call this book II Peter.
  • In F.B. Meyer’s book, The Life of Peter, we learn that the last 16 or 17 years of his life Peter traveled with his devoted wife from place to place with such remarkable success that there was a widespread turning to God from idols.

Was he a lifelong learner?  The impact of his life says he was.  But what about Peter’s tendency to cave into the crowd – to wilt under pressure?

We first hear of Peter’s death in a letter from an early church leader, Clement.  He mentions the suffering and martyrdom of Peter in Rome.  The Romans were notorious for saying, “Deny that Christ is Lord and you will live.  Confess that Christ is Lord and you will die.”  Peter didn’t wilt this time.  He didn’t deny Christ.  He won!  He finished strong by dying for his faith in Jesus.

An early church historian named Eusebius wrote: “Peter appears to have preached through Pontus, Galatia, Bithynia, Cappadocia, and Asia, to the Jews that were scattered abroad; who also, finally coming to Rome, was crucified with his head downward, having requested of himself to suffer in this way.”

How long are you going to listen to the same critique over and over before you realize that God is working to get your attention?  It is God who is seeking to make you like Jesus through the observations of the people around you.  Your spouse has been confronting you about an area in your life for years, but you won’t listen.  Your kids have been challenging you.  Your friends have been pointing out blind spots.  Your business associates often say the same things.

It’s time to hear, to heed, and to help your godly critic. And the only way to do that is to become more and more humble.

A point to ponder: When I am humble, I can keep changing… for the better.

A verse to remember: Take good counsel and accept correction–that’s the way to live wisely and well.  Proverbs 19:20 (MSG)

A question to consider: What lessons has God been seeking to teach you through others that you have been too proud to learn?

Becoming a Lifelong Learner – Part 4

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor 

Over the last several days, we’ve seen from the encounter between Paul and Peter in Galatians 2:11-14 that Peter was a lifelong learner because he made some great decisions.

Decision #1 – I will hear my godly critics

Decision #2 – I will heed my godly critics

And today….. Decision #3 –  I will help my godly critics.

Peter was publicly challenged by Paul.  How will he respond?  To get an idea of Peter’s response to Paul, you have to read what Peter wrote down.  Would he say, “That jerk, Paul, embarrassed me in front of a whole church?”  Nope! Here’s what he later wrote about Paul.

Our dear brother Paul… wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. II Peter 3:15 (NIV)

You know what this does?  It is a stamp of approval on the 13 books that Paul wrote!  He’s saying, “Just in case you want to know what I think about Paul’s life and ministry, consider this.  He’s my dear brother!  What he’s written is from God.  It’s good stuff.  Read it and be wise!”

Peter is building up Paul.  He’s making him look good.  He’s giving Paul further credibility.  At the end of his life Peter looks to Paul not as a rival but as a dear brother.  He’s applying the truth in Proverbs 22.

Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise… Proverbs 22:17 (NIV)

Do you tend to try to bring down a critic in the eyes of others?  Or do you tend to lift him up in the eyes of others?  Do you seek to open up other doors for ministry for your critics?  Do you say, “Thanks. You helped me. Now I want to help you help others?”

To help me become a lifelong learner:

  1. I will hear my godly critics.
  2.  I will heed my godly critics.
  3. I will help my godly critics.

 

Becoming a Lifelong Learner – Part 3

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

We’ve been learning how Peter learned from a confrontation by Paul recorded in Galatians 2:11-14.

Decision #1 – I will hear my godly critics.

Decision #2 – I will heed my godly critics.

It would have been easy for Peter to hear but not heed this criticism from Paul.  Peter had a long list of reasons why Paul ought to follow Peter’s lead, not Peter following Paul’s.

  • “Hey, Paul, I’m one of the twelve who walked with Jesus for 3 years.
  • “Jesus changed my name from Simon to Peter because He said I was a Rock.
  • “I walked on the water.
  • “I was in the inner circle of three.
  • “I saw Jesus transfigured.
  • “I saw the Risen Lord.
  • “I was told by Jesus to tend His sheep.
  • “I preached a message on Pentecost and 3,000 became followers of Jesus.
  • “I healed a lame man at the Temple.
  • “I gave another message and 5,000 believed.
  • “And don’t forget, for 15 days after your conversion, you sat at my feet learning about Jesus.
  • “So, you know what, Paul, you need to do what I say.  I don’t need to do what you say.”

That could have been his attitude.  But it wasn’t.  He had read verses like Proverbs 8:33.

Heed instruction and be wise, and do not neglect it.
Proverbs 8:33 (NASB)

Some people are intimidated by leadership conflict.  They expect everybody to always agree – especially with them!  They think that problems are bad things.  Conflict, though, is a good thing when handled correctly.  And the bigger the problem is, the more strategic the solution will be.  Some Bible teachers would say that this confrontation between Peter and Paul did more to keep open the door of the gospel to the Gentiles than anything else – including Peter’s vision.

The conflict was a short one.  But it appears that it led to an ever-deepening love and respect from Peter to Paul.  God can take an unpleasant incident and turn it into a life-changing lesson.

It is better to heed a wise man’s rebuke than to listen to the song of fools. Ecclesiastes7:5 (NIV)

Whose advice ought you pay attention to?  Whose counsel do you need to heed?  Whose instruction do you have to take note of?

Some of us have been hearing the same criticism over and over and we won’t take note.  Proverbs says, “A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond all remedy.”

To help me become a lifelong learner, #1) I will hear my godly critics and #2) I will heed my godly critics.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Decision #3.

 

Becoming a Lifelong Learner – Part 2

by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor

We’ve been learning from the confrontation between Paul and Peter recorded in Galatians 2:11-14. Peter is an example of a follower of Jesus who was a lifelong learner – a man who finished well. How did he do it? And how can we? Decision #1…

Decision #1 – I will hear my godly critics.

Do you listen to what the people around you are saying about you? Or are you on the defensive?  Are you curious about how people are perceiving you?

A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel. Proverbs 1:5 (NASB)

When do we need godly criticism?  Peter being confronted by Paul teaches us at least three occasions we need to be challenged. We need godly criticism when we fear people more than we follow principles. Galatians 2:12

Most of us have a tendency to be people-pleasers.  We want to fit in.  But that can be dangerous to your spiritual health.

12   For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision.
Galatians 2:12

Peter feared this group.  Caving into the crowd was the key to Peter’s downfall.  He caved into the crowd when a little servant girl challenged him around a fire on the night Jesus was betrayed.  He caved in here, too.

He was afraid.  Afraid of what?  Of being thought less of, of losing influence? I don’t know, but clearly not fear of God, but fear of men.  Or maybe Peter was afraid of losing face with the legalists – the rule and regulation people – in Jerusalem. He might have lost his standing as the leader.  We aren’t told why he was afraid of the people.  And in a moment of weakness he cut off the fellowship with his non-Jewish brothers and sisters.  And when he did it as the leader, so did Barnabas and all the other Jews.

Do you know the antidote to being a people-pleaser?  Want to please God more!  Some of us deny our true selves – and deny the truth – because we are afraid of what others will think or say.  Do you want to stop fearing people?  Fear God more!

 We need godly criticism when we play a part more than we live the life. 

Hang around the church long enough and you’ll learn how to act the part.  You smile at the right times, sing at the right times, say the right things, go along to get along.  What do I have to do with this particular group of Christians to fit in?

Peter had it figured out in Antioch.  He played the part and it influenced others to play the part, too.

13   The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy.
Galatians 2:13

“The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy.”  It means they, too, acted insincerely.  Even one of Paul’s closest friends, Barnabas, was carried away by their insincerity.

Peter knew it was right to hang out with the non-Jewish believers.  But he didn’t.  So, Peter and Barnabas and the others were being two-faced.  They were saying one thing with their actions while believing another thing in their heart.

What they believed, they had stopped doing.  They played a part. In this case, Peter is pretending to be outwardly holy.  “Hey, look at me.  I don’t eat non-kosher foods!  Aren’t I a holy guy?”   But before these Jewish believers showed up, he was chowing down on some pork at the rib-cook-off in Antioch.

Do you act one way when you are with a certain group of people and act another way when you are not?  Get clear before God about the way you are supposed to live your life, then live it!  Be holy, yes!  But be real about it!

The number one reason people say they don’t go to church?  It’s full of hypocrites!  Don’t give people reason not to show up.

We need godly criticism when we enforce rules more than we enjoy relationship.  

Sometimes, it’s easy for us be fall into the trap of liking rules more than loving people.  Some of us are wired that way.  We get uncomfortable when the rules get stretched.  That happened to Peter here.  And he was called on it.

14   But when I saw that they were not straightforward about) the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?
Galatians 2:14

I can imagine Peter saying, “Compel?  What do you mean compel? I haven’t said that the Gentiles have to live like Jews.”  And I can hear Paul’s response, “Peter, your actions speak louder than your words.”

Peter has been in trouble before in Jerusalem.  Acts 11:2 says, “So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcision party criticized him, saying, ‘Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’” Peter told them about his vision and the coming of the Spirit and said, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

This was a life-changing experience for Peter.  He saw that not only did non-Jews not have to keep the Old Testiment laws in order to have the same spiritual blessings as Christian Jews, but he also saw that he, as a Jew, was free from those same laws.  The condition for enjoying all the benefits of being a believer is a real, live faith in Jesus Christ.  That’s all.

Therefore, when Peter ate with Gentile believers in Antioch he was in sync with the gospel. He was standing fast infreedom, honoring the all-sufficiency of Christ.  But when he stopped eating with the Gentiles, he was keeping rules and violating relationships.  We call it legalism.

Don’t break God’s rules, of course.  But be careful that you don’t add to His rules.  Religious people have a tendency to do that.  It makes them feel superior.  They like feeling superior.  Why?  Because they don’t love people.  They love their rules more.

I hope and pray that God will keep on sending godly critics to you and to me.  We must be called away from people-pleasing, hypocrisy, and legalism.  I hope and pray that we will listen!

Listen and be wise. Keep your heart on the right course.
Proverbs 23:19 (NLT)

To help me become a lifelong learner, I will hear my godly critics. That’s decision #1. Tomorrow… decision #2.

 

 

Becoming a Lifelong Learner – Part 1

by Rick Duncan, Founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church

One of the most colorful Bible characters is the Apostle Peter.  Throughout the gospels, we can see how Jesus interacted with Peter to build him, to change him, to make him usable.  And Peter became a lifelong learner.

His name was changed by Jesus from Simon to Peter (rock) because Jesus saw leadership potential in him.  Peter was part of the inner circle of disciples.  He had seen the transfigured Lord.  He’d been told to feed the sheep.  He’d preached great sermons.  He was one of the key leaders of the early church in Jerusalem and in Antioch.

Yet, in this book we call Galatians, Peter is confronted by another leader.  The leader?  Paul.  Here, Paul uses the Greek name for Peter, Cephas.  Galatians 2:11…

11   But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.

Don’t forget that Peter was the first of the followers of Christ to share the good news about Jesus to those who were not Jews.  Peter had a special revelation from God in a dream.  You can read about it in Acts 10 and 11. God made it clear to Peter that God had chosen to pour out His grace not only on the Jewish people, but also on the Romans and Greeks.

Now, what has Peter done to cause another church leader to confront him so boldly and so publicly?  Galatians 2:12…

12   For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof…

What’s happening here?  When he first came to Antioch, Peter used to eat non-kosher food with the non-Jews.  He knew that those non-Jews who were followers of Jesus were part of the family.  He said, “Let’s hang out together!”  But some Jewish people showed up from Jerusalem in Antioch who weren’t so comfortable hanging out with non-Jews, the Gentiles – even if those non-Jews were claiming to follow Jesus.  These Jerusalem Jews were prejudiced.  They wanted to add their dietary rules and ceremonial regulations to the good news about Jesus.

So, Peter stopped hanging out with the Gentiles and only hung out with the Jews.  This was a big deal.  The message it sent was that there are two classes of Christians.  The first class Christians are the Jews.  The second class Christians are the Gentiles.  This is why Paul opposed Peter to his face.

Even the giants of the faith are fallible.  The best of men are men at best.  It’s tempting for us to think that all Peter’s problems stopped after Acts 2 when he was filled with the Holy Spirit.  But remember, we leak.  And Peter did. The gift of the Spirit did not make Peter infallible.  No matter how spiritual a person may be, he or she is always capable of sin.

So, Paul confronts Peter with his sin.  Now, how will Peter respond?

Let’s bring this close to home. No one in this room is infallible. When you are confronted with your behavior, how do you respond?

If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise.  If you reject criticism, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Proverbs 15:31-32 (NLT)

I like that phrase “constructive criticism” there.  I’m sure you know that not all criticism is constructive.  Some people are insecure, have hidden agendas, don’t know all the facts, or want control.  And their criticism is often destructive.  A wise person works to know the difference.

See, criticism will come.  Someone said, “If you want to avoid criticism; do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”  But if you are in the game, if you are seeking to build the kingdom, you better know that criticism will come.  It’s the wise person who can tell the difference between a godly critic and an ungodly critic.

There are people out there who are always finding fault. They always see problems, not solutions.  And they are a drain to be around.  A quote: “The man who is always finding fault seldom finds anything else” and “All loud speakers are not necessarily hooked up!”  It’s why Larry Burkett used to say, “A wise man seeks much counsel. A fool listens to all of it.”

So, discern whether or not the criticism is constructive or destructive.  If it’s constructive, we better respond in a godly way.

With that in mind, over the next few days, let’s learn some principles from scripture that will help us become lifelong learners.  Tomorrow, decision #1…