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Gospel+ Reflections (Brian Saunders)

 
 
GOSPEL+ REFLECTIONS
BY: BRIAN SAUNDERS
 

The Gospel+; Wow!!

Some will be amazed at the statements I’m about to pen in this blog, however it is reality. I have lived my whole life trying to disprove what others have said about me. “Your too small, you’re not fast enough, you’re not tall enough, heck Saunders you just are’t good enough,” People who were in positions to speak life into my life, but unfortunately spoke death and condemnation. Death to dreams and hopes and condemnation to my heart and ability. “Division I football Saunders? Really? Heck son, you will be lucky if you play Division II football!”
The unfortunate reality is in too many churches today, that is what is being delivered and received by many. “You sir are not good enough. Ma’am, you’re too filthy to be welcomed her, you have to do A,B,C to be accepted into the family of God, go home, clean yourself up, put only these clothes on, read only this Bible translation, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew and for God’s sake don’t run with those who do.” Really? I’m not really a “WWJD” proponent, because one could make a case for anything that Jesus would’ve done. Rather I am a “WDJD” (What did Jesus Do) and I see Jesus in God’s word say and do things that the Pharisees pointed their boney little fingers of contentment at, pronouncing him a sinner and blasphemer. Jesus’ response was priceless, “You are whitewashed tombstones, clean on the outside, but yet filthy on the inside.” Why you ask? Simply because they were in the mode of Gospel +, rather than the Gospel of Grace and that’s the reality of the church today. She is communicating a Performance Base Religion as if grace isn’t sufficient rather than grace through faith. Why is it that man feels as if he has to earn his place, rather than immersing himself into the depths of God’s love revealed in the life, death, resurrection and accession of his Son Jesus Christ.
It’s this Performance Base Religion, Gospel +, that has Paul’s heart wrenched and devastated with the Church of Galatia. Two sets of verses stick out mightily to me in Paul’s letter to the church, Galatians 1:6-7 and 5:7-8. In 1:6-7 Paul states that he is “astonished” that they were “so quickly deserting Him who called you in the grace of Christ” and in 5:7-8 he asked “who hindered you from obeying the truth. 8 The persuasion is not from him who calls you!”
Why church, are we so quick to think that we have to perform at such a high level to win God’s approval? When are we going to realize that in the words of my dear friend, the late Steve Cobb, “There’s nothing we can do to make God love us more and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.”
I have to admit that though I have lived my Christian walk in the storehouse of Grace, I haven’t completely trusted in it totally. Instead I have relied not only on what Christ has done for me but also in what I have done as well, Performance Base Religion. Again Paul’s question and statement ring loudly in my head, “I’m astonished” and “who hindered you?” But even worse “why are you deserting Him who called you?”
My friends, that’s what we are doing when we perform to obtain the acceptance of God that was poured out on a cross with the blood of His Son Jesus. Folks, I’m tired, tired of trying to win God’s approval. I’m being set free from the bondage of performance, “for freedom Christ has set us free, stand firm therefore and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1, Thank You Jesus!!
By the way I did play Division I football at East Carolina University and not only was I good enough to play, I discovered I was and still am today good enough for Jesus, and so it is with you! Jesus paid it all, His grace is sufficient. Obedience doesn’t lead to salvation, salvation leads to obedience.

The Gospel + anything in not the gospel, at all!!


Gospel+ Reflections: Riley St. Pierre

 
GOSPEL+ REFLECTIONS BY: RILEY ST.PIERRE

The Gospel + anything is NOT the gospel…..

 
“It doesn’t matter how we perform, it matters how Jesus performed.” This quote from Aaron’s second message during the Gospel+ series sums up quite well how this series has impacted me. During the past 3-4 years of my Christian life I have been in a continuous battle with Satan over what it means to be connected with God. I am often so focused on whether my actions are enough to appease Jesus, and quite frankly appease myself. In my mind, a strong, faithful Christian has a quiet time every day for at least 30 minutes. This time consisted of prayer, meditation, and reading of scripture. I felt that in order to be a strong, faithful Christian and experience God’s grace, I had to do these things. The Lord has used Gospel+ to show me how much of a burden I’ve placed on myself over spending time with Him.
 
While a strong, faithful Christian might truly do these things, it is not a requirement to receive God’s grace. What’s ironic is that I know this is true, because I’ve seen God’s grace in my life in so many different ways, despite my sinfulness and unfaithfulness. Yet just like the Israelites, I am foolish and forgetful, and so often I still think I have to perform to be in good standing with God and to receive His blessing and grace. I love the question Aaron posed, “Am I less captivated by what Jesus has done on the cross and more captivated by what I’m doing in my life?” Getting burdened, tired, and guilty for not doing the things I think a good Christian should do is not glorifying to God, it is the opposite. I’m refusing to accept what Jesus has done on the cross as enough. Paul says in Galatians 4:7, “So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child…”
 
Through this series, I have battled what it looks like to be discipline in my faith, yet not feel enslaved; to find awe in Jesus, but not feel guilty when I don’t; and to place my burdens on Jesus without creating more for myself. The Gospel+ series has helped me see how much I put myself under the law. As Paul says in Galatians 3:10, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse…” Aaron said, “If you live under the curse of the law you will always see how bad you are and never how good Jesus is.” I’ve been so focused on how bad I was doing, I miss all the good HE is doing. I’ve realized I have to focus less on what I’M doing (good or bad) and more on what JESUS is doing. This consists of less ACTION-REACTION and more of REACTION-ACTION. The more I allow myself to see Himworking and moving in my life, I will be captivated to be closer to Him. The time I spend with the Lord should be based off captivation, awe, love, and trust, not obligation, guilt, shame, or selfishness. As Aaron said, “God reels in our hearts by his love, not our performance.” I want to focus less on my performance and be pulled towards God solely based off His love for me. The Lord has used the Gospel+ series to do just that.


Gospel + (Freedom)

 

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

Paul’s words to the Galatians found at the beginning of chapter 5 are probably some of the most well known and championed by those who consider themselves believers and followers of Jesus. They are the battle cry of the religiously oppressed. Those who have been beaten, battered and scarred by the chains of their past history, past church experience, and past with people long for the grand liberation that is promised in Jesus. As a rebel myself I can with confidence and conviction say that freedom is a thing of beauty.

The Galatians have been beaten with law. They have been convinced that they must trade the freedom of grace for the do’s of religion. They have traded what was given freely for a religion of works and performance. To me, nothing sounds more stifling or oppressive than this scenario. This was Paul’s great concern, worry and agony. This was the purpose behind his entire letter to the Galatians. “Do not submit again to the yolk of slavery!” This is awesome news. It echoes the very words of Jesus, “my yolk is easy and my burden light,” recorded for us by Matthew. But Paul doesn’t leave us to simply bask in the depths of freedom without pointing to a great truth. Freedom comes with great responsibility.

Although Paul was greatly disturbed and of opposition to works based religion, which he called slavery, He was in favor of seeing freedom leveraged to serve others. This is changing our perspective of how we live. Religion is completing what I have to do, and relationship is seeing service as a thing we get to do. Jesus himself came to serve not be served. He willingly laid down His life for us, that we might receive this freedom. This is why Paul said, “for freedom, Christ has set you free.” This was and is freedom from the entrapment of self and individualism, and freedom to relationship with our Creator. The very thing we were made for.

So, if this be the case, why do we sacrifice responsibility on the alter of a “personal faith?” Jesus said that the world will know us by our love for one another. Which begs the question, can one really love another without ever serving them? Serving may not always be something grand in the eyes of others. Often I believe it is the minuscule moments we exercise grace. Like laying aside our opinion for the betterment of another. Choosing to give one more chance when everything in us wants to walk away. Or perhaps as small as choosing to not exercise our freedom so that another may find it. In reality, none of this is small.

How do you live? In the confines of the have to’s of religion, or in the get to’s of relationship? We possess a great amount of freedom in Jesus. Freedom that was not cheap. Freedom that came with a price. Freedom that was found in the reality of a servant’s heart. The Servant’s heart. How do we exercise our freedom, and, more importantly, the great responsibility that comes with it? How does our service to other brings light to our freedom?
 
Aaron Golden


Gospel+ Reflections (Katie Andersen)

 
GOSPEL+ REFLECTIONS BY: KATIE ANDERSEN
 

The Gospel + anything is NOT the gospel…..

I am very type A person. I love to do lists and being able to check things off my list and see what I have accomplished and what I still need to do. It makes me feel like I am in control of what’s going on in my life. The Gospel + series has completely changed my perspective on working to earn God’s grace in that I can’t do anything to earn his grace. That is why it is a free gift. He gave it to me because he loves me, not because of anything I can or will do to earn it. If I had to work for it, I would always, always come up short. Gospel + tells us there is more we need to do to earn his grace and love. It tells us there are more things on our list to accomplish before God will be pleased with us. However, the Gospel + anything is not the gospel.

 


Before really understanding the power of grace, I used to pat myself on the back and tell myself what a good Christian I had been if I read my Bible, spent good time in prayer, or went to church. Not to say these are bad things at all, but Gospel + tells us if we don’t do these things we won’t please God or have his grace. It tells us if we don’t check these things off our list we can’t possible have God’s grace. It becomes a chore that I have to complete instead of a relationship with God that I can enjoy. The Gospel + series has brought me out of my comfort zone because it has made it clear to me that to do lists don’t work. It takes the control away from me and puts it in God’s hands. I can’t control grace because it has already been given to me. It is not something I can work for. God has given me grace not because of anything I can do. Not because I check things off my list that make me a “good” Christian, but because he loves me. It is not under my control and that’s the scary and amazing part. He has given grace freely to us because he loves us and desires a relationship with us. I know I will continue to fail because I am an imperfect person, but God has covered me in His grace. When I do fail or fall away from Him, He is always there waiting for me to come back to Him. His grace is unending. His love never fails. If anyone has told you that it has to be Jesus + this or that they are not preaching the true Gospel. The Gospel + anything is not the gospel. It’s as simple as that, and sometimes simple is hard. Simple is easy and not complicated, and we tend to complicate things in our lives today. Grace is simple. Grace is easy. Grace is freely given. It is not by works that we are saved. It is a gift from God.
This understanding has changed the way I live my life. I have realized that my time in the word, prayer, and fellowship with others is more about me having a relationship with God instead of me checking things off my to do list. He desires to have a relationship with me and he wants to know me. How amazing is that? God loves me in spite of my faults and has extended his grace to me freely. It is not something I can work for because it has already been given to me. I just have to accept it. What a realization that has been for me!


Gospel+ Reflections: Brooke Guthrie

 
“GOSPEL+ REFLECTIONS”
BY: BROOKE GUTHRIE
 
 
“The Gospel plus anything is not the Gospel” – These words will, forever, be burned in my spirit, and tattooed on my heart.

As a child it is necessary to be told what to do, what not to do, and how to do it the proper way. Without structure and instruction, how will a child know what is socially acceptable, or what will bring a person shame? As one grows and matures, he or she is told less and less how to live their own life; one might even take offense to suggestions on how to improve an aspect of his or her life…so, why is we rarely want input for improvement in our everyday lives, yet we go to church on Sunday, as individuals who are no longer children, and ask “how can I be a better Christian?” Unfortunately, this question has lead many Christ followers astray from God’s purpose and intention for our lives.

The expository journey through Galatians during our Gospel+ series has opened my eyes to a reality of just how unrealistic it is to be a “good Christian,” because God never intended for us to hold such a title.

Let me break it down:

I grew up as a people-pleaser…I hope that’s okay with you! (just kidding) But really, I have lived my life in need of reassurance from others, and thrive on this affirmation. To this day I struggle with the desire to be told I’m doing a good job or that someone appreciates my efforts. Not only am I a people pleaser, but I have an even more immense sense of obligation to never let a person down. I’m not sure how I became this way; I do believe it has something to do with the fact that, for some reason, people expect a lot out of me. I am outgoing, confident, and appear (fairly) put-together on the outside. Whenever someone needs something, I’m usually the first person to be called…and rarely do I have it in me to say “no.” I love that people feel they can depend on me; However, I hate feeling as if I’m always disappointing someone when they get to know the real me in my failures: disorganized, easily distracted, perpetually late, forgetful, clumsy, messy, a little rough around the edges, and the list goes on. I’ve tried to release this terrible burden as I’ve grown older, but i haven’t truly been able to let-go of this self-inflicted pressure until working through the Gospel+ series.

You see, I have lived with the same pressure to never disappoint God. I have projected the expectations of mankind onto an all-powerful being. Just as I want to be a good teacher, a good coach, and just plain good at everything, I have strived my entire life to be a “good Christian.”. I am not a good Christian…and I’m finally okay with that.

Through the Gospel+ study, I have learned the ideals of modern Christianity set forth by man are similar to the ideologies that Paul fought against in Galatians. I have learned that God isn’t disappointed in my lack of perfection, but rather, He wants me to stop trying so hard to be perfect! God wants me to stop working for his affirmation, because I already have it thanks to Jesus! As a matter of fact, I think God kinda likes that I’m a serious mess and have broke approximately 8 million cellphones (rough estimate.) It has finally become clear to me that God’s promise to man is a covenant, not a contract; meaning He gives one hundred percent when I give three, He chases me when I run, and He is never disappointed my performance because He has never asked me to perform. I have finally learned that God wants me to let go of my need to please Him because, through the Gospel I already do.

The Gospel is simple, and I have finally stopped adding to it. I am now free to live my life in overflowing glory to God while HE works on my heart, and HE makes me perfect. True transformation does not come from a change of action, but a change of heart that only God can orchestrate. Only when I step aside and release my desire to control how God sees me can my goodness be a second-nature result of an inward change rather than a half-hearted effort of outward strife; Only then will my transformation begin.

The Gospel plus anything is not the Gospel.



Gospel + Guide



“UN” (UN_Believable)

 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
23  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” Matthew 1:22-23 (ESV)

There you are, having been away from your beloved for several months and eagerly awaiting their arrival. You are preparing for a great life together as you both are betrothed to one another and about to be joined together through covenant marriage. She arrives, only there is something different. Yes, she is glowing a little more, and really looks healthy, maybe a bit too healthy. Like ate one too many Hebrew nationals with all the trimmings, back at her kin’s Elizabeth’s home. The thought of what this belly bump could mean comes with a piercing stab. Mary doesn’t have to say a thing, you are putting the pieces together now. “Who had been the accomplice in this infidelity? Why would you do this to us? Why would you do this to me?” Hurt overwhelms you and your heart breaks upon the ground. To make matters worse, there are no reasonable answers provided, no clarity offered, only the proclamation that this was of the Lord, made possible by His Holy Spirit. “Not Possible,” you think. Inconceivable. Really, it is almost completely UN_Believable.

If we honestly place ourselves there in the midst of Joseph’s initial understanding of what has taken place with His betrothed Mary, as provided by Matthew’s gospel, it makes clear to us the struggle to believe what is being said and has happened. Joseph has nothing to go on, no proof for himself, other than the baby bump and Mary’s word, that this is of the Lord. Joseph reacts like many of us would. He seeks to find a way out. Probably thinking she has lost her mind, but still caring deeply for her and the ultimate consequence that this will bring to her life, he sets out to provide what cover for her he can. He seeks a quiet way out of the situation. Here in the above verses are the words of the Lord made available to Joseph in a dream. “All this took place to fulfill the word the Lord had spoken.”

 
                     “UN_Believable. Often the things God places before us can seem this way.”
 
UN_Believable. Often the things God places before us can seem this way. We are challenged, stretched and often overwhelmed by what we have and are experiencing. Like Joseph, we struggle to find a way out, we just want to exit the situation quietly without severe damages. Could God really want us to follow through with such a task? Is this really part of how my life fits in this overarching narrative of redemption? These are the questions we struggle with. Especially in those UN_Believable moments of great struggle, hurt and pain. Like Joseph, we often need some consolation, a word of promise and hope. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken.” This reassurance may not relieve the struggle that lays before you, but what it should do is point you to the truth that the Lord is working all things together for the good of those that love him. Like Joseph, we may not be able to fully perceive all the goodness that may come through what seems to be so UN_Believable, but in God’s assurance we must step forward and press forward. Joseph embraced all that would accompany such an UN_Believable situation placing his faith in an UN_Imaginable God.
 
Where do you find yourself today? What UN_Believable situation or call are you facing? Just maybe you need to find reassurance in the promise that God is faithful, and has brought redemption and relationship back to us in His son Jesus, who came forth through the struggle of the UN_Believable.
 
By: Aaron Golden


“UN” (UN_Likely) by: Beth Walker

In the unlikely event that…
This is usually an introduction to the highly improbable. The phrase even conjures the impossibility of a particular event taking place. ln the unlikely event that the plane crashes…. In the unlikely event that I win the lottery…In the unlikely event that Donald Trump is elected President… But what if the unlikely event occurs? THAT is big news! Unlikely events capture the attention of all who witness them, of those who hear about them; unlikely events become memorable highlights of history and the stuff of legends.

Matthew 2:1-12 tells of the unlikely event that wise men or magi from the East, probably Persia and Arabia sought out a new born Jewish baby to honor as a king:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’”

There is not much information given in scripture as to who these wise men were. Although we sing about the three kings in Christmas Carols, there is no indication in Scripture that these men were kings. The term Magi refers to a priestly caste of ancient Persia; they were known as astrologers and astronomers, even sorcerers. The Magi were men of knowledge and power. They were highly respected, and had authority and social status because they studied the stars and made predictions that were often accurate and seemed supernatural. It has been debated what their beliefs in God were, but they were certainly not part of God’s chosen people, the nation of Israel. Why would they search for a Jewish baby to honor as a king? Their unlikely search was big news to King Herod and all of Jerusalem.
“When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”
But the Wise men were persistent and followed the star that appeared at Jesus’ birth until they found what they were looking for.
“…and behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh”.
 
“God sent His Son to earth for all of mankind, not just for Israel, not just  for believers in God, but for ALL of mankind.”
 
Nativity sets come with three wise men. That is probably because Scripture tells us that these wise men brought three gifts to the newborn – Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. These were unlikely gifts for a baby, but they were gifts ordinarily given to a king. Because they traveled far to see the new King, it is highly unlikely that they were present at the manger the night Jesus was born. But Scripture is clear that once they found the child, they fell down and worshiped Him, and presented their treasures to Him.
It was unlikely that men of power and prestige from a country whose culture and religion were often at odds with the nation of Israel would seek a new born baby from the nation Israel to worship as a King. It was so unlikely that it caused an uproar in Jerusalem, and King Herod made a plan to kill all the new born babies so that none could take his place as king. God brought unlikely visitors to honor His Son, He specifically guided wise men who studied the stars, with a star so that they would not miss out. These unlikely visitors captured the attention of many, not just at the time of Jesus’ birth on earth, but for all of history to this day. God sent His Son to earth for all of mankind, not just for Israel, not just for believers in God, but for ALL of mankind. To this day, these unlikely visitors remind us that Jesus is a King to be worshiped. He was a King at the time of his birth, and he will reign for all eternity. THAT is big news.
 
By: Beth Walker


“UN” (UN_Desried) by: Brian Saunders

Undesired, a term not normally seen as good. It usually has what one would call a negative connotation attached to it. Undesired is defined as having qualities that are not pleasing or wanted, bad, harmful, unpleasant, not worth having or getting. Ultimately, undesired means “not wanted.” What a horrible feeling, what a horrible place to be found in, UNDESIRED, UNWANTED, REJECTED.
Have you ever been there? I have and it’s not pleasant. I see it every day as a teacher, students that no one talks to, no one includes, no one shows any concern for them. They stand out like a sore thumb, easily picked out as they are alone. UNDESIRED, UNWANTED, REJECTED!!! Lonely they spend their lives and deeper into an abyss they fall, a place of no self-value and no one breathing life into their very lungs and soul.
Then there’s the Shepherd of the Bible, guarding his flock day and night against predators and usually alone. A profession of people who others saw as unclean, as the lowest form of class, as UNDESIRED. Loners, they hung out with the animals fore they were undesired by the people.
Yet, the great inversion takes place in Luke 2:8-20. Who does God choose to first revel the news of the birth of Jesus Christ, the savior of the world? The Kings? No! The Sadducees? No! The Pharisees? No! The Temple Priest? Nooooooo! God chose the lowest class of people, the Rejected, the Unwanted, and the Undesired, He, God, chose the shepherds. Verse 10 of Luke 2 reads “do not be afraid. I bring you (the shepherds, the unwanted, the rejected, the undesired) good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Yes Undesirables that includes you! Verse 2:17 goes on to tell us not only did God go to the undesired to reveal Christ’s birth, but He used them to spread the word about Jesus and the people were amazed. Amazed that the undesired, the lowest class of people spoke as messengers for the living God.
Are you feeling undesired, unwanted or rejected this Christmas? It’s ok! Oh my beloved undesirables, know that the God of the Holy Bible loves the undesired and values them no less than He does His very own son. Jesus in Luke 9:58, explains that though the foxes and birds, unlike Him, had a place to lay their heads, He didn’t. Peter in 1 Peter2:7 quotes Psalm 118:22 when he identifies Christ as the “stone that the builders rejected. In John 1:11, Jesus explains that He himself is rejected by His own people. But listen to His words in John 16:32b, “you will leave me all alone” (REJECTED, UNDESIRED). “ I am not alone, fore my Father is with me.”
 
Understand, though you may be all alone, know that as Christ was rejected by His own people , just as you are, know and understand you who are in Christ, you undesired are not alone. And for you undesired who are not in Christ, understand and know that He stands waiting for your invite into a relationship of grace and love where you too will be not undesirable but one where you will never be alone just as Christ was never alone.
 
Brian Saunders