The Pervasive Foolishness of Boasting

Been thinking much about the crazy-stupid boasting we all engage in after preaching on Galatians 6:11-18 yesterday and Paul’s commitment to not boast except in the Cross of Christ … not a bad commitment, we should all make it.


Children boast to each other about how great they are not even knowing what great is

Boys boast in their video game prowess

Girls boast in their maturity, it’s always more than boys, right?

Women boast in their image 

Men boast in their strength

Pastors boast in their church numbers, books, and great vision for the future

Moms boast in their kids being more behaved than the crazy ones in the store … and the piles of laundry and meals to be cooked

Dads boast in their sons athletic achievements … and the way things used to be when they were kids

Wives boast in the sale, the money saved, the coupons clipped

Husbands boast in their home projects, tools, and productivity

Young men boast in their bike, car, or college choice

Young women boast in their beauty or boast in not seeming to care about their beauty

Businessmen boast in their profit and product

Christians boast in their service, morality, and … oh yeah, their humility

Intellectuals boast in their degrees, papers, and tenure

Anti-intellectuals boast in their common sense, experience, and determination

Laborers boast in their hours, schedule, and lack of days off

White-collar workers boast in their technology, organization, and the latest book they read to make millions

Evangelists boast in their slick presentations, decisions for Christ, and courage

Servants boast in their obscurity, compassion, and patience

The Generous boast in their sacrifice, commitment, and … well, generosity

The Thrifty boast in their budgets, shrewdness, and good stewardship

We boast in our knowledge about a subject, boast about not concerning ourselves with other subjects.  We boast in having an opinion and in not having one.  Boast about what we’ve done and what we’ve not done, and what we’ve seen and not seen.  And all our boasting is foolishness.  And in our foolishness we keep boasting while thinking we don’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought.  And to all of this, the Apostle Paul says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14).  And John Stott takes Paul’s words and says them this way …

Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you.  It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’  Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross.  All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary.  It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”

Oh the wisdom of the Proverbs (10:19), “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.”  May our words match our hearts, and may our hearts walk in the shadow of the cross, looking less at self and more at Christ.

Shrink us to size oh God!

Pastor Mark

Calvin, Sanctification, and the Battle!

Many of you have asked for the quote on sanctification I read by John Calvin, so here it is … and don’t forget to bake a cake in honor of ol’ John’s 500th birthday on July 10.

“Sanctification is the process by which the believer increasingly becomes conformed to Christ in heart, conduct, and devotion to God.  It is the continual remaking of the believer by the Holy Spirit, the increasing consecration of body and soul to God.  In sanctification, the believer offers himself to God.  This does not come without great struggle and slow progress; it requires cleansing from the pollution of the flesh and renouncing of the world.  It demands repentance, mortification, and daily conversion. Justification and sanctification are inseparable.  To separate one from the other is to tear Christ in pieces; it is like trying to separate the sun’s light from the heat that light generates.  Believers are justified for the purpose of worshipping God in holiness of life.”

I believe that one of the signs of health in a church body is a willingness, even a desire, to hear hard things and engage in doing them.  If I’m right, then Leroy Chapel is a healthy place, because many of you have expressed to me in emails, phone calls, and in person your battles against the flesh, and it is one of the most encouraging things a pastor can hear.  Health is found in the battle, remember, not in the negotiations with the flesh.  Please keep a Biblical perspective on spiritual growth and maturity, here are the three ways I summarized it for us from the text …

1. Maturity is observed in the “big picture” over the course of time.

* It’s not being on fire for a few months or making huge commitments, but being tested in the fire and having stood steadfastly amidst much opposition with steady progress, not perfection … but progress.

2. Maturity is observed in the struggle, not having arrived. 

* I told you that I’m scared of the person in whom I never see the struggle.  The “I’m doing fine” responses betray that they aren’t.  There is either a heart of lies and self-deception, or too familiar a relationship with the flesh. Paul, the older and more mature he got, saw himself as the chief of sinners, still fighting as he did what he didn’t want to do and didn’t do what he wanted to do (Romans 7).  Old men still repenting … it’s a glorious thing! 

3. Maturity is observed in one’s growing love for Christ through the Spirit, not merely one’s distance from the “world”.

* There are plenty of people holding themselves to high external standards who are cold and lifeless to Christ, His Word, and living courageously by faith … don’t be one of them!

Stay in the battle with me my brothers and sisters and let us move forward by the power of the Holy Spirit,

Pastor Mark

The “Ouch” I Love by Jerry Bridges

Think some more on this quote from yesterday:

Aggravating all of these areas (of legalism) is a class of people who have come to be known as “controllers.” These are people who are not willing to let you live your life before God as you believe He is leading you. They have all the issues buttoned down and have cast-iron opinions about all of them. These people only know black and white. There are no gray areas to them. They insist you live your Christian life according to their rules and their opinions. If you insist on being free to live as God wants you to live, they will try to intimidate you and manipulate you one way or another. Their primary weapons are “guilt trips,” rejection, or gossip. These people must be resisted. We must not allow them to subvert the freedom we have in Christ.” – Jerry Bridges

Selfish or Selfless Serving

I dream of a church community so selflessly committed to serving one another in love (Galatians 5:13) that no needs go unmet, no one person carries the whole burden, edification rules the days, and the watching community stands amazed and eager to be loved like that.  It seems to me this is so much more than the standard church call to serve that leaves people feeling guilty, busy, and joyless.  It’s a call to know how loved you are.  

We live in a day where serving is “cool”, caring about developing countries is politically correct, and even celebrities seem committed to philanthropy, and for all of that I’m glad.  But, I would submit to you that it isn’t motivated by worship.  Worship comes from a heart that knows how unworthy you are, how gracious, loving, and compassionate God has been to you, and stands in the joy of redemption in awe of the cross.  If we are to give our lives as spiritual acts of worship (Romans 12:1-2) then our motivation must be nothing less than the Gospel love we’ve received.  If you get that, really get that, then to serve one another through love is the spring-loaded reaction.  If you don’t then out comes the “biting and devouring one another” of Galatians 5:15.  

Service that demands recognition, bristles at remedial tasks, or leaves one joyless is selfish service.  Do I ever serve selfishly?  Yeah, I fight the flesh that wants praise and prominence. But I desire so much more … and God is so gracious to supply the needed fuel to motivate real worship-filled service.  How else can I explain a sorrowful satisfaction over dealing with sinning brothers, or an exhausted joy over a full week of teaching?  Selflessness is a word I find hard to apply to myself, I know my sin far greater than anybody, but I also know the joy of worship in serving others through love because I know the love of the Gospel that rescued me from the fires of hell.  Jesus pulled me from the rubble of the fallen building I was trapped under … He secured my oxygen mask so I can now live to secure as many others as possible.  Join me friends in the fight to LIVE FREE, not indulging in the flesh, but indulging in the mission of loving others with a radical Gospel-love and so fulfilling the whole law (Galatians 5:14).

Love, love, love –

Pastor Mark

Why Real Relationships Matter … It’s Bigger than you just having friends

I love that the Apostle Paul cares about doctrine AND relationship.  I do too!  I’m thankful for the many who have expressed appreciation for the message yesterday, those who also care about the Church being a place of grace and truth.  May we all seek true relationships now made possible through the cross so that others may “become as we are” — free in Christ!

Why not just read this fabulous Tim Keller quote one more time …

“The gospel frees us from the need for people’s approval and adoration so that we can confront and anger the people we love, if that is what is best for them. And although it does not always work, this is the only kind of communication that really changes people. If you love a person so selfishly that you cannot risk their anger, you won’t ever tell them the truth they need to hear. If, on the other hand, you tell a person the truth they need, but with harshness and not with the agony of a lover, they won’t listen to it. But if you speak the truth with lots of love evident at the same time, there is a great chance that what you say will penetrate the heart and heal. A gospel-based ministry is marked by loving honesty, not spin, image and flattery.” – Tim Keller

Oh God, keep us from spin, image and flattery!

Pastor Mark

Thoughts on Worship as you Listen to Theology

Well, we’re in a section of Galatians so rich in Gospel theology that it certainly begs the question, How do I listen to theology and have my heart be lifted high in worship and exaltation?  Glad you asked.  Let me suggest a few ways:

1- Worship and the affections are always to be anchored and inspired by Biblical truth, so first off, hearing the glories of justification by faith offer the very bedrock of truth from where your heart should sing and your emotions rise.  This teaching (while it can be technical) is the flaming hot center of the Gospel and its sparks should ignite our praise.

2- If God’s redemptive history is like a beautiful painting, with each new piece of theology explored and exposed we get a sharper section of the glorious painting filled in and brought to life so that we can worship with greater clarity the work and wonder of God as our beautiful rescuer.

3- When we come to understand the chronology of God’s work in history, it can’t but give us an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the place in time that we get to live — after the cross, the promise to Abraham fulfilled in Christ, the law fulfilled, the curse broken, the promised Spirit available, grace flowing!  Worship God for being born at such a time in His grand schedule.

4- The law brings a curse and the righteous condemnation of God on sinners, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus.  When we reflect on the work of Christ over the law, we have great opportunity to worship God for being redeemed from the curse of the law, from removing us from the place of condemnation and clothing us in the clothes of righteousness.  For making Him who knew no sin to be sin for us so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.

5- Thank God that He gives teaching, not just motivational pep-talks to go be “good” but real substance by which we can fill our hearts and minds with eternal truths revealed from heaven for our edification.  Glory in a God who communicates Himself and His plan to His creatures for their good.

May God give us minds to think clearly about these great theological truths and hearts that are stirred with genuine affections for Him and His work in history.

Learning and Loving,

Pastor Mark

Dealing With Conflict for the Benefit of Others

I quoted these yesterday in my sermon, but thought they were worth posting and pondering some more:

“To some, conflict is a hazard that threatens to sweep them off their feet and leave them bruised and hurting.  To others, it is an obstacle that they should conquer quickly and firmly, regardless of the consequences.  But some people have learned that conflict is an opportunity to solve common problems in a way that honors God and offers benefits to those involved.”   Ken Sande

“Time heals things. We’ve heard that many times. And occasionally it is true that people’s emotions die down and they lose the heart to disagree or fight. But to depend on time alone in the body of Christ to mend church problems is a very dangerous path.  More often than not the problems only fester, become more serious, and then explode.”  Curtis C. Thomas

Oh, to be like Paul in his pursuit of his brother Peter, as we pursue living persistently before God and consistently before men!

Seeking Your Good,

Pastor Mark

Meeting Paul at Panera

It’s really easy to forget the Early Church was made up of normal people like us.  Sure, we read of their sins and screw-ups, but miss some of the relational nature of their existence.  Preaching in Galatians 2 this week I got to sit down with Paul at Panera and ask him about his relationship with Cephas (I prefer calling him Peter).

MS (Mark Spansel): Paul, good to get some time with you this morning, can I get you a cup of coffee?

AP (Apostle Paul): No thanks, I prefer tea … and one of those big non-kosher, really sugary cinnamon rolls.

MS: Got it, be right back.

MS: Tell me about the time you sat down with Peter in Jerusalem to talk circumcision.  What was that like?

AP: Well, Mark, it’s always hard to communicate everything on paper, so thanks for asking more than what I got a chance to write in chapter 2 to the Galatian churches.  I love Peter, I love that a fisherman and a guy like me could sit down and talk honestly about life, ministry, and theology.  You know we were working hard those days to figure everything out and make sure we didn’t split the church.  People were talking, those Judizers spying out our freedom made things difficult and we knew we needed to just talk things out.  So he cleared his busy schedule as I was in town and we hammered things out.

MS: Did he take some convincing?

AP: Sure, he’s a stubborn guy like me.  He has the baggage of his experiences and his traditions, but don’t we all.  I think once he realized I wasn’t interested in making him like me, but making sure we were on the exact same page about Jesus, the conversation got a lot clearer.  It’s a funny thing, when you actually treat people with respect and the honor they deserve how much hostility is taken out of the conversation.  The bottom line Mark, is that we both greatly respect each other and greatly love the work of Jesus in our own lives.  We want everyone to hear about the Messiah who fulfilled the law.

MS: But it gets tricky working out all the law stuff with Jews and Gentiles, doesn’t it?

AP:  That’s an understatement.  In many respects we were trying to mix oil and water.  Outside of Jesus, these two groups didn’t want anything to do with each other.  But I suppose that’s what I love watching God do – take differences and make one body.  It’s a pretty amazing thing to watch. Anyway, we knew we needed to make sure these issues were surfaced, talked about honestly and openly, and that we made a commitment to keep at it.

MS: What do you mean by keep at it?

AP: Well, we knew we’d have to have more conversations about this issue.  It was obvious it would get complicated and personal.  We vowed to not shoving this under the rug, not letting the enemies tear us apart, and invited each other to speak truth to one another.

MS: Paul, that fires me up.  It’s cool to see your commitment to the Gospel and to each other, we need more of that going on, for sure!

AP: Yeah, I guess the bottom line is this – Not one of us has it all figured out, BUT we do know that it all comes back to the cross.  It took me a little while to get it, in fact I didn’t get it, God made me get it.  Peter, he was impulsive, around Jesus a lot, but still head-strong and felt like a big failure.  He thought he was done, but God is so gracious to take a couple guys like us and commission us for such great Kingdom work.  You know, Peter invites me every year to come to his house and celebrate Passover.  We don’t do the blood over the door thing, we just sing and celebrate the blood that was once for all shed for us.  We have a sweet party rejoicing in the completed work of Jesus, the fulfillment of the law, and the lover of our souls.  And you know what?  For all our differences, we know the one thing that matters most – Jesus saved, Jesus saves, and we get to be a part of it.  Well, I’m starting to preach now, but thanks for taking the time to ask … I love talking about this stuff.  God bless my brother, and never move on from the cross.

MS: Brother, your words are sweet to my soul, I’ll never forget them … and thanks for speaking truth to me every time I pick up your letters.  They always point me to Jesus!

** This conversation is completely factual, and it may be reproduced in its entirety free of charge.

Set Free Celebrations

I always want to accomplish so much on a Sunday morning.  I want time to soak in the Word, time to rejoice in song, time for intercession, time for reflection and sober-mindedness, time for confession and repentance, time for testimonies, time for silence, time for vision and mission, time for local and time for global, time for individual and time for corporate … I find that on Sunday there just isn’t time for everything under the sun, or even everything we “ought” to be doing, so what wins?  Well, my simple answer is the Gospel wins, if we don’t focus our hearts on the cross – through the Word, prayer, and spiritual songs, then we lose.  Everything else flows from that, and often times it fits and “feels right” to move into a time of personal confession, other times to seamlessly flow into vision-casting and direction for mission, and sometimes we just come to the place of silence to pray.  All these are needed and all of them are worship if we come to them with hearts of love for our great God.  Well, it just fits that as we come to this book of Galatians and the call of God to not submit to a yoke of slavery, but live in the freedom for which we’ve been set free (Galatians 5:1) that we celebrate the work of God in setting us free together!  

We’d love for you to use the “tab” that says “Transformation Testimonies” on the front page of my blog to post a “comment” that celebrates your “set free testimony”, this will stand as an ongoing journal of God’s work in our lives at Leroy Chapel.  Then through the series we want some of you to share these in our services so part of our corporate time is focused on the glorifying of God as we affirm His work in other people’s lives (Galatians 1:24).  Remember this is worship, this gives glory to God, so there is no need to be shy or feel embarrassed, let us rejoice in God for answered prayer and His powerful work!


Share on!

Pastor Mark