Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chik-fil-A and Real Life


Well, I don't usually posted messages like this...where I have some seriously mixed feelings on a number of fronts.  I do not really care about the politicization of Chik-fil-A -- there isn't anything much good that politicking can't mess it up.  I love all the same time, I do agree with the restaurant chain's belief system, and I respect their right to speak it (even if the world system rails against that right...Jesus said to expect such).  Next Wednesday, I do plan to Eat Mor Chikin.  I am not interested in politicking, being an activist, carrying a pitch fork or what have you.  At the same time, if we cannot speak and live our the right way...what good are they?   It is an interesting balance.  It is disturbing that we do now live in a society that broadly preaches tolerance...that is, except for Christian principles and practices.  Unfortunately, some Christians who have lived a religion of intolerance themselves, rather than love for people, have done much to propogate this intolerance from the world. Jesus could and did love people that were very different from Him, religiously, socially, philosophically, and in every other way.  Yet, He still managed to draw people to Him, rather than reject them.  There is a way to balance the belief and the is up to us to discover the humility and wisdom to be able to do such. 

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Walking with the Spirit (Considering Galatians), Pt. 5


Paul segues from talking about the freedom that the Galatian believers should have because they are (supposed to be) spiritual children of Isaac to the fact that all believers in the Galatian churches...regardless of race, social status, age or gender (3:26-28, once again)...are free in Christ.  Chapter 5, verse 1 could be a one line definition for the entire letter, "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."  This is Paul's come back to the freedom they all should be enjoying.  But, some have allowed themselves to be burdened by those (Judaizers) who would keep the regulations and traditions (particularly circumcision, here) associated with the Law, as these principles have been forced upon the Gentile believers in the Galatian churches. These "weighty" matters of law are like a yoke on their necks.  Paul may be reflectively considering a principle dear to Jesus' heart, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30).  Paul once again uses some strong words in order to make his point, saying that those who seek to be justified by Law have "become alienated from Christ" and have "fallen away from grace."  In fact, he declares for the Galatians and the whole world, that the only principle that truly has any weight is "faith expressing itself through love" (5:6).  I will come back to this in a bit.

Paul uses a track and field metaphor to describe how the Galatians have allowed the Judaizers to rob them of Biblical and spiritual truth.  It is language describing one who changes lanes in a race and "cuts off" and opponent, and is, therefore, disqualified.  Paul does not want the Galatian believers to get cut off in the Christian race and, therefore, miss the prize.  He uses a baking expression (because baking and athletics have so much in common :-) in order to solidify his case.  All it takes is a little bit of leaven to go through the whole lump of dough...and in the same a way, all it takes is a little bit of infection to begin to affect the whole body.  This can take place not only physically, but spiritually, as well...and so the reason for the illustration.  An entire church can be undone because a little attitude or in practice... is left unchecked (see the Corinthian church for an example of this, 1 Corinthians 5:1ff).  The Galatian churches are going to experience the same thing if they do not deal with the infection in "their body."  Paul expresses his confidence in them that they are going to make the right decisions (5:10). 

Paul has one final interjection for the false ones among the believers in those places...and it is not intended to be humorous.  It is the strongest thing he has to say in any letter, "As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" (5:12)  It is important to understand the context concerning why Paul appears to be saying that they should go and make themselves eunuchs.  It is true that some cultures at that time would have eunuchs who would serve kings and queens, but such barbaric practices were not to be practiced by God's people.  Yet, what Paul is doing is giving the Judaizers' arguments concerning the necessity of circumcision their proper perspective.  Although, it may have been an important "ritual marking" at one time, circumcision has no meaning whatsoever now that Christ has come...but only as it is figuratively related to the "heart" (Romans 2:29).  When a person accepts Christ, neither circumcision or uncircumcision are any good.  So, for the Judaizers to enforce this regulation makes no spiritual difference for those whom they are persecuting.  God's Holy Spirit is now the mark for believers, as we have discussed (and will pursue further in the next posting).

In vv.13-15, Paul is creating a bridge to his next discussion, beginning in verse 16.  Just as he does not want the Galatian believers to give up their freedom in Christ for the sake of law, neither does he want them to give it up for the flesh.  It is probable that many of them had come from pagan religious backgrounds where giving themsleves to immorality was the norm.  He descibes how dangerous such practices are for those who seek to "be spiritual."  He offers a contrast that is going to be given much more detail in the verses to come, but he wants them to understand -- Spirit-filled and led people are going to behave in ways that do not give any advantage to the Law or to the flesh.  Freedom is the goal for the spiritual person...freedom to love as God has commanded and shown us to love.  Failure to practice the love of God and live according to the Spirit is going to lead discord, dissension and division.  They, and we, were called to this much higher calling...the way of love.

This brings me back around to the thought in verse 6.  I have heard Christians in my life say (and practice) -- it can't be just about love, we have to be obedient to the commandments (and even traditions).  What is usually indicated by this is similar to the matters that the Judaizers were struggling with...and it is this -- we have to be "right thinking" and "right believing" in all of our Christian practices, or else we are in error.  If this self-sufficient belief system is the case, then we are always going to be lacking, spiritually.  Paul says just the opposite here -- if we are right loving and living according to "the only thing that counts," then we will come to and be able to maintain the proper perspective concerning all of the other matters pertaining to life and godliness.  If not, then we will struggle just as the Judaizers were practicing and influencing other believers to be "biting and devouring one another" over things that really do not matter.  So, when it all comes down to it...if verse 6 is good enough for Paul, it is good enough for me. :-)

Blessings, Don

Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Show and Tell That Makes a Difference


Religious pluralism…an attitude or policy regarding the diversity of religious belief systems co-existing in society…is a new experience for us, but it does put us in touch with the world that surrounded the biblical authors.  This is challenging for many people today, because most adults were raised in a time where the predominant religion in this country was Christianity.  Yet, our world looks more and more like the world of our religious ancestors.  In Mesopotamia, there were thousands of gods and goddesses, many of which were known to the Israelites – and indeed, sometimes they were known all too well.  Nothing, therefore, could be more remarkable than to hear the contention…even from those within the church in general…that the existence of religious pluralism today makes belief in the uniqueness of Christianity improbable.  Had this been the necessary consequence of encountering a multitude of other religions, Moses, Isaiah, Peter and Paul would have given up biblical faith long before it became fashionable to do so.

The real question that must be considered is still, “Who is God?”  The plurality of “religious” opinions does nothing to change the importance of this question…or the answer.  In fact, concerning this, 400 years before Christ, Greek philosopher Plato wrote, “To find out the Father and Maker of all this universe is a hard task, and when we have found Him, to speak of Him to all men is impossible."  Oh how wrong was the great philosopher.  Jesus says just the opposite.  We can know the Father…and we can know Him through His Son, Jesus Christ.  We still have a responsibility to believe and speak the truth concerning our beliefs in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.   Jesus is approaching the end of His life and ministry and He is still trying to answer some fundamental questions for His followers. 

Jesus’ words to the disciples in this passage (John 14:7-11) are really prompted by Thomas’ question in vs. 5, “We don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?  As Jesus has just shared, He is going away and they cannot come with Him. He attempts to comfort them by telling them that he is going to prepare a place for them and that he will return to take them back with Him.  Still, after three years, one would think that the disciples would have a pretty clear understanding of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Apparently, this is not the case.  Philip has a question, and Jesus tries to help Him understand the truth about the Father.  He says, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."  Jesus answers, "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (14:8-9)  The concept “know,” as described by Philip is a “deeper” understand…and a knowing that only comes through “experience.”  There is a lot of irony here.  Some might ask -- what qualifies Jesus to tell us what God the Father is like? The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is the Son of God, meaning that he is in fact God (John 1:1ff).  Jesus is God incarnate.  The word “Incarnation” simply means, “God taking on flesh”. This is what 1:14 describes… the Word, Jesus becoming flesh and living with man as a man.  Philippians 2:6, Colossians 1:15-20, etc. go on to further establish that Jesus is God. These verses describe Jesus as the “image of the invisible God” (vs. 15). When we see Jesus, we see God.  They also describe Jesus as having “all of God’s fullness dwelling in Him” (vs. 19). Jesus was completely human, but He was also completely God.

Jesus shows them.  First, He displays what God is like through the life He lives (vv.7-9).  You can tell a lot about the influences on a person’s life by looking at the way they live.  When we look at a person and their behavior, mannerisms, and just the way they do things, we are not just seeing them, but we are seeing that persons parents, teachers and mentors as well.  What Jesus is saying in verses 7-9, is that when you see Him, you see God…you see the Father. The life Jesus lives directly mirrors that of His Father, God.  Also, Jesus lives a life of total purpose…Matthew 20:28, “just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many.”  Jesus lives His life for two purposes -- He lives to be a servant and He lives to be a Savior.  Jesus’ life of purpose reveals to us the heart of God. God has a servant heart. He delights in helping others and serving others.  God also has a heart for people. He loves us. He is a compassionate, merciful God, who is full of grace. God has his sights set on saving you from yourself and your sins. Through Jesus’ life, we see the heart of God.  Jesus says in vs. 10 that, “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.”  The point that Jesus is making to Philip and the disciples is that if you want to see the Father, look at me and listen to me, because I am speaking the very words of the Father.  After Jesus had finished giving the Sermon on the Mount, the people responded this way in Matthew 7. Matthew 7:28-29, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”  Jesus’ words and teachings reveal the authority and power of God. It becomes very clear to the people that God’s ways are definitely higher than theirs.  If we read through the gospels…Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…that tell the life story of Jesus, we notice that in Jesus’ teachings and parables we are given a description of who God is and what He is like.  We see God as our Father, who loves us deeply but is willing to let us make our own decisions and choices even if they are contrary to His will.  We see God as our Shepherd, who cares for us and knows each of us intimately, who provides for us, protects us and leads us in the right direction.  Jesus shows us what God is like through the life He lives and the words that He speaks, but also through the miracles He performs (v.11).  Jesus tells the disciples and Philip in v.11 to at least believe that Jesus is in the Father and that the Father is in him based “on the evidence of the miracles themselves.”  Jesus did not perform miracles to draw attention to Himself, but to focus attention on God.  Jesus entire purpose was to glorify His Father in heaven…and this is precisely what He does.

A young boy approached his father reading the newspaper on the porch, "Dad, why does the wind blow?" "I don’t know, son." "Dad, where do the clouds come from?" "I’m not sure, son." "Dad, what makes a rainbow?" "No idea, son." The young boy leans against the porch railing and says: "Dad, do you mind me asking you all these questions?" Dad looks around the newspaper and says: "Not at all, son. How else are you going to learn?" Hmmm.  This may the case sometimes with us earthly fathers…but, thankfully, this is not the case when it comes to knowing our heavenly Father.  We can know Him...and we can know His Son, Jesus Christ.

Blessings, Don 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Walking with the Spirit (Considering Galatians), Pt. 4


I took a midway break throught the Galatians study, but it is time to get back to business. :-)  Chapter 4 really begins with the end of chapter 3.  3:26-29 is a transitional passage of certain importance.  Paul brings about another climax in thought for the Judaizers, as well as the Gentile believers, here.  In context, he provides the ultimate definition as to what a genuine believer looks like (contrary to the Judaizers' concept)...and it is this definition that all of the Galatian believers need to internalize.  "You are all sons through faith in Christ Jesus" (3:26 ).  Jesus is the unifier, not regulations or traditions.  Paul spells it out clearly -- everyone who has been baptized into, converted to Christ...regardless of race, gender or social a son or daughter of God.  This effectively ties together the whole of chapter 3...there can indeed be unity even though there is some significant diversity in these churches.  Paul, once again, invokes Abraham to make his case, as all of these believers are not only children of God, but children of the promise to Abraham (as he revealed earlier in chapter 3).  Kingdom living triumphs over all other philosophies, attitudes and practices.

He continues this thought process into chapter 4, by saying that even though Judaizers and Gentiles might have literally or figuratively been children of Ishmael at one point, they are no longer they are all children of Isaac or children of the seed of Abraham.  (He will come back to this point at the end of the chapter).  They were once slaves, but now they all are sons...and it is because of this, that they are all heirs of the kingdom.  Some of the Gentiles may have followed the elementary principles of their day with regard to philosophies, traditions, cultic practices (see Paul at Athens in Acts 17), but now relationship with Jesus puts all of those concepts in their proper perspective -- they are worthless in comparison to a relationship with God in Christ (vv.8-11).  Just a side note regarding vv.10-11...I have heard these verses taken out of context in order to describe why Christians should not keep holy days (such as Christmas, Easter) today.  It is important to note that in the Roman letter, Paul says that people can keep special holy days if they so choose to do so, and not do so if they choose not to practice such (Romans 14:1ff).  The issue, once again, is not holidays or circumcision, but living with respect for each other in love.  Paul's point is that he does not want the Judiazers over-emphasis concerning keeping holy days to be a dividing line for the church.  The Gentile believers have allowed themselves to be easily influenced by the Judaizers in this respect.  The Judaizers should not enforce their holidays and other practices on the Gentile believers as a litmus test to determine whether or not they are genuine Christians.  Paul recognizes the severity of the problem for the Galatian churches (vv.17-20), and his tone reflects the critical nature of his concern.

As Paul introduced Him in chapter 3, the key to the discussion, once again, is the presence of the Holy Spirit.  If these believers have the Holy Spirit present and at work in their lives, then they are going to learn and grow in their understanding of spiritual concerns.  Paul is building his case regarding the importance of the Holy Spirit in the spiritual battle for the soul.  He will continue to make this case throughout the remainder of the letter.  (I will address the presence of the Holy Spirit and the modern day believer shortly).  He says that the Galatian believers no longer experience "joy", one of the fruit of the Spirit (v.15).  This is due to the fact that they have traded "spiritual" living, as they learned it in Christ through Paul's example, for "legal" living according to the regulations of old.  It matters not what age, era, or what have you, that people live...folks will never come to spiritual thinking, living through regulations and traditions.  Keeping the law, regulations only serves to quench the Spirit, rob people of their joy.  If these matters are not kept in proper perspective, they can and will only serve to hinder spiritual growth.

Paul concludes his argument by returning to an illustration regarding Hagar and Sarah, wives of patriarch Abraham.  He builds quite a case over several verses (21-31), but his point is this -- those who were supposed to be children of Isaac have behaved like children of Ishmael, being persecutors, hateful toward their brethren...just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the child of the promise.  Indeed Paul's point, once again, is that all who live by faith are children of Isaac, whether they are Jewish or Gentile in their origin.  This had to be radically difficult concept for the Judaizers to grasp, but one that they needed to understand if the church was going to function and prosper.  At the same time, the Gentile believers had to find Paul's message liberating and refreshing.  Jewish and Gentile Christians are going to have to submit to figuring out a way to work through their challenges and grow together.

As I mentioned when I taught this in class -- in our fellowship, we have often made baptism the litmus test as to whether one is a believer or not.  This is interesting and ironic, given the fact that Paul makes whether or not a believer has the Holy Spirit the litmus test as to whether one is in Christ (3:14, 4:6,7, as well as Romans 8:9, 1 Corinthians 3:16, 6:16 even Acts 2:38 and 39, et. al.).  The point is this...not everyone who has been baptized lives like a spiritual person, filled with the Holy Spirit.  There are a host of people who have had a baptism...religious and otherwise...who do not practice or experience kingdom living.  This is precisely what Paul is saying regarding the Judaizers.  They may have put on Christ in baptism, but they do not in any way behave like people who have a relationship with Christ.  This can be just as great a challenge for people today as it was for believers then.  We must be careful that we do not allow our traditions, practices to take away our love for the brethren, and thus, we look like the Judaizers of old in spirit and practice.  However, in relationship to the discussion, no one can experience kingdom living without the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  And, as Paul (Romans 6:1ff, etc.), Luke (Acts 2:38-39, 8:1ff, 16:29ff, etc.) and other NT writers point out, no one can have the Holy Spirit present and working without some conversion involving baptism.  What does this mean?  This may look different to different people.  I do know that I have a lot of Christian friends in my life who may not look like me, act like me, practice their faith exactly the same way that I do, but who have the Holy Spirit and are a vibrant part of the kingdom of God.  This is the proof of discipleship to the greatest degree. 

Blessings, Don

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Love Is the Answer (Now What Was the Question?)


One of the funniest things about cartoons that I always enjoyed were the nonsense “noise” scenes, whether it was Foghorn Leghorn and Dog, Tom and Jerry, or Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner.  When one of them would trying to awaken the other, or just be downright irritating, what did they do?  They would pull out a pair of cymbals and clash them together, or take a mallet and mercilessly beat a gong with it.  Now, if you do this with anyone more than once, they are going to become pretty irritated and riled up.  And I believe that this is precisely why Paul chooses the apt illustration that he does to begin the 1 Corinthians 13.  He says (paraphrased), “If you are able, by some gifting from the Lord, to speak with tongues, exercise great faith, be the best…whatever it is that you do…if you do it without love, then you are like a loud cymbal or gong going off.”  (1 Corinthians 13:1).  It is apparent that the Corinthians struggled with certain “negative” emotions.  This is not too surprising given the high value that the ancient Greeks places on the intellect, and the fact that they diminished "emotions."  Paul experiences this with the Athenians at Mars Hill as he tries to teach them concerning Christ with an illustration from their own highly-esteemed philosophers of the day (Acts 17:22ff).  This was not to diminish the importance of the intellect, but to give it the proper perspective…a priority that we still need today.  Paul understands that if that if the early believers are ever going to understand and experience a relationship with Jesus Christ, that love is going to be at the center of it...and this it is not just a feeling, but a commitment.  

This is one of the most recognizable and significant passages in the New Testament.  It has been interesting to me how people have routinely pulled this message out of context in order to make it stand alone to describe any number of relationships…husband and wife, parent and child, Christian and Christian, Christian and non-Christian.  Yet, in context, it is clearly a description of how Christians are to treat each other as it relates to their spiritual gifts and opportunities for growth.  It is apparent that some of the Corinthians are acting in an arrogant, condescending manner toward some of their brothers and sisters in Christ.  The damaging attitudes on display are to the effect – “I am a better Christian than you, because I have this spiritual gift and it is better than your spiritual gift.”  Paul says, “This is all wrong!”  The first three verses of chapter 13 are routinely ignored, because so much attention is given to verses 4 and following…yet the first few are so descriptive.   In essence, Paul says, 9.     For all of the knowledge of the Word we might gain, convictions we might hold, opinions we might express…if these matters are not tempered God’s Spirit of love, then it is not worth anything.  It is necessary that our love for the Father and the Son and His family be the primary focus of our lives.  We cannot allow ourselves…our opinions, our wants, our selfishness…to get in the way of the greater good and the wholeness of the body.  This is wisdom, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  Love is powerful.  When we exercise love in our lives, certain qualities make themselves evident.  We will strive to have attitudes and actions that are patient, kind, not jealous or arrogant, but thoughtful, humble, seeking to do what is right by and for others. These are very important qualities.  By genuinely pursuing these qualities, it makes all of our relationships fulfilling in their own way.  If this is the case, then matters in our lives begin to make sense that may not have been making much sense previously.  If we are committed to understanding and applying these matters to our lives, then we have captured the spirit and understanding of Paul’s message in 1 Corinthians 13.

Paul goes on to shares that…all things pass away, including you and me, but not love – it remains forever. God is love…and His love never fails.  Faith will eventually no longer have a place…when we see the Father, and the Son, faith will be no more.  Hope will one day be fulfilled and no longer relevant…when we have gone to be with Christ, our hope will have been completed.  Love is truly the greatest of these qualities -- is eternal!  God is characterized by love…as are His children.  It is not a question, “If we should or will love,” but an imperative, “We will love”…it is a choice, an action.  In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote, "Do not waste your time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor, act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.  If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn, you will find yourself disliking him less."  Love is essential…if we who are in Christ truly walk according to God’s love, we will live forever.  Love is means taking a risk to help another. Of all the fruits of the Spirit, love is the greatest virtue. Do you love those people the Lord has placed in your life? Today in prayer, thank Christ that He is love and that the greatest example of love is His dying on the Cross for you.

Blessings, Don

P.S.:  I will get back to Galatians soon. :-)