This sign and the dozens of Happy Birthdays I received via cards, text, and Facebook today was where I saw God in my world this week. Thanks to all who made this a special day.
Monthly Archives: September 2012
One of the things I love about being a Youth Minister is getting to gather with a bunch of teens for a weekend to retreat from the world, spend time in God’s Word, and have times of great worship together. This is one of those weekends. The teens and I are gathering with other teens from around the greater OKC area to retreat to Quartz Mountain Christian Camp.
There is some nostalgia that comes with this weekend for me. QMCC is where I grew up going to Church camp and I haven’t been back there in over ten years. It’ll be fun to relive some of those great memories. It’ll be interesting to see if my name is still on the bunks in the girl’s cabin.
The theme of the weekend is “Vivid” and we’ll be challenging our teens to live their Christian lives in vivid ways. Be praying for our teens this weekend as they examine who they are and who God has called them to be. Also be praying for the relationships that will be built and the community that will be formed amongst our teens around OKC.
I was sitting down to write my blog on an introduction to Ephesians and remembered how good Ryan’s was last year so I pulled it up and am reposting it here. The only thing I would add is a couple lines highlighting vs 9-10 where Paul tells us that the mystery that he is going to be explaining to us is that God is working through Christ to bring to unity all things in heaven and on earth. This merging of heaven and earth and the unity of all things is extremely powerful imagery that begins calling us to meaningful lives as Christians in the world today.
And now from Ryan…
Imagine being adopted at the age of 13. You’re already a little bit insecure about yourself and you have now been brought into a family with pretty elaborate family traditions. Everything that is done seems to have meaning. The more you realize this about the family the more you feel like an outsider. Even though they continue to tell you that you belong, you feel as though you have no place there.
This is how the Gentiles felt, and probably even more so, when they came into the Church. Ephesians is written to encourage these Christians about their placement in the body of Christ. Paul is going to address three things primarily in this letter (I’m trying to be a better preacher so I’ll make them all start with the same letter): 1) Power, 2) Placement, and 3) Purity. I just finished a series with the teens on Ephesians and a few of them could probably tell you about the three P’s in Ephesians.
Power. The Gentiles went from a religious practice where they knew who to pray to for everything. There was a god for every part of life. Having only one God would make them feel as though they were weak if there were multiple gods stacked against them. Paul throughout this letter will remind them, “Our God is so big, so strong, and so mighty, there’s nothing our God cannot do! *clap, clap*” (Paraphrase). Paul will constantly remind them of the power that God has. In today’s reading we see, “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened…to know the hope…glorious inheritance…and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead” (v. 18-20). We have this power too!
Placement. The Gentiles were joining a Church that was made up of Jews. These Jews had a pretty impressive nickname, “God’s Chosen People.” They have been called this for a very long time now and the Gentiles are standing next to them feeling second rate. Paul’s response, you’ve been chosen in Christ before the creation of the world (v. 4), which predates the Jews. They also probably felt out of place because the style of worship would have been almost completely Jewish at that point. It would be like most of us going to a Catholic Mas for the first time. When do I sit? When do I stand? That footstool is to kneel on? What is that man lifting up? Was I supposed to respond right then?! Don’t feel out of place here! This is the Body of Christ and you are home now! You’ll hear this language throughout Paul’s writing.
Purity. Now that your Power and Placement have been established, the proper response is to live a life of purity. You’ve been made pure through Christ so go and live it. This will come later in the book.
I’m really excited and looking forward to the time we are about to spend together in Ephesians.
Restore sinful Brothers and Sisters gently
Carry each other’s burdens – This fulfills the law of Christ
Don’t deceive yourself into thinking you are something.
Test your own actions – We often are only concerned with the actions of others.
God cannot be mocked…this is a good reminder. You’re doing to reap what you sow. Let’s be careful here. This is not some kind of pseudo-Christian Karma thing. You will not receive payment for every bad thing you’ve done. Christ took care of that on the cross. That being said, if you sow to please the sinful nature you will reap destruction. Sow to please the Spirit and you will reap eternal life. In short…know what you’re planting!
I have always found verse 11 humorous as far as our translations go. Couldn’t Zondervan have bumped the font size up a few notches or something? Paul here makes a final push to keep them from being lead astray from their identity in Christ to be circumcised and identified as a Jew.
These people are pushing circumcision because it is what distinguishes the Jews as Jews. Rome allowed the Jews to practice their religion and did not force them to practice the state cult. If Christianity didn’t do the specific things that distinguished them as Jews they would most likely be persecuted. In case you were wondering how they knew if you were circumcised or not…they looked.
The things that mark you as different from others have lost their meaning. Your skin color, economic status, political affiliation, nationality, etc. have no value in the Kingdom of God. The only thing worth boasting about is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified through him and no longer has any meaning. What matters then? Moving beyond all of those things into the New Creation. What things do you need to put on the cross?
Paul starts this section by talking about the problems that continue to be caused by those insisting that circumcision is necessary for salvation. The argument is essentially this, “Either you are free from the law or you aren’t. Quit trying to have it both ways.” You see, some Jews were teaching that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to come into God’s Kingdom, but they understood and celebrated that they were set free from the law. Paul wants them to understand that they can’t simply pick and choose which parts of a failed system they want to apply to their lives and the lives (and bodies) of those around them. Be consistent and realize that God has done away with all of the old divisions, all of the old requirements and all of the junk that used to bind us. We are free in Christ! Quit trying to enslave each other as if Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t set you fully free. When you deny the cross has this power you deny grace and the power of the cross!
And then Paul does the same thing he always does after discussing freedom in Christ or the passing of the law. He talks about the new system that we choose to live under as Christian. Just because the law is gone, doesn’t mean you can pull out the 10 Commandments and turn the violation of these laws into your New Year’s Resolution list. You can’t turn freedom in Christ into an orgy. Then Paul goes and lists the things that don’t belong to Christian living. If your life is full of these actions and this is what you are producing, then you have missed the point and are in danger of destruction. Instead, Paul lists the nine characteristics produced by Christian living: self-control, gentleness, kindness, love, joyfulness, peacefulness, goodness, and faithfulness.
Did you see what I did there? When I listed the fruits of the spirit I put them out of order. It hopefully made you slow down and read them. There are some things in life that we are so used to being in the order we know them to be in that we can simply skim them when we approach the list. Here, take this exercise for example.
Which letter of the alphabet is missing from this sequence?
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n p q r s t u v w x y z
Now tell me which letter is missing from the letters listed below.
h e b s d r t q y a z f n c u v m w i j x l k o p
It’s more challenging, isn’t it? Now most of you can probably list the nine fruit of the spirit. But can you quickly tell me which one is missing from the characteristics I mentioned in the paragraph above (Did you notice I left one out)?
It’s easy to skim over the things we know the best. Ironically, it often means that knowing them the best means paying attention to them the least. So actually take a moment to think about the nine fruit of the Spirit and assess how much you demonstrate those characteristics that show how God is working in your life. Just because you know it doesn’t mean you life it.
We ended last week’s blog with Paul’s call to end race/sex/class-ism because we are all united in Christ as one people. This ongoing theme throughout Galatians comes to a climax that our identity is wrapped up in being “sons of God.” Anything else in our identity is secondary to this reality. We allow so many things to divide us because we forget about our sonship in Christ. We have His Spirit in us and we have the privilege of inheritance.
With the establishment of our sonship, Paul then transitions to our conversion from slavery to freedom. If you identify yourself with something other than Christ then you are a slave to it and not free in Christ. People will come along and try and win you to their cause and make you slaves because what you have decided to follow are mere idols and not truly God. Being zealous is great but make sure it is for God. I love Paul’s language in this middle section. He is in the pains of childbirth till Christ is formed in them. This is a passion we need to strive for in our dealings with new Christians. Too often we have babes in Christ born into His Church that we allow to go malnourished and often allow to die.
He then moves into some offensive imagery. It took me a while to realize how offensive he is being in the final section of this chapter but he basically says that the Jews are sons of Hagar (sons of Ishmael) and those who follow Christ are sons of Sarah (sons of Isaac), sons of the promise. Get rid of the slave woman who brings you down and cling to your mother, the Jerusalem from above.
You may have read the headlines this week. The topic of Jesus potentially being married has become mainstream news in recent years for several reasons. First, the book The Davinci Code was a fiction novel that wove together elements of art history, church history and conspiracy theory into a fascinating action adventure book, all based on the idea that there was a huge church cover-up regarding Jesus’ secret marriage to Mary Magdalene. Second, the Catholic church maintains the view that clergy should remain abstinent as Jesus was. This often derided practice could be tossed aside if Jesus was, in fact married. So, when an ancient papyrus shows up that says Jesus took Mary as his wife and made her a disciple, it’s national news.
The research has been put together by Karen King, a scholar at Harvard. The document is being called The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife. To the author’s credit, she has sought to provide accurate context to her findings in this mysterious document. You can read her full (although very technical) findings here: http://news.hds.harvard.edu/files/King_JesusSaidToThem_draft_0917.pdf. Best picture and summary of this is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/19/us/historian-says-piece-of-papyrus-refers-to-jesus-wife.html?pagewanted=all.
King states plainly at the very beginning of her research (and in seemingly every interview regarding this text) that “It does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married.” It is valuable in recognizing some of the conversations that were taking place regarding Jesus several hundred years after his death. It appears people were still trying to figure out what Christian teachings meant for marriage, family, sex and discipleship (much like we still are today). Somehow, the multitude of views on this matter had led people hundreds of years after his life and death to change their stories about Jesus creating conflicting accounts about his relationships.
It’s interesting though to see how the media covers this story. Here’s a few of the headlines about King’s research. Remember, she begins by saying this provides no evidence that Jesus was married.
- From Fox News: Harvard Scholar’s Discovery Suggests Jesus had a Wife. http://www.foxnews.com/science/2012/09/18/harvard-scholar-discovery-suggests-jesus-had-wife/
- From ABC News: Was Jesus Married? Ancient Papyrus Mentions his ‘Wife’ http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2012/09/was-jesus-married-ancient-papyrus-mentions-his-wife/
- From CNN: Newly Revealed Coptic fragment has Jesus making reference to ‘my wife’ http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/18/living/fragment-suggests-jesus-was-married/index.html
The Fox News headline is without question the most misleading. The New York Times points out that she repeatedly emphasized that this does not prove or indicate Jesus was married. King also states “The text was probably written centuries after Jesus lived, and all other early, historically reliable Christian literature is silent on the question, she said.” Unfortunately, many people read headlines and few read articles.
King does a good job of keeping her research in context. Historically, it really doesn’t tell us anything about Jesus. It does tell us what people were saying about him centuries later. God made people in his image. And yet many of us spend out entire lives trying to make God (or Jesus in this case) into our image. It’s likely that people who were married wanted Jesus to have that in common with them. This happens through art in every culture, where Jesus is often portrayed as sharing the dominant ethnicity of that culture. There is some value in recognizing that Jesus was like us and that we are like Jesus. But it can always be dangerous when we actually start to place characteristics on Jesus that don’t fit.
So I guess here’s the summary:
- There’s nothing in this discovery to indicate Jesus was married.
- This can be valuable for helping us to see how Jesus was being discussed and how controversial he was centuries after his life and death. He remains controversial today. Changing everything does that.
- The four Gospels in the Bible are way more historically reliable regarding Jesus’ actual life than this later anonymous papyrus by any historical standard. Some experts still question it’s authenticity as an ancient document, although it likely is.
- It’s always dangerous when people try to make Jesus fit their image of who he should be.
- Beware headlines. They sell papers (and get you to read blogs) but they never tell the whole story and sometimes they cover it up.
Understanding Terms and Phrases
Okay, so this passage is loaded with ancient Jewish stuff. So here’s a few things you need to know about Galatians 3 as it might have been read by a Jew in Paul’s time.
- Abraham is the Patriarch of Israel, who was understood to be God’s chosen people.
- Children of Abraham is a phrase that everyone would understand to mean Israelites (or Judah)
- God Promised Abraham that he would have many descendants, becoming a great nation. He promised him the land of Canaan. He promised that Abraham’s seed would become a blessing to all the nations of the earth.
- To be a good “Child of Abraham” you were expected to live according to the law and obediently toward God.
Now, Paul is going to take those understanding and terms and turn them on their head by using a very scriptural and Jewish approach.
- God declared that Abraham was made righteous because of his faith. (Rather than being made righteous by the law which came centuries later).
- Therefore, true children of Abraham aren’t genetically like him, but they are faithfully like him. So a Gentile with Abraham’s faith is more his child than an Israelite without faith.
- The seed of Abraham is now a blessing to all the nations because Jesus has opened access to God’s Kingdom to people from every nation through his death on the cross.
- So now all of you in the church in Galatia who have been baptized are now children of Abraham and children of God.
- These children of Abraham and children of God (by faith and faith alone) are the true recipients of God’s blessing and inheritance (not Israel).
- Christians are now God’s Holy Nation and a Priestly People. We are to be in the world, but not of the world. We should be reflecting God to the world and be reflecting the world to God. The church now has taken on the vocation that once was unique to Israel.
Paul’s ultimate conclusion to this argument is that this transformation and new understanding of what Christ’s sacrifice means for the “children of Abraham” has brought about an end to division, racism, sexism and prejudice. There is no Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, for you are all one in Christ.
That’s pretty powerful stuff.
There are a few major practices that they Jews did that set themselves apart from the rest of the world. Two major practices were circumcision and their table practices. One of the biggest problems in the early church was that the Jews wanted the non-Jews to take part in these practices to make them set apart like they are as Jews. Righteousness comes through Christ and our identity is found in him, not in our practices.
It is easy to ignore these practices when you are in the minority. When your Jewish friends show up you are tempted then to segregate yourself from people who are not like you to distinguish with your friends that you are different (and above) the others. This is the hypocrisy that Paul is calling out in Peter. We are all one in Christ and are not to be divided by nationally different. There is neither Jew nor Gentile.
One of the early misconceptions about how the Jews thought about the Law was that you have to follow the Law in order to get into Covenant with God. The Jews understood that they were brought into covenant with God through His grace and justified by Him. It is observance of the Law that keeps them in this covenant. This is why Paul in v15-16 says that they who are Jews by birth “know that a person is not justified by observing the law” and now understands that it is through Christ that they are justified. If it is through God’s grace that the Jews were brought into covenant and not through Law observance, why would they tell the Gentiles who have been justified by Christ that they now have to observe the Law to belong? Now that they see it is Christ who justifies, why would they as Jews not put their faith in Jesus as well?
What do we learn from this exchange?
There are things that make us different from different groups of people that we will naturally want to divide ourselves on. It could be class, race, status, gender, etc. The more important ones that I feel like need to be pointed out are our politics. Some people will pray that we will elect a new leader who is Godly, which begs the assumption that the current one is not Godly. I then begin to wonder how my Brothers and Sisters who happen to be democrats feel about these prayers. I made a comment once about my friend being a democrat and a friend of mine responded, “I thought he was a Christian?” Is our national pride more important to us than our unity in Christ? No matter where you are in politics, you are a Christian first and your citizenship in the Kingdom is far more important than your citizenship as an American.
On another scale, when we send missionaries into the world they take the American church with them and tell them that this is the correct way to be a Christian, totally ignoring the culture that Christianity should be part of. One of my friends went down to drastically different culture than ours for short term missions and when he got off the plane he saw a lot of half dressed people walking around. When it was time for worship on Sunday, all of them men showed up in dress shirts with ties on and the women in long dresses. Apparently the church back in the 50s had taken clothes for them to wear on Sundays.
We need to be careful about what we allow to divide us as followers of Christ. Do we see Christians around the world as our Brothers and Sister equally or as below us in need of our help because they aren’t from the USA? We are one in Christ because Christ has justified us. Does anything else matter?
What is divisive in your life that needs to be crucified with Christ so that Christ can live in you? The life you now live, you live in the Kingdom of God, the Church, the Body of Christ. You live this life in faith because Christ brought you into it and you have no advantage over anyone else in the Kingdom.