love the world?

I love this quote from Bishop Tom Wright…“The Christian calling is to know the world with a knowledge that approximates to love. And the point about love – the epistemology which love generates – is that love both affirms the other-ness of the object (objectivity) while remaining in deep, rich and close subjective (subjectivity) relationship to it. Love transcends the objective-subjective divide.

Indeed. Love – true love – is a beautiful marriage of objectivity and subjectivity. It is not merely objective. That kind of ‘love’ would be distant, detached, indifferent and irrelevant. Also, it it not merely subjective, either. That kind of ‘love’ would be spine-less, scared, watered-down and weak.

Objectivity can’t handle interactions with things that are not like ‘it’. Objectivity remains detatched and protects its own ‘other-ness’, lest it become ‘corrupted’ from interaction with the alien ‘other’. Because it remains detached, it will never make a difference. It either escapes altogether, or watches from a distance.

Likewise, subjectivity will never make a difference. It is so interactive with the ‘other’ that it takes on the very nature of the ‘other’ and is therefore no longer itself, and therefore no longer able to influence or change. It is either enveloped-into or itself invelops the other.

God is often described in some of these ways. On one hand, God’s holiness and un-changing nature certainly seems in-corruptible and ‘objective.’ But is God so ‘objective’ that He remains detached, dis-interested and removed from reality? Most certainly not! The Scriptures testify to God dwelling among and being active in His creation – supremely so in Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, God’s gentle care and sacrificial love seems to point to a more ‘subjective’ quality of God. But is that to say that God is a push-over or that He compromises His own nature? No way! The Scriptures are clear that God is not mocked, He does not change and there is none like Him!

Not only do we mis-understand the nature of God in these ways, we also can mis-represent Him in these same ways. We can seek to be so pure and undefiled above all else (not ‘of’ the world, but unfortunately also not ‘in’ it!) that we have little or no effect on it. Purity and holiness is vital and important, but that purity and holiness needs to be seen by the impure and un-holy world we live in. This means we cannot retreat into our ‘Christian’ corner of the world.

Also, we can seek to be so ‘relevant’ in the world (‘in’ the world, but also unfortunately ‘of’ it), that we end up being just like it, and therefore have little or no effect on it once again. We must speak in the world’s language and meet them where they are at, but all the while taking care that we are imitating Christ, not the world. How can we expect the world to care about our hope when we dream, plan, spend and consume just like the rest of the world?

I think of two verses that could be seen as contradictory, but aren’t – especially in this light. The first is the ‘objective’ 1 John 2:15; Do not love the world, nor the things of this world.” The second is the ‘subjective’ John 3:16; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son…” It’s not either/or. It’s both.

May we love God as God loves the world. In objectivity, may we see the ‘other-ness’ of the ‘world’ not as a threat to escape from, but as a field to work in. In subjectivity, may we seek interaction with the world not in order to imitate it, but in order to influence it.

the heavenly reality

“Heaven.” What a mis-understood word this is!

For some, ‘heaven’ is simply a warm, fuzzy, good, old-fashioned or positive feeling they get when things happen to be going their way. Many others define ‘heaven’ in ways that are not unlike the Greek/Roman idea of the ‘after-life’ – in which your ghostly ‘soul’ floats away on a cloud.

Not only am I nervous about several overly definitive Christian definitions of ‘heaven’, (as if we could know exactly what it is like!) I’m also nervous that we may often mix one or both of the above ideas with the ideas we get from the Bible.

The promise of eternal life for God’s people is clear, but the Bible was not written to give us a encyclopedic definition of it. Rather than that, we are given pictures, glimpses and/or images of what it is. The biblical ‘heaven’ is more lasting than a fleeting ‘shot in the arm’ of cheerful glee, and infinitely more real than your soul flying around in a dis-embodied realm of clouds.

Heaven is the place where God is. It is not sitting at the far corner of the universe, but rather, a completely different dimension altogether. What seems to separate heaven and earth is not light-years of distance in space (or whatever), but rather the current condition of earth and it’s inhabitants. Even still, God’s dimension ‘breaks out’ onto ours in various ways. Heaven breaking out onto earth, is like God’s space ‘overlapping’ with ours. Dwelling with His people in the tabernacle, behind the veil in the Temple and now in our ‘hearts’ by His Spirit are all examples of this.

Now, God’s space wasn’t intended to merely overlap with ours. God’s intention was to ‘share’ His ‘space’ with His image-bearing creatures – us (think Garden of Eden). Human rebellion and degradation has distorted the image of God, and has left us (along with the entire universe) in dire need of restoration of that image.

This is where it get’s exciting…

Christ came (Himself a perfect expression of heaven and earth – God and man) and fulfilled what it meant to be the Image of God. His death defeated the power of evil, and His resurrected body is the ‘first-fruits’ of God’s restored order of being! God’s New Creation has begun! The reality of heaven has burst onto the scene, and it looks, feels and sounds like Jesus!

Indeed, the Christian hope of Heaven is not having spots of ecstatic bliss, and not soul-soaring in the sky. It is sharing God’s life in a New Heaven and New Earth that has been resurrected, re-made, re-built and restored to God’s intention.

That day is sure to come, but we don’t have to sit on our bums and wait for it to come. Jesus begs us to pray that Day (even just a grain of it!) into Today. “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Every good deed we do in Jesus name and in the power of the Spirit (and only by His Spirit, thank you very much) is a fresh work of New Creation that is not in vain (1 Cor. 15 – end of chapter).

fighting over the god of abraham?

U2 rocked Mt. Albert Stadium this past Friday.In addition to providing exhilarating entertainment and much more, Bono – to the surprise of none – beat his drum of anti-poverty and world peace. Noble indeed. At one point, Bono donned a white bandana with the word ‘Coexist’ in black letters. The Crescent moon of Islam, the Jewish Star of David, and the Christian Cross in place of the ‘C’, ‘X’ and ‘T’.The idea is obvious and wonderful: These three world religions ought to be able to exist together without murdering each other. From the horrific Crusades involving all three, to the Nazi extermination of Jews (and others) in the name of Christ, to the more recent acts of terrorism by Muslim fundamentalists, the world has seen more than enough violence in the name of religion. To advocate peace is undeniably a good and desperately needed cause.

During this part of the concert, Bono pointed out that Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim Abraham as a father-figure and are happy to call themselves ‘Sons of Abraham’. One phrase he used to drive this home was “Jesus. Jew. Mohammed. It’s true.”

The reaction from some of the Christian community has been quite interesting. Some see Bono as equating the three faiths, and others defend him as merely trying to advocate peace and using their common ground with Abraham to do so. At any rate, the following question has resurfaced in many conversations: Do Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

I’d like to answer the question with another: Do Christians, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses worship the same Jesus? Whether we like it or not, the answer to these questions is both Yes and No.

On one hand, we can point to the basic, general things the faiths have in common. Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the same principles of monotheism (all 3 believe in One God), election (all 3 believe that God chooses a people to be His own) and eschatology (all 3 believe in a future hope of eternal life with God).

On the other hand, we can point to the many more ways in which they are different. The number of different beliefs is too many to list here, so I’ll just focus on the one that is not only the biggest, but the most important – Jesus.

Jews believe Jesus was a good prophet and teacher, but far from Messiah, and anything but Lord of the Universe. Muslims believe that Jesus was ‘a messiah’ that will return to earth again, but don’t see him as ‘the Messiah’ and certainly not as God incarnate.

The Christian faith centers on Jesus. He is the One Lord; of the One people of God; who have the One glorious hope of resurrection.

One of the great things about serving Jesus is that he doesn’t ever ask us to kill in the name of religion. Though there are differences between Judaism, Islam and Christianity which will always separate us spiritually, we should have no problem coexisting with them physically.

I’ll close by quoting the end of a discussion Jesus had with the Pharisees of his time.

“Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” – John 8:56-58

jesus means this much

What does Jesus ‘mean’ to you?

Most responses would not be too likely to stray too far from the very familiar bible verse, John 3:16. We don’t often recognise Jesus as being much more than someone who died for ‘me.’ To be absolutely certain, Jesus most assuredly did die for ‘me‘, but I think it it vital that we push through this individualism and realise that He is also so much more than that! Not only is He Lord of my heart, He is also Lord of the entire universe.

The Gospel-writers wanted to direct their audience to the true Jesus. The Jesus that the Holy Spirit had been (and still was) opening and renewing their minds to see more clearly. Not just a one-sided, prop-up Jesus, to give the intellectual nod to, and/or give a nice, warm and fuzzy hug. Instead they wanted them to see a full-fledged, exasperating Jesus, to worship, adore and serve – indeed, to die for.

This, I think, is why the Gospel-writers didn’t simply provide us with a handful of happy texts telling us only that God loves us (or a list of texts about how to discover the secret Jesus, as in the later-written Gnostic text, the Gospel of Thomas). Instead, they wrote Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Instead of giving a list of things to believe about Jesus, or whatever, they wrote stories – indeed, true stories. These stories – in very different, yet complimentary ways – have much more to say about Jesus than simply that he died for ‘me.’

Instead, the Gospel-writers drew upon the rich story of their people (Israel), and presented Jesus as the centre, the theme, the end, the solution, the climax – even the very point! – of this story. In other words, for the Gospel-writers, all who Jesus was/is and all that He accomplished had eclipsed and surpassed the meaning of the entire story of Israel!

For example, everything that the Temple had ever meant or stood for, was trumped by Jesus. The author of Matthew records Jesus declaring that He was ‘greater than the temple.’ (12:6) John’s Gospel tells it more explicitly, “Jesus… said to them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up…’ …but He was speaking of the temple of His body. Therefore, when He had risen from the dead, His disciples remembered that He had said this…” (2:19-22)

The New Testament way of speaking about this ‘trumping of meaning’ is called ‘fulfilling.’ This is one area in which I think we may need to re-evaluate our thinking. I think the writers of the New Testament saw Jesus as ‘ful-filling’ the meaning of not just a few ‘proof’ verses here and there, but the Old Testament as a whole! I think He means that much!

Take Isaiah’s Suffering Servant imagery in chapter 53, for example. We often reduce the entire passage down to a few verses, but the image of the Suffering Servant is not just in a few verses in this chapter. It is a broader, much larger image (beginning in ch. 42), thought by many to represent the entire nation of Israel itself, or a specific leader at the time. With our limited perspective, we may not know what each and every verse meant at the time, but I suspect the writer knew. I’ve heard people say that Jesus must have been un-attractive based on the verse that says, ‘there is no beauty that we should desire Him‘. I don’t think that’s the point. I think the point is this: The Gospel writers saw Jesus as ‘trumping’ the meaning of the Suffering Servant. Every single scrap of meaning that the Servant imagery had, is even more fully realised in Jesus. He is the personification of Suffering, and the personification of Service. Indeed, the word became flesh!

What I’m suggesting is that Jesus doesn’t merely ‘fulfill’ a verse here and there, but rather He embodies the entire story of Israel. Every holy place (temple, Jerusalem, etc.), every role (prophet, priest, king), every event (passover, sabbath, etc.) and every other symbol (covenant, manna, law) finds its substance in Him! He is the Tabernacle, the Sacrfice, the High Priest, the Passover, the Sabbath, the Law, the Covenant, the King, the Prophet, the Warrior, the Slave, the Lamb, the Messiah, the True Israelite, the Son of Man, and so on… (The writer of Hebrews moves from symbol to symbol in similar fashion, yet in meticulous detail.)

May we see Jesus for all that He is. May we see Him as so much more (and no less!) than our personal, individual Jesus. May we see Him as some-One to live and die for.

eating from the wrong tree

Though many Christians would like to try – and sometimes do try, I don’t think we will ever be able to solve all the world’s morality problems. I’m thinking we might as well get used to it.

But in spite of this, we just love to try and ‘battle’ against the world’s morality. Now, I’m not advocating moral relativism – where right and wrong are determined by what you had for breakfast. I most certainly believe in true good and true evil. What I am suggesting, however, is that rather than it being our job to sort this out, we are to trust God to do so. When we try to sort out the good/evil thing, we are trying to so something that only God can do.

This mistake is actually at the heart of the Garden of Eden story. Adam and Eve were given absolute freedom in the garden to eat from any tree they liked, and were forbidden to eat from just one tree. Genesis 2:16-17, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die.” Good and evil were held secure by God – no assistance or meddling needed.

Well, tending the garden and eating from any of the other trees just wasn’t enough. They apparently wanted to help God with good and evil as well. The key verse is Genesis 3:6, “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and was a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of it’s fruit and ate.” The results of this are in Gen. 3:22, “…the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil…’ ”

All talk of apples and snakes aside, let’s see what the story is getting at – she ate from the tree that she thought would make her wise! All of the other trees in the garden were ‘good for food’ and ‘pleasing to the eye’ (Gen. 2:9), but this tree had more. This isn’t simply about eating an apple when you were meant to stick to oranges and figs! Neither is it talking about Eve simply wanting more wisdom to make better life choices. This is much more serious. This is the inversion of the creator/creation relationship! This is about Adam and Eve trying to take God’s place!

I wonder if we eat from the same ‘tree’ today. Do we try to tackle morality (good/evil) in our own hands? Who are we to do that!? Please don’t hear me saying that morality doesn’t matter. It matters so much that it takes God to sort it out! Yes, the ‘garden’ needs tending (Gen. 2:15), but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that God needs our help sorting out good/evil. The more we focus on sorting out the world’s morality problems, the more we show we don’t trust God to do it.

May we eat freely from all of the life God has given us.

the gospel announcement

If you know anything about the word ‘gospel’, you probably know that it means ‘Good News.’ You may also know that it is the word (euangelion‘) that a Roman herald would use in making the announcement that there was a new Emperor in the Empire. I love the way that Tom Wright points out that these Roman heralds were not offering an invitation, but rather making an announcement. As Wright says, these heralds didn’t ride into town and say, “In case you are interested in offering your devotion to someone, you may wish to try Caesar, who has recently become the Emperor of Rome. He would be delighted if you should wish to follow him.” Instead, it would have been more like this, “We bring you the good news (‘gospel’) of Rome that Caesar Augustus is now our beloved Emperor, and demands your allegiance and taxes! On your knees!” In short, these heralds were declaring that Caesar was Lord!

The idea of ‘good news’ was certainly not just a Roman thing, however. The Jewish prophet Isaiah had spoken centuries ago about ‘good tidings’ for the poor, etc. (ch. 52 & 61 and other places). In fact, when Isaiah was translated into Greek (in the Septuagint), they used the same word (euangelion‘) in these places! Indeed, the word ‘gospel’ had a very different usage when the New Testament was written!

Believing the ‘Gospel’ in the first century came complete with side-effects, and it wasn’t simply that you belonged to a club that you didn’t before. If it was the Gospel of Caesar, the side-effect was that you would swear allegiance to him as Lord – lived out by paying taxes and obedience to the Roman system. Whether you were an orator, civic benefactor, patron, client, land-owner, peasant or slave, obedience meant knowing your place and not rocking the boat.

With the coming of Jesus, the word Gospel took on new meaning – as did the side-effects that went with believing it. For Jews, believing the Gospel of Jesus meant that the ‘good news’ of Isaiah had never been announced like it had been with Jesus. In the Roman world, however, believing the Gospel of Jesus was hazardous for your health! Believing that Jesus was Lord meant believing that Caesar was not! It meant believing that the ‘good news’ of Jesus made the ‘good news’ of Rome look like a cheap scam. It meant no longer living according to a system which really only served an elite few at the top, but rather living according to the character of a Lord, who is nothing at all like Caesar.

What in the world does this mean for us today? Possibly more than we care to know. I think it means that the Gospel of Jesus has little to do with an invitation that I accept (as if it were about ‘me’), and everything to do with an announcement that is true. Jesus really IS Lord. My life needs to give voice to that, and simply saying so won’t do. Simply associating with others that say so (or not associating with those that don’t) won’t do either. Our spending habits, dreams (‘American’ or otherwise), time, money, standard of living, and much more – they all must bow the knee to the fact that Jesus is Lord. Announcing this is our calling. It will definitely require our words, but equally (or more) so, it will require our lives.

the spiritual world – 3 options

Do a ‘google-search’ on the word ‘spiritual’ and you’ll find thousands and thousands of results. There seem to be as many views on ‘spirituality’ as there are types of music. All of the endless talking and writing about spirituality seems to stay close to a few types of questions…-What is spirituality?
-How do I practise it?
-What does it ‘look’ like?
-Whose version of it works the best?
-Is there a ‘best version’ at all?
-Am I spiritual enough?
etc.

Well. Of course, I cannot possibly address every idea about spirituality. I haven’t even heard every idea out there – and I seriously doubt anyone has. I can’t even address every idea about spirituality that supposedly comes from the Christian community! The topic is so vast and it contains so many contradictory ideas, it can be quite exhausting even thinking about it for long!

What a tough deal. Huh? I firmly believe that ALL humans are spiritual beings, and I think most people would agree (but again, it depends on your definition of ‘spiritual’). We all seem to have this deep sense of this thing we call ‘sprirituality’, but there are so many views out there (even within Christendom), that trying to find the best (true, correct, right?) one can wear us out quickly.

I want to encourage health in this area. For those seeking a better ‘spiritual health’ that are growing (or have grown) tired of the search, I want to encourage them to not give up. Our lives matter just that much.

Instead of delving into this bottom-less pit of ideas, I thought I would share a ‘set of glasses’ with you. I discovered them from reading a book by N.T. Wright called “Simply Christian”. These ‘glasses’ provide a framework with which to evaluate various ideas about spirituality and the world. My hope is that they will fuel your search with enthusiasm.

Right about now, some readers might be thinking, “But we have the Bible. No search is necessary. Just read what it says,” to which I would respond, “OK. Then how can there be so many different – even contradictory – ideas about spirituality which all claim to be ‘biblical’? While I believe that the Bible does have the answers, I’m nervous about such a simplistic pat-answer to this very important question.

The spheres of ‘spirituality’ and ‘religion’ are overlapping to say the least. Ask just about anyone what spirituality is, and they will eventually say something about tapping into a ‘greater’ reality, God, god, being, existence, mindset, Mindset or whatever. Using 3 ‘options’, these ‘glasses’ provide a way of viewing the universe we live in and how ‘god’ fits into the picture.

Option 1
The first option is to see the entire universe as being – in it’s very nature or essence – god. This is known as the pantheist view (pan = everything, theos = god). As N.T. Wright points out, the unavoidable difficulty with this view is that it is hard to account for the obvious evil that we see so clearly around us. If everything in itself is divine, and evil is so apparent, then the divine must contain evil, right? This tension is seen in such symbols as the yin-yang, used in Confucianism and Taoism. Unfortunately, we are left with a corrupt deity in this view.

Option 2
This option views god’s realm as being detached and/or dis-interested with our realm. The idea is that because the divine must be pure, and our world is so obviously corrupted, stained and flawed, the divine simply cannot have anything to do with this existence. This god may have created the world, but now must have more important things to do, because our world certainly is being ignored. Perhaps this god may come down and do something scary every once and a while, but for the most part, is distracted by ‘heavenly’ business. Many versions of this view have been articulated, but perhaps the most well known person to do so was Plato. His view has become known as dualism, in which this world is merely a flawed copy of the ideal world. (Though we may not realise it, many so-called Christian ideas and Bible verse interpretations are tainted with this understanding of the universe.) The problem with this view is that while we admit that our world is most certainly flawed, we still behold it’s beauty and majesty. We find mountains, hills, fields, flowers, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, sunsets, full-moons, and ocean waves to be deeply moving. Indeed, the Bible gives repeated testimony to the greatness of God’s good creation.

Option 3
Option 1 cannot solve the question of evil, and leaves us with a deity that is in some way – at least in part – corrupt. Option 2 cannot explain the richness and glory of the universe, and leaves us confused about how to get the attention and favour of it’s distant god. Continuing with N.T. Wrights ‘glasses’, our third option is to see two dimensions – Heaven and Earth – which ‘overlap’ and ‘interlock’ in various ways. The divine interacts with and relates to this world. This highlights the personal nature of this God. This God is somehow able to act in our very own space and time while at the same time remaining sovereign over it. This God is able to promise His people that He will ‘dwell among them’.

Perhaps this is already sparking some thinking and re-thinking about some things. Perhaps you’re wondering about some versions of spirituality. Which option do they fit most comfortably in?

Option 1 spirituality can seem to not have any real substance or meaning. If everything is god, then I don’t need to ‘tap into’ anything, but instead I must try to make the idea work in my brain that the ground, the air, the water, my computer, my car and myself are all god. How does that help me live? I have no idea.

Option 2 spirituality can leave us confused about how to relate to the god. If this god is so distant, I probably have to use the right techniques, prayers, rituals or words to get its attention. If this existence is just a flawed copy of the idea existence, then it certainly can’t matter very much, and what real difference do my actions make? If they matter at all, it must be so I can secure for myself a better after-life, right? Again, many ‘Christian’ ideas are polluted with such thinking.

Option 3 provides us with an existence that is dripping with spirituality. Not a spirituality of self-realisation that seeks to understand our god-ness (option 1), and not a confused grasp in the dark at a face-less ‘something out there’ which I can try to manipulate into working for me (option 2), but rather, an existence that: calls me into relationship with a Creator God who wants me to be His image, reveals the character of the Creator to guide me to a lifestyle of this image, and gives me a role to play in the Creator’s unfolding story of redemption.

We don’t have to live in a mediocre, bland fake-ness that suggests everything is fine and divine (option 1). We don’t have to ‘hold our breath’ between ‘spiritual moments’ as if they only come every once in a while – perhaps miraculously (option 2). We instead are given the task of passing on the gift of Grace which we have received freely from the Creator, using not just the right collection of ‘spiritual experiences’ to do this, but rather, we realise that our whole life is a spiritual experience and journey in which we grow in relationship to the Spirit of the Creator, who ‘dwells with us’ and orients us to new life. A life rich with meaning, direction and purpose. A life that is part of the Creator’s story. A life of strength in weakness. A life of weeping with those who weep. A life modeled after the life of Jesus.

good will toward us

At the time of Christ’s birth, the angels said to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!” (Luke 2:14) Isn’t that an amazing idea that God extended His good will in our direction? He did so in the very act of Christ taking on our flesh and dwelling among us (John 1:14). It’s the act of incarnation. Christ gave up the comfort and prestige of heaven and willingly chose to live a life filled with discomfort and mockery. Our Lord went through times of loneliness, being misunderstood, physical exhaustion, hunger, agony, pain and yes, death.

Christ knew from eternity what would come with His incarnation. This Christmas, perhaps we can recognize our calling to be like Christ in this way. We are called to go into the world in the same way Christ did. All too often Christians instead choose to live cozy lives of faithful church service attendance, Bible studies, and friendships with other believers. We are quite comfortable to speak to each other in Christian-ese and continually listen to our favourite style of worship music.

Of course, I’m not trying to devalue the utter importance of Christian fellowship. Quite the contrary. I’m just saying that our calling includes so much more than fellowship. We must go into the world. We must learn the language of the world. To do this we must risk being… uncomfortable. It means we don’t force people to listen to our stories until we’ve listened to theirs. The willingness to do this doesn’t come naturally, but super-naturally. May we have the courage of Christ in us to motivate us to sacrifice our comfort, reputations, productivity, lifestyle or anything else that is keeping us from fully answering our calling to be incarnational.

fools and rules

Last week, we talked about how important thoughts are.

This week I want to continue that theme as we look at a passage in Galatians. Our thinking about sin and righteousness just plain matters. In the first century, Paul, who was a Jew among Jews (Gal. 1:13-14), was radically transformed into the Apostle that we know so well for reaching Gentiles (non-Jews) with the Gospel. When he converted, he eventually joined the rest of the Apostles. In Galatians, Paul recalls a ‘disagreement’ he had with Peter (yes, Peter.) and a few of the other Apostles. (And you thought disputes in church were a recent thing?) Paul literally got in Peter’s face about being a hypocrite. When Peter was at Antioch, he had no problem eating with Gentiles until some folks arrived that said that believers had to be circumcised. Peter was afraid that he would be seen eating with these uncircumcised Gentiles, so he stopped eating with them!

Paul openly rebuked him, asking him why he should expect Gentiles to live as Jews, when he (a Jewish believer) lived as a Gentile? Paul then reminded Peter that justification was not from keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ!

Some of the early Jewish-Christian believers of the 1st century struggled to welcome Gentiles into the church. After all, they were the good, moral, circumcised, Sabbath-keeping ones. They were appalled by these Gentiles walking around like they own the place. After all, these ‘other’ people didn’t keep the Sabbath, they weren’t circumcised, they ate pork and other non-kosher food… they just weren’t like them! How could these people be believers?

The Apostle Paul consistently reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the grace of God. That’s it! It’s true! Done deal! You don’t have to jump through all the right hoops or measure up to any standards.

“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21

May we recognise where our life comes from, and extend grace even to those who don’t dress, talk, smell, look or act like we do.

Trusting in His Grace,
-Dale

help! i’m not acting right!

Thoughts, Feelings, Actions

Here’s a theologically loaded statement:
Right beliefs (ortho-doxy) create right feelings and lead to right actions (ortho-praxy).

As Christ-ians, our life (and thereby, our life-STYLE as well) is all about Christ. This is true isn’t it? Whatever we think, feel or do ought to be thought, felt or done in regard to Christ. Pretty amazing to think that Christ wants to renew our thinking, give us joy, and (as if that’s not enough) DO great things through us.

Thoughts
It starts with our thinking or our beliefs, doesn’t it? They are of utmost importance. When we actually believe that the God of the universe would not just merely be interested in us, but also would be willing to die for us, that has an effect on us!

Feelings
Once we are thinking straight, and it starts to sink in that Christ paid a debt that we would never have been able to pay, I’m just guessing that our feelings should take perhaps a small positive turn! That is what joy is all about! Would a prisoner that had been freed from a death-sentence show no emotion? Well, whether you realise it or not, or just have forgotten, If you are a Christian, you were a prisoner, and you have been set free from your death sentence!

Actions
This is where it gets interesting. We tend to be terribly distracted when our actions (or someone else’s) are either lacking or not of the right “kind.” If we’re not careful, we can slip into a pattern of thinking that our actions shape and form our beliefs. It’s the other way around. Our REAL thoughts and beliefs are seen in the way we act. It’s a tricky distinction that can easily be missed. Put plainly, you can’t serve your way into having Christian beliefs. You can, however, believe your way into serving in a Christian way. As church-type-people, we often act like the former statement is true. We care less about what people believe or how they feel, and instead just try to find ways to get all of the Christian jobs done! We must not do this.

If you are experiencing a ‘dry spell’ in your Christian life, check your beliefs and feelings. One of the many great things about the Christian life is that we are not simply converted and then put on a shelf, we are grown, tested, tried, bruised, etc. These bumps are to cause us to remember Who we are intended to rely upon. The dry spells aren’t there to get us to try harder, but to help us realise our inability to please God with our flesh, and remember Who our strength is. One of the greatest passages in the Bible about God’s will for living the Christian life is the beginning of the 12th chapter of Romans. Among other things, it says to “be transformed (continually) by the renewing of your mind.”

Thoughts are important.

Blessings,

Dale