An Apostle’s Cultural Assimilation: Reaching One More, Part 4

Let’s play a game called, “Do You Know What Song This Is?” Ready, set, go!

  1. “All right, stop! Collaborate and listen…”
  2. “Now this is a story all about how my life got flipped turned upside down…”
  3. “I got my first real six-string, Bought it at the five-and-dime…”
  4. “Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world…”
  5. “If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call?… ”

How’d you do? My guess is that you got 5/5 (check the end of the article for the answers!)

The crazy thing about this list is that it covers a myriad of different areas. There is a TV show theme song, the title song to a movie soundtrack, a rap song, and classic rock hits! Yet, most of us know these songs by heart! This isn’t just a lesson to the power of music and how what we listen to sticks in our brains, but it’s more importantly a lesson into the effects of culture and its influence.

This is where things get a little interesting. Many people within the church have been raised to think that culture is evil. That culture equals the world, and that it is antithetical to the gospel. But when we pin ourselves against the things in our culture, we forget one VERY important thing.

We are trying to reach people who are living in that culture.

The moment we see culture as evil, the moment we miss the forest for the trees, is the moment we lose the people who we are trying to reach. And don’t get me wrong, there are values that the world holds dear that are rooted in greed and all sorts of evil. But there are also many things in culture that can used as a bridge to reach the lost. Let’s take an example from Scripture.

In Acts 17, Paul is in the middle of one of his missionary journeys when he stumbles upon the town of Athens. Athens was a very philosophical town, and was full of many different gods that the people and the leaders worshipped. When Paul started preaching about Jesus, the men were utterly confused as to what Paul was talking about. They thought Jesus and God were another idol they could add to their repertoire. So, Paul decided to use some of their own language as a vehicle to carry the Gospel.

Athens was full of gods, and there were so many of them that there was actually an altar made “To an Unknown God.” Paul saw the altar and realized that it could be used as an illustration to the God of the universe who was unknown to them! But Paul not only used this altar. He also knew that these men were philosophers, so in the middle of his message, Paul used quotes from two popular philosophers of the time, men named Epimenides and Aratus. These men were the furthest thing from God fearing philosophers. One was Cretan and one was a Stoic, and both quotes that Paul says were actually regarding ZEUS! Yet in this instance, Paul was inspired by God to reference these earthly men and their false thinking to show these men of Athens the truth behind the gospel of Jesus.

This isn’t the only instance of Paul assimilating to the culture and speaking to people within their own situations. When writing the church in Ephesus and Collosae, Paul falls in line with the rhetoric of the people and includes a household code – something only commonly included in this area of the world. When many people read this code today, they do it in isolation; but in the first-century, the people would have compared what Paul said about the household to Aristotle’s household code written in his book “Politics.” Theologian Ben Witherington writes that, “Non-Christian household codes almost always direct exhortations only to the subordinate members of the household. What is new about the code here then [in Colossians] is the Christian limitations placed on the head of household. That is what would stand out to an ancient person hearing Paul’s discourse for the first time.”

Paul repurposed a set of rules and roles for the household and showed a more level playing field for those who were under the care of the head of the household. Paul was aware of the freedom that we now have in Christ, and there are many parts of what he wrote that showed how he cared for women, children, those in the lower classes of society, and minorities. Paul quoted other philosophers in other books, but the theme stands clear – God can redeem things in our culture to bring him glory.

What songs can you quote, what books can you reference, what talk show host can you mention to show someone the love of Jesus. If we view culture as our enemy, we immediately make an enemy out of anyone living in that culture. Let’s speak their language, let’s show them the truth in their world instead of only pointing out only the falsehoods. All truth is God’s truth. So, let’s be like Paul and study what our peers study. But let’s use it to reach one more!

Oh! And here are the answers to the above questions!

  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr
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A Miracle Not Meant For You: Reaching One More, Part 1

In chairs, the group sat in a circle in a living room. Some were on dining room chairs, some on couches, and some were on recliners. It was the common scene for a church connect group. There were appetizers lingering in the kitchen, waiting to be eaten. But first, the group was in the midst of a discussion. The question was simple, but it was a loaded one: “Who is your one?” Who is the one person whose life choices and circumstances breaks your heart? Who is the person who’s looking for answers in all the wrong places? At Sunday Service, when Pastor talks about “the lost” or those yet following Jesus, who is the first person who comes to mind? THAT is your “one.”

One of the individuals spoke up about his “one.” “There’s a lot of people that come to mind when I think of those who need Jesus. But if there’s a fire, I know who I’m going in to save first.” There might be many people who come to mind, but when push comes to shove, whose salvation is a priority? Whose eternal life is at the forefront of your mind?

Our church just began a small group series called “Reach One More.” It’s seven sessions of guided discussion geared to create conversation and action to evangelize – to reach the lost for Jesus. And while each session may only contain three questions, it stirs up something in people. It’d almost be easier to have more questions that tackle facts that invigorate the mind. But these questions nudge at the stirrings in the heart instead.

That’s why I love what that one group member said, “If there’s a fire.” It’s like saying, “If I knew I only had one opportunity, one chance at a miracle, I’d use up that chance – I’d put in all of my chips – on this one individual.” It’s powerful. And just like a house fire, it forces us to take priority off of ourselves. We have to be all in.

There’s a story in the Bible that this person’s story reminded me of. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas get disrobed and publically humiliated, beaten, and thrown in jail for casting a demonic spirit out of a young woman. As they are sitting naked in this jail cell, they start singing praises to God, which just BLOWS my mind. In the midst of one of the most humbling, humiliating, and horrifying moments of their lives, they take time to THANK GOD for what He’s done for them. And what does God do? He causes an earthquake to open the doors of the jail! They praised God and it led to a miracle! For most of us, it’s the opposite. We praise God after He answers our prayers.

But that’s not the crazy part. Most of us read this story, and we think that’s the miracle. It was Paul and Silas’ miracle and no one else’s. It’d be like being in a burning building and getting out alive. But the miracle of this story happened in the morning. When the guard of the jail wakes up, he sees that ALL the cell doors are opened, and knowing his future demise, is preparing to commit suicide. As he is about to fall on his own sword, Paul and Silas cry out from their cell that ALL of the prisoners are still in the jail.

Paul and Silas could have easily seen the doors open and think that the miracle was only for them. They could have said their thanks to Jesus and been on their way, not even knowing or caring of the future fate of this guard. But instead they stayed. Despite their circumstances, they stayed beaten, tired, hurting, and naked in a jail cell they were wrongly put in… for the sake of one person – that guard. This not only changed the life of the guard, but through this miracle, the guard AND his whole family were baptized.

Paul and Silas took the time to be aware of what God was doing around them. They knew the miracle wasn’t over yet. The doors might have been opened, but God was still at work.

In the midst of turmoil, as we feel like a burning wreckage is falling all around us, it’d be easy to see how getting out alive would be the miracle. Maybe it’s miraculously getting out of debt. Maybe finding out you’ve been mysteriously healed of cancer or set free from drug addiction has been your miracle moment. Maybe it’s that God mended back together a broken marriage that you once thought was irreconcilable. These miracles are good, but they aren’t just meant for us! These aren’t the miracles that have angels rejoicing in heaven!

Getting out of the burning building alive means you have the ability to go in and save one more.

It means that you can speak life into someone facing the very thing you just overcame.

Let us take time this week and remember to capitalize on the moments God has given us. Maybe it’s a window of seriousness for a friend who never gets vulnerable. Maybe you’ll have a random run-in with someone you haven’t seen in years. Maybe you get an opportunity to show love and inclusion in a situation filled with judgment and hate. Let us find those moments of signal fire and smoke and run into those burning buildings with reckless abandonment.

Because “our” miracle may be meant to save someone else.

Personality Tests and Remembrance – Galatians 2:10

“Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.” –Galatians 2:10

I really enjoy personality tests. I think it is because of a few students who came to my college my junior year. They really enjoyed the Myers-Briggs Personality Test, and through their excitement the whole campus gained an understanding of the test. Through taking the test I learned that I was a highly intuitive person and very thought driven. Because of this, I am not as sympathetic with people, and my mind tends to be looking towards the future and not back at the past.

My life started making more sense after taking the Myers-Briggs. For example, any time I have ever moved or gone anywhere new, I forgot what I left behind. Many friends that I have made growing up I have grown apart from, because sometimes my mind is so forward driven. If I get too busy I sometimes even forget to call my family! It is one of the negative sides of my personality, and it is something I am working on.

The one request that Peter, James, and John ask of Paul and the others is that they remember the poor. Why is this their only request? Who exactly are the poor? And what does it mean to remember them?

Many commentators and pastors try to make this statement about the spiritually or the monetarily poor. And it very well might be about them! There was a famine that was going around Jerusalem at the time, so it would make sense for the apostles to remind Paul of that. But why would Paul mention this statement as the apostles’ only request? It wasn’t a very subtle way to ask for money. Though a monetarily poor can make sense here, there would be better ways to articulate this idea aside from using the vague word “remember.”

“Remember” in Greek can carry the same idea as it does in English. It might not be that the apostles were asking for Paul to give money, but to just keep the poor in their thoughts. So what does this mean then? Should Paul just think about poor people?

I imagine a Sheryl Crow song playing as the montage flashes in Paul’s mind.

What would make more sense would be if Peter and the others were telling Paul not to put his mission to the Gentiles above that of the Jews. It is like they are saying: “Paul, don’t be so busy ministering to the Gentiles that you forget about your people – the ones who are poor in spirit.” It fits in context. The poor here is definitely referring to those in Jerusalem. And the sense of the word “remember” is continual – that Paul might continually remember the “poor.”

Peter and the others might have been afraid that the Jews would be forgotten about once the message of the cross was brought to the Gentiles. Just like I move on with my life and forget about those that I love, the apostles were afraid Paul might do the same and forget about his people – the Jews in Jerusalem and throughout the Roman world. The one thing they wanted him to remember was that his mission wasn’t just to the Gentiles. It was to all people – both Jews and Gentiles.

Who do you need to remember? Is there a loved one who you used to pray would find the Lord that you have long forgot? Do you find your time invested into only trying to reach one people group – whether it is divided by age, race, or economic income? God is reminding us to remember those we have forgotten. Find the physical and spiritually poor. Maybe you forgot about those that are outside the church altogether. Don’t expect to find the poor at church. Be the church – the hands of Christ outstretched into the world.

Will you remember the poor?

Surrounded for Supremacy – Galatians 2:1-2

“Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain.” –Galatians 2:1-2

College was a time where I grew in every area of my life. I was learning every day. My job was teaching me to have a work ethic. Classes were keeping me punctual. Spiritually I was growing every day through chapel. Being in such a concentrated environment was nourishing for my growth as a budding adult.

One of the greatest lessons I learned from college was to be surrounded by people in every area of my life. I learned that to be an effective leader, I needed to mentor people, have peers, and be mentored as well. It was while I was at college that I really understood how important this was to my personal growth. My senior year, I would meet with certain professors once a week for mentorship, I would have friends I could confide in, and I was an example of leadership to those in the student body and my hall – I was Student Body VP and a Resident Assistant.

Though I don’t think this was Paul’s emphasis in Galatians 2, I think it should be noted that he has all types of people mentioned in the first few verses. He has the pillars in Jerusalem with whom he was checking his gospel. There was also God who gave him his gospel. There was Barnabas who was seen as an equal to Paul. And Paul mentions bringing Titus along. Paul mentored Titus, and Barnabas possibly mentored him as well. Not to mention that Paul’s whole mission is to share the gospel with the Gentiles. That is a lot of people whom Paul is influencing.

It might not be the foremost focus here, but Paul is trying to stress his independence while showing those who are in unity with him. There are those in places of authority who agree with Paul. There are also those who are willing to stand along side Paul and preach this gospel – even another noteworthy Jewish Christian, Barnabas. There are also those who are willing to follow Paul to learn from him.

Do you have people who surround you along your journey? It is easy to lose your direction in life if you don’t have focus. Having people in front of you that you can look up to reminds you that there are those who have succeeded. They give you credibility. Those who are with you help you and challenge you. Iron sharpens iron as you fail and succeed together. They truly know where you are, because they are there too. Having people with whom you can influence reminds you of your purpose. When you want to give up, they are a constantly telling you that what you are doing is worthy.

This is true for teachers, preachers, coaches, dentists, and doctors.

Make sure you are surrounded. Use those around you as a support system. Use them to learn. Use them to grow.

Independence and Immunity – Overview of Galatians 2:1-14

Galatians 2:1-14

My family loves the show Survivor. Though it has been a couple years since I’ve watched the “reality show” that was the catalyst for them all, I still love the show. The strategy and deception that goes on in the tribes is suspenseful. To win, one needs to be good enough to win competitions and nice enough to have friends, but they can’t be too good or too nice, because then people will vote them out because this “nice guy” is a threat.

Every season, Survivor is in a different location. There are usually entirely new people every season (except for a couple fan favorite seasons). CBS has done a pretty good job balancing out having a general theme, but changing the show enough to where people stay interested. There is one challenge that the show seems to have every year. It is one where the contestants balance on a pole in the water. This is usually one of the last “immunity” challenges the contestants have. They have to stand on a wooden pole in the water, and whoever can stay up the longest makes it to the next round. While the show may change throughout the seasons, most serious watchers know to look for this competition at some point every year.

Though my whole family doesn’t have a big party celebrating the finale anymore, I’m sure the show still holds a special place in all my family’s hearts as it does mine.

In the second chapter of Galatians, Paul starts a balancing act of his own. Paul’s main aim in this section is to show his independence. He is trying to show that his gospel came directly from the Lord and hasn’t been changed by anyone. He is trying to show that his gospel is the same as the church in Jerusalem while stressing it is his own gospel, and not theirs that he is preaching.

It’s a tough situation for Paul to balance. If he seems too independent, the false teachers in Galatia will call Paul a rogue and dismiss him. However, if Paul seems too dependent, the false teachers will call Paul a liar and say that their message is really in line with those in Jerusalem. It is almost a catch-22 for Paul. He needs to show the Galatians that his gospel is his own, while also showing that it is the same gospel the pillars in Jerusalem preach. These pillars are Peter, James, and John.

If Paul seems too independent of Peter, James, and John he might not get their approval. It isn’t that Paul needs their approval to be validated theologically. Paul knows the authority of his gospel. It came from God. Paul knows these men are seen as “pillars” of the Christian faith just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the pillars of Israel. To lose their approval would be detrimental to his mission not his message. Not to mention it would cause disunity, one of the biggest issues Paul addresses in his writing.

We need to make sure we have the same thing in our life. We need to have a faith and a relationship with God that is our own, but we need to surround ourselves with people to make sure we don’t start thinking Christianity is something it isn’t. In verses 11-14, Paul talks about how even Peter stood condemned for excluding the Gentiles by eating with a group called “The Circumcision.” We must balance how we handle ourselves in situations, we need to balance our message of hope, and we need to help others to stay balanced as well. We are in this to win immunity – eternal life in Christ. Will you keep balance?

An Apostle Alone – Galatians 1:11-24

With the approach of finals week, there are many different emotions that surge through the average college student. Trust me, I might be out of school, but it has only been a couple of years since I felt the cocktail of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. I remember the struggle of needing to do work, but being so overwhelmed with everything that I would try everything in my power to get around it. Like most college students, procrastination involved Netflix.

The main warning I give people when heading to finals is not to start watching shows that are incredibly addictive. These shows include; Breaking Bad, Lost, Prison Break, and Sons of Anarchy. Once a student starts watching these shows, they are roped in until the series is completed, and if this addiction starts at finals, it will wreak havoc on one’s GPA.

I found myself getting roped into Lost my freshman year. If you know me, you know I love character development! Lost is one of the most developed shows to ever reach television. Because of that and the need to procrastinate, I quickly found myself filling all of my free time with the popular weeknight drama. The show has this spectacular way of using flashbacks and flash forwards to build up their present plotline. Even despite the “flop of an ending,” no series has been able to emulate the side stories, character development, and universe expansion in Lost.

Paul pays special attention to expanding his universe in the opening arguments of Galatians (1:13-2:14). It seems as though the Galatians knew a little bit of Paul’s life before he was a Christian – that he was a zealous Jew that persecuted the church. What the Galatians didn’t know, and what Paul went on to tell them in this section, is how Paul met Christ through a revelation. It was through Christ and no one else that Paul received his Gospel message. Paul’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity should be held in contrast here to the Galatians, who were in the process of converting to Judaism after already being in Christ. Paul is speaking as someone who has “been there” and “done that.” He is showing the Galatians that he should be mimicked.

Paul wants the Galatians to know that his message wasn’t one that came from anyone else. If Paul’s authority is being questioned, this makes sense. Paul is trying to show that his authority, his calling, and his message come directly from Christ. He didn’t get his gospel from Peter or James. He didn’t get it in Judea. His message was one given to him by the Lord. Just as Paul is setting up his message (as being independent of anyone or anything else), he challenges the Galatians to follow his example. He is challenging them to stop following the false teachers that have come to Galatia. Being independent is their only way to truly become unified again as a church. It is their only way to become unified in Christ.

How paradoxical.

What is the side story of your life? Do people know your story –of how God has worked in your life? Or is your faith personal, constricting the plot of who you are? Telling the story of how God has impacted and changed your life is paramount to your being. It deepens who you are. My story and my testimony point to the work that God has done in my life. It points to Him as the ultimate Figure of praise. It makes me an example of someone to be emulated.

What is the gospel to you? Is it something that you have heard from others, but haven’t discovered on your own? How has God changed your life?

How has God expanded your universe?

People Pleasers – Galatians 1:10

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” –Galatians 1:10

It was freshman year, and I was sitting in history class. Like most classes in high school, we weren’t just focusing on history. Teachers always think they are witty that way. This class we were going to be having a debate: a good blend of social interaction, logic, and basic persuasion. What were we debating? Slavery.

When I was younger, I was a little weird (I know crazy, right?). This instance was no different. I would love to play “the devil’s advocate” in situations like this. I figured that being “for slavery” would be the harder argument to establish… but I was up for the challenge. By the end of the class, my side was victorious. Even though I was aware that what I was arguing was wrong, I knew how to spin it the right way. I knew how to warp the opposing side’s arguments. I knew how to play on people’s emotions.

Paul wants to make sure his audience knows he isn’t trying to use emotional measures to reach his goal. It’s like one of my professor’s used to say, “If you can persuade some one into believing something, then some one can persuade them out of it.” Paul might have been using polemic rhetoric when addressing the people, but at the heart of his argument was the truth – not mere emotions.

Paul could also be inferring that the false teachers who had come to Galatia were using the tactic of “people pleasing” to get their way. It shouldn’t come at any surprise. That is how a lot of people are led astray. These false teachers gave them something that they wanted to hear. They were arguing for something that was wrong, but they knew how to spin it the right way. They knew how to play on the Galatian’s emotions.

Sometimes we get so caught up on being “right,” or getting our way that we do whatever we need to do to fulfill our own selfish goals. Are we arguing for what is right, or are we just playing people?

Are we trying to please God or please man?