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

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?

Apostleship, Authority, and Accountability – Galatians 1:1

“Paul, an apostle— not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead…” -Galatians 1:1

The early 1900’s was an exciting time for the church in America. The Pentecostal movement had been birthed, and what started with a small assembly in the middle of no where, had now stretched to the distant shores of the U.S. coast. This movement was even starting to expand globally! Places like the Azusa Street revival were becoming more and more normal, as people were gaining interest on how they could experience God in a way they hadn’t experienced Him before.

During this period, there rose a group of men and women whose passion it was to preserve this move of the Holy Spirit. They saw that with this movement growing so quickly, it would be easy for some one who was uneducated or misinformed to teach falsely on God or the Holy Spirit. People could come and take advantage of innocent people, and use this move of the Spirit for their own selfish ways. This reason was one of the main reasons Harvest Time’s fellowship, The Assemblies of God, was formed.

With Harvest Time being in the Assemblies it means we hold to the doctrine that they set forth. There are specifically sixteen of these “fundamental truths” that all A/G churches and pastors must adhere to and agree upon. The denomination holds our church accountable to teaching the correct gospel, and us being in the denomination puts us in fellowship with millions of like-minded believers.

At the start of his letter to the Galatians, Paul takes longer than usual to explain the authority given to him as an apostle. There was a group that came to Galatia from Jerusalem, and they claimed that their apostleship was better than Paul’s because they were from Jerusalem (the hub), and Paul was sent from a church in Antioch. They came to Galatia and were telling them that they needed to become “Jewish” to be truly accepted as a Christian.

Paul wanted to remind the Galatians that his authority wasn’t given to him just by the church in Antioch. They might have sent him on his missionary journey, but ultimately Paul’s authority came from Christ. The Galatians were in a tight spot in that they were denying the right that Paul had as their spiritual authority. They were no longer letting him hold them accountable, which is why Paul is writing this letter with such urgency.

I think there are many people today that do not have a spiritual authority in their lives. I’ve heard of stories of non-denomination churches where the pastor will cheat on his wife and keep his position, because there is no accountability. I’ve heard of pastors who owned church buildings who sold them under their congregations feet when they got let go of their pastorate. Without accountability people are left to their own devices, and even churches are left to rely on the handful of people in their four walls.

The early church wasn’t like this. Though each church had a pastor, the church as a whole would meet and discuss issues. There is an example of this in Acts when they discuss whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. Each member of the church had the spiritual authority of their pastor. Each pastor had a spiritual authority of the Twelve Apostles. The Twelve were held accountable by God.

Maybe you don’t have anyone to hold you accountable. I am blessed with a wonderful senior pastor who will sit down with me and wrestle with me over tough issues. He is patient with me and gives direction not just to me and our pastoral staff, but also to the entire congregation. If you don’t have someone who can hold you accountable, someone with whom can correct you when you are wrong, I encourage you to find someone. Christianity isn’t meant to be done alone. God put pastors and leaders in our lives for a reason. Learn to be submissive not just to God, but also whoever is your spiritual authority.

I bet even your pastor has someone who he has holding him accountable.

And So It Begins – Galatians 1:1-10

It was the late 1930’s. The United States was just getting through the treacherous Depression. People were starting to frequent theaters again. They started feeling the stability of an economy with a somewhat stable foundation. America might have been in between wars, but there was still a war going on at home.

The racism that had permeated since the 1800’s was starting to regain concentration in the country. With people forgetting about the financial crisis, they were then able to focus again on “the problem” at home. Especially in the South, The Jim Crow Laws became common practice at public establishments. Restaurants, Schools, Buses, and even Doctors at Hospitals were segregated with the slogan that it was “separate but equal.”

Imagine it being 1965 and LBJ had just pushed Civil Rights deeming The Jim Crow Laws were unconstitutional. You are the governor of a state in the South, and decide to undergo a construction project to eliminate the segregated restroom facilities and drinking fountains in a few of your state parks. You draw up the plans, go over them with the necessary committees, and pass everything on to the construction crews hired for the project.

Everything seemed to be going fine until you hear the production has stopped at one of your parks. Then you get another call. Then another. By the end of the day, you hear that construction has stopped at every park you were working on. After talking to the construction companies you found out that the local mayors and townspeople are coming and telling the construction workers that you as the governor do not have the right to change their parks. You are shocked that these people are denying not just your authority, but the authority of the President as well.

Paul was in a similar situation when he penned this letter to the Galatians. Before the birth of the church, only the Israelites were seen as the People of God. After Jesus was resurrected though, it became something that was offered to everyone. Paul preached this message on his first journey when he met a group in Galatia. Most of the people who started following Jesus from there weren’t Jewish.

There was a Jewish group, however, that came from Jerusalem after Paul left. They are known as “Judaizers,” and they were telling these new believers that they had to become Jewish to really be a Christ Follower. These Jews said that Paul didn’t have the authority to tell the Galatians what the Gospel was. They were deceiving many of the Galatians into accepting their claims.

Paul hearing of this, sat down and wrote his first epistle, the letter to The Galatians.

“Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers who are with me,

“To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

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 1:1-10