Our Stories Have Significance: Reaching One More, Part 3

Have you ever grown up thinking one thing only to realize later in life that you were utterly wrong? We all think we know the lyrics to that song that’s always on the radio only to be met with strange stares from our friends when we belt it out in the car! Or we think a place from our childhood is ginormous and wondrous, but upon visiting in our adult years, we realize that it was really us who had ginormous imaginations and an eye open to wonder.

And then there’s the sadder versions of this realization. Something happens at work and it finally clicks that we are unhappy with our careers and have been unhappy for as long as we remember. We get thrown in the cop car and realize that maybe we shouldn’t have had that last drink before leaving the bar. We wake up one morning and wonder how we grew so far apart from the one we used to love…

Some lessons we learn instantly and others we learn over time. We think that these “experiences” are what shape us into who we are. But in reality, it’s the conflict IN these experiences that shape us and mold us into the men and women we are today. And the Bible is painted with vivid pictures of people, both good and bad, whose lives have been molded by conflict.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Saul.

Saul grew up in a well-to-do family, and in a class-structured society, this not only helped him in the Temple, but it helped him even as a citizen of the state. He considered himself of the most “holy” line; he was a man of honor and deserving of status. He was not only intelligent and articulate, but he had the education to back it up, studying under the most revered teachers of his time. He was named after Israel’s first king, and the stately name was fitting. Saul was being pampered as possibly the next religious leader in a Jewish land longing for redemption from the Roman state that ruled over them.

Saul was the type who would argue with those who disagreed with him. He was NOT afraid of conflict. He was proud, and not just of himself, but of his god. In the midst of his religious revelry, however, he went from serving The Most High God to instead serving the System – what his people called “The Law.” And Saul was so distracted that he missed the fact that Jesus had come and fulfilled the Law and its requirements. Saul stayed his course, not just fighting against God’s people – the church – but actually taking part in the execution of one of its saints.

But luckily, that’s not the end of Saul’s story.

While on the way to further persecute God’s people, Saul was met with a burst of light and sound! And it was amidst that bewilderment and fear that Saul had a realization. He was not only outside of the people of God, but even worse, he was persecuting those who WERE the people of God! Jesus met Saul in a vision while on the road to a city called Damascus, and while it took Saul three days to receive Jesus, it was that moment on the road that changed Saul’s trajectory forever. He was physically and spiritually blinded by this Damascus moment, but once he accepted Jesus, the blindness left him and he could see clearer than he ever had before.

If you heard Saul’s story on the Damascus road without any context, without knowing him or what happened next, it would sound like a tragedy. The newspaper headline would read: “Beloved Scholar and Future High Priest Becomes Delusional, Left Blinded.” And Saul had three days where he was blinded, only left with his thoughts, thinking of how he had gone so far off course from what God intended. Saul didn’t know that from this one moment, Jesus would lead him into a life filled with floggings, beatings, imprisonment, and eventually his own beheading. But even more so, this one moment with Jesus led Saul to a life filled with grace and a life of new meaning.

It still amazes me to think of how I once thought I had it all together… or maybe even better, that at one point in my life I thought I knew everything. And it takes one wrong lyric now to remind me that maybe I still have a little bit more to learn on this green and blue rock. I’m not just amazed at my ignorance, but I’m still amazed by God’s grace and purpose as well.

Maybe you are in the place Saul was before his Damascus road experience, thinking that you have it all together. You’re so busy going with the flow that you haven’t taken the time to see that your stream is leading off a dangerous cliff. Maybe you are in the midst of your shaping moment right now, and you’re left blinded and confused with what the future holds. Maybe you’ve found your purpose, but the new life you’re living is filled with things you weren’t expecting. It’s not as easy as you thought, and you need to be reminded of the love, grace, and purpose you now have with Jesus. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the story, but you’ve forgotten that your story still has significance. Your story can speak into someone who’s still lost – to someone who can’t see how the conflict can be put back together. They’re blinded, and you’re there to lift the veil from their eyes.

Your story has significance. Some will look at your life and where you’ve come from, and they will KNOW that Jesus is the only way you could’ve gotten where you are today… Nothing else makes sense. Or they’ll see the journey you’ve been on, and all they can say is, “How?” That’s when you can point them to that Damascus moment, and they can encounter Jesus for themselves. Take time to remember where you’ve come from. Look and see how you’ve grown. And look to find others that are once where you were, and show them that there’s a greater purpose and a way out of the mess.

 

 

 

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Who Misses Out When You Miss Church?

Who misses out the most when you miss church?

It’s not the church. The church isn’t an institution; it’s a movement. The church knows that it is in people’s best interest to live sacrificially – giving their time to attend church, trusting in God by giving tithes and offerings, and serving in their church and in the community. But the church has existed for thousands of years. And while a church can’t function without people or volunteers, the church and its pastors are more pained that people aren’t living out their greatest potential more than being pained that people aren’t filling the seats. The church as a whole doesn’t miss out when you miss a church service.

It’s not your community. When you don’t come to church, that also means you aren’t bringing a neighbor or friend or coworker who needs to hear the truth about who Jesus is and what he has done for them. But there still might be next week or next month to invite them to church. With all of the different media sources out there, there are so many opportunities to hear about Jesus and the church. And, I’m sure there are other people who know them who could invite them to church or share the gospel with them. And… believe it or not, you can share the gospel with someone without necessarily inviting them to church. So the world isn’t missing out more than they already are when you miss church.

What do you miss out on when you miss church? You may miss out on being in community and worshiping with other believers, but most churches now have a completely interactive online campus, where you can worship and hear messages. Not only so, but just because someone doesn’t attend church, it doesn’t mean that a person is in spiritual decline. I can skip going to the gym but that doesn’t mean I’m not working out in my free time. A person might still read their bible and pray and be in community with Christians regardless of their Sunday attendance. So people don’t necessarily miss out themselves when they miss church.

What about your children though? Most children I know don’t have the means to get themselves to church. Most don’t have the discipline to know to read their bibles. They may not have the understanding of knowing the value of worshiping in a community. An adult might miss a Sunday and make up for it by listening to a podcast or watching online, but what is available for their children? There are no kid’s sermons that church’s post online. There’s no “online experience” for children. The biggest loser when families miss church are their kids – plain and simple.

Have you ever thought about what your kids or family miss out on whenever you miss church? Do your kids have a community of friends their age who are a positive example? What kind of priorities are you raising your kids to have? Who are the adults who you allow to speak into their lives – coaches, teachers, friends’ parents? There will be a day when your kids will give less value to your voice as their parent. Parents need to raise their kids around adults who will speak life and wisdom into them, so that when the time comes and these kids start to pull away, there are voices around them that speak the truth. We need to see who it really costs when we miss Sunday services. The next generation is at stake.

At The Feet of Jesus

I sat on the ground disheveled, bruised… petrified. There was so much yelling going on around me and there was a precipice before me. It was as if an explosion occurred with all of the surrounding calamity, and my ears began to ring. My life was on the line. And I couldn’t focus. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stay calm. And as I stayed on the ground, fearing to move, one of the men, the man they dragged me to, bent down next to me. It was there that a divide opened between time and space.

He drew a line in the sand.

I was dragged out of my house while in the act of committing adultery and was set at Jesus’ feet, though I didn’t know who he was at the time… But then again, did I really know myself at the time? In the heat of an argument, Jesus drew a line in the sand, a precipice, that divided me from my accusers. “The one who has never sinned should be the first to stone this girl,” he said. They knew at that moment that they all stood condemned. In a world where I was seen as a whore and they as God’s elect, Jesus put us on the same plane – we were sinners. And there, amidst the chaos and confusion is not just where I saw God, but it was where I met Him.

That was the first time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus always knew the right thing to say. That’s why I was always so enamored by his teachings. One time, he and the disciples came over to my house. As Jesus began to teach, I became so enraptured in his words that I completely forgot what I was doing. They were at my house, and I wasn’t doing what was expected of me as a woman or the host. I wasn’t helping my sister clean or tend to the house. But at that moment, I didn’t want to be the host – I wanted to be a student. I wanted to be a disciple. My sister tried to do everything herself but eventually her frustration spilled out, and she asked Jesus if I could be excused to help her. Jesus’ response was astounding.

He said that I chose the better thing by sitting at his feet.

As a woman, I was expected to tend to my male guests. The last thing I should have been doing was to sit while my sister did all the work. In a culture where I was expected to fit a certain role, Jesus included me with his Twelve. I was part of His own. I was a disciple.

That was the next time I sat at Jesus’ feet.

I was with Jesus even when the rest of the disciples fled. It was John who came to me and Jesus’ mother to tell us that Jesus was taken. It was then that we found out that Jesus was to be executed. I observed in horror as my mentor and my friend was beaten within an inch of his life. They dressed him up and paraded him around like an animal. They were making an example out of him, and there was nothing we could do but watch.

We followed him as he carried his cross through the winding city to the place where he would be made a spectacle. I had to look away when they hammered the nails into his fragile hands. What we thought was the end was soon approaching. Through everything Jesus was never hostile or angry. The religious leaders who were putting him to death were irritably standing next to us. Jesus looked at them with compassion and then looked up to the heavens. “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” They weren’t his villains. They were merely victims of a sinful world – the world he came to save.

It was then that I realized what it truly meant to sit at Jesus’ feet.

Jesus truly lived out what he said were the greatest commandments – he loved God with everything he had, and he loved others like their needs were his. He deserved more than any ruler or king to have others bow at his feet, but instead he washed the feet of those who followed him. At the feet of Jesus is a place where all sins are seen the same. It is where all people are equal regardless of the gender or race they were born with. It is a place of unconditional love and forgiveness.

Do you sit at the feet of Jesus?

 

Justified or Condemned – Galatians 2:16

“[Yet] we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” –Galatians 2:16, ESV

Sometimes I forget that the culture where one was raised and the culture that one is currently a part of affects the way they talk. Whether it is street lingo of inner-city youths, or the proper speaking of the world’s wealthy, even to the mixed French of those in Louisiana, where one situates themselves changes their vocabulary. This is even true for those in the church. Being part of the body of Christ means that one will speak “Christianese,” at least to some degree.

However, there are words that many Christians use in their everyday vocabulary that, in reality, have definitions that are foreign to them. While I do not claim to have full understanding of each and every word used in English, Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, I strive to understand them as best as I can.

So my struggle is more with common stupidity rather than ignorance.

The term, “justified” is no exception. It is a word that Paul used a lot. I still wrestle with what this word truly means in its biblical context, but that’s okay, because I’m not alone! Many scholars have argued about what exactly it means to be “justified,” as well as understanding the “justice” of God and God’s “righteousness.”

So what does it mean to be justified?

“The biblical terms often translated as ‘righteousness’ or ‘justice’ belong to a single word-group, that associated with the sdq root in Hebrew, or that based on the dik-root in Greek.” There are three words in Galatians 2:16 with this “dik-root” in the Greek. The verb form, “justified” occurs eight times in this letter to the Galatians, and 80% of the time this word is used in the entire New Testament, it is by Paul. Although this word in Greek held more of a sense of punishing someone, Paul seems to be using it in the same sense that the Hebrew authors did in the Old Testament. Being “justified” holds the idea of being made righteous (being shown justice, being vindicated, etc.).

The biggest argument that usually arises with “justification” is whether it is a change of status or a change of character. If one is “made righteous” are they a better person? Does it mean they are morally better? Or if one is “made righteous” does it mean that they were once guilty but are now innocent, and their moral character does not directly play into it?

We should broaden the scope a little bit. Did God justify the world in order to make it a better place? Indeed, though this was not necessarily God’s chief aim. God’s chief aim was to vindicate a world that was damned by the Fall. This is a change of status that, in turn, causes a change of character. To understand “justification” as anything other than a change of status creates a misunderstanding in the life of the Christian individual as well as to the story of Salvation History. And like many scholars, I stand that Paul has both a relational and ethical understanding as well as a forensic understanding of these terms. The term, especially here, however, seems to be more forensic in nature.

This is why Christ is the Righteous One. It isn’t that he was the “morally perfect one.” While this is true, it misses the theological significance that Christ is the One who set the world to rights through his faithful act of dying on the cross. Because Christ was faithfully obedient to dying a sinner’s death, God raised him from the dead! The New Dictionary of Biblical Theology states: “In raising Christ [from the dead], God ‘gave him justice’, vindicating him over against the world… The justifying act of God in Christ is twofold; in him God is justified in his contention with the sinner, and yet the sinner is justified.”

I may not understand “justification” completely, but I understand it enough to know that I was a sinner that needed to be “made right” with God.

Do you understand what it means to be justified? Whether you are the worst sinner in the world or have never committed even the slightest traffic violation, you are a sinner, because at one time you’ve sinned. In the heavenly courtroom God would call you “guilty.” But Christ came so that all people who were found guilty could be found innocent in God’s court of law. You just have to understand where you as a guilty sinner, and understand that Christ took your punishment so that you could have an “innocent” verdict.

You have to believe in Christ and understand his faithful act of dying for your sins.

Do you stand justified or condemned?

“But we know that no one is made right with God by meeting the demands of the law. It is only through the faithfulness of Jesus the Anointed that salvation is even possible. This is why we put faith in Jesus the Anointed: so we will be put right with God. It’s His faithfulness—not works prescribed by the law—that puts us in right standing with God because no one will be acquitted and declared ‘right’ for doing what the law demands.” –Galatians 2:16, The Voice

Sources: New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Paul and Palestinian Judaism by E.P. Sanders, and various Commentaries on Galatians (by NT Wright, James Dunn, Richard Longenecker, Ben Witherington).

Redefinition and Justification – Overview of Galatians 2:15-21

Galatians 2:15-21

“Well, I’ve been afraid of changing, cause I’ve built my life around you. But time makes you bolder. Even children get older, and I’m getting older too.” –Fleetwood Mac

I can’t imagine what it would be like to lose a loved one. I’m not sure what it is like for a couple to go through a divorce after being married for years. The loss of security that comes when one loses their job after being employed for decades brings no emotional response. But I am sure it is hard. For one to completely change what they once knew, who they once were, and what they used to do because of a cataclysmic event is something I can’t really relate to.

Sure I am a child of divorced parents. Yes, I went to college out of state. And I did move across country for a job opportunity. But I didn’t have a family I was bringing with me. I am relatively new to this thing called “life,” so all these changes didn’t affect me as they would someone who was more accustomed to a certain way of life. I couldn’t imagine how it would impact me having to move across the U.S. if I had a family I would have to take with me. I couldn’t imagine the fear that would come if I would lose my job having to provide for people I love.

This section is the main idea of the whole letter to the Galatians. If someone told me to explain this letter in a couple sentences, I would just point them to Galatians 2:15-21. Here Paul takes a look back at what he went through with calling Peter out on Peter’s hypocrisy. This is probably a summary of what Paul said to Peter, along with some personal testimony, theology (ideas about God), soteriology (understanding salvation), and ecclesiology (understanding what the church is).

Witherington states: “[This] argument is not basically about getting in [to heaven], nor even about how one stays in, but rather about how one goes on in Christ and with the aid of the Holy Spirit.” Here Paul develops his argument stating that to be in Christ does not mean that one follows the Law of Moses but instead the Law of Christ. Paul balances the works of the law with the faithful act of Christ’s crucifixion. This is why he says: “One is not justified by works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16b).

Paul is saying that God wants all people to forget who they once were and get a new identity in Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ,” Paul says, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Paul is saying that he has to strip his identity as a Jew, and he now has to redefine who he is in Christ. He is encouraging the Galatians to also not become Jewish, get circumcised, and follow the works of the Law. Paul is encouraging them to find their identity instead in Christ.

This would be like someone getting divorced after many years. This would be like someone changing their career right before it was time for them to retire. To be a Christian one had to completely change how they once lived. For many, this would be no easy task. Many grew up being Jewish and following the Law, or they were Gentile and merely did as they pleased. To now go from doing those things to following the Law of Christ would be like completely redefining who they were.

Have you redefined yourself since becoming a Christian? Do you see yourself as your own, or do you see your life as being one in Christ? We need to be unified in Christ! We need to discover who we are as individuals and as a community through the understanding of who Jesus is as the Christ. The gospel is the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is about how Christ has come to set a wicked world to rights. How has the gospel affected your life? Has Christ’s faithful act of dying on a cross transformed your life?

Take time to reflect on who you once were and who you are now that you are in Christ. Take time to remember what Christ has done for you through dying on the cross – the love, the sacrifice, and the implications of that event. Take a moment to remind yourself of your new identity in Christ.

The Highest Hypocrite – Galatians 2:11-14

“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” – Galatians 2:11-14

It isn’t easy being a pastor. I haven’t been doing it long, but I now understand why many young college graduates don’t stay in it for long. Don’t get me wrong I love what I do. There are just a lot of things I didn’t expect about being a pastor. Many people don’t understand the work put into ministry. A pastor never truly has a day off. Statistically it is one of the lowest paying professions. Not to mention the toll it takes mentally and spiritually to look over and disciple a church.

The hardest thing I have faced since starting in ministry has been my appearance to those in church. In a sense, many pastors are seen as the prime example of Christlikeness. Many expect the pastor to be perfect, which makes sense since the pastor should have the characteristics of Christ. Unfortunately, pastors, like all people, are fallible. They may get life mostly right, but they will still mess up. They will get angry for unjustifiable reasons. They might hold false opinions that they think are in line with Christ. But people don’t expect a pastor to be human. They don’t think of him or her as a person who needs time on their own. They don’t think of them as someone in need of a friend.

My biggest struggle is wrestling with this balance of being seen as the closest representative to Christ to my congregants while dealing with my own humanity.

It is rather scary.

Peter was the person in Acts whom God revealed the revelation to about eating animals. Peter was the one who shared with the other Christians that God had repealed the food laws of the Torah. While this revelation to the apostles opened up the realization of the Gentiles’ inclusion into the faith, it also freed the Jews up from the Law as well. Even Peter broke these old food rules and started eating like the rest of the world.

But at one point, a group came to Peter while Peter was in Antioch, and they roused Peter into eating with the Jews again. Even though Peter didn’t follow the food laws, he broke away from his mixed Christian group of Jews and Gentiles, and he went back to the non-Christian Jews of the Temple. This caused a huge divide between the Jews and Gentiles as many of the Jewish Christians started excluding their brothers in Christ for their former brothers of the Jewish faith.

When Paul got to the area he couldn’t believe what had happened. In Galatians, Paul writes that Peter stood condemned before God! This is a heavy accusation to put on this pillar of faith. But Paul was right. Peter had not only gone to the former way of living, but he had also caused a rift between the People of God. Paul was not pleased! He called Peter out for his hypocrisy. He called Peter out for his humanity.

This passage is a good reminder to me that even the greatest pastors fail. Not only so, but if you follow Acts, it seems like Peter repented and that all was right in Acts 15 and throughout the rest of the book. Paul was willing to write about this pillars disobedience. Peter was willing to change.

It is a great picture of love, of accountability, of humanity, and of repentance.

Are there areas in your life where you are hypocritical? Do you have a higher standard for others than you do for yourself? Do you love some more than others? Do you have grace on some while condemning others? Or are you like Peter, and exclude people who don’t fit into your circle?

Remember that it is okay to fail. It is okay to mess up. Even Peter had faults. I know I need to be reminded of that sometimes. But don’t use your humanity as an excuse to sin and act hypocritically. Find accountability. Change your ways. Love God and love people.

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?