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.

The First of Faith – Galatians 1:23

“They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’” –Galatians 1:23

Do you have a friend that is so seemingly stereotypical that you actually use his or her name as a replacement for the verb that describes them? I know people who have friends who always try to pull off the most over-the-top events, but they end up royally failing every time. Eventually, they just started using their name to describe when a great plan goes wrong. Like, “Man, you totally ‘Bobby’d’ that surprise party,” except with someone else’s name, because I am awesome. Or maybe you tell someone not to be such a “Bobby,” like this friend’s name automatically makes someone the stalest thing since unsliced bread. You know the term, “Debbie Downer” probably originated from a pessimistic, sorry soul named Deborah. It must suck to be Deborah.

It is strange here how Paul switches out the word “gospel” for the word “faith.” Not only so, but instead of just using a general term for faith here, he includes the definite article with it (“the”) as a means of making this a signpost of Christianity. Dunn states: “‘[Faith]’ had become so characteristic of the new movement to which [Paul] now belonged, that it could function as an identity marker, an identification which was sufficiently distinct to denote and define the movement itself—as equally the talk of ‘preaching Christ’.” The fact that “faith” and “Christ” or “gospel” is interchangeable here speaks magnitudes about the focus of Christianity and what made it different from Judaism.

Faith must have been the major difference between Christianity and Judaism. Before Christ, one had to be Jewish to be one of God’s people, and this came from birth. They had to be circumcised, and they had to then follow the Law of Moses. Now, to be part of the people of God, the Church, one now only has to believe in Christ. This must be what Paul was persecuting before he became a Christian. He was persecuting those who followed this “faith” in Christ. This is why after Paul was saved the Judeans proclaimed: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching THE FAITH he once tried to destroy.”

This is arguably Paul’s first time ever using the word, “faith.” The letter to the Galatians also has the most concentrated use of “faith” in any of Paul’s writings – being used 22 times in this six chapter epistle.

This idea of being saved by faith alone is what the Judaizers were teaching against. They were coming and telling the Galatians they had to be circumcised. They were telling them that accepting Jesus as King by faith wasn’t good enough. Paul is showing that he and the church in Judea stand together on preaching this gospel. This is also showing that at the earliest stages of Christianity, the focus has always been on faith, and not on anything else. Even while Paul was persecuting the church, he was doing so because of faith. Faith is at the heart of the gospel – not the act of circumcision or anything else these false teachers in Galatia were saying.

So how do you see the gospel? Do you see it as a bunch of rules you have to follow? Do you see it as going to church once a week? Or do you see it as following Christ through faith? Christianity is at the foremost about faith – faith in Christ. We don’t follow the Law, we follow the One who perfected it. We assemble as a body and fellowship around this faith. That’s why without faith in Christ, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).

Don’t lose sight of the gospel of faith. Don’t get so caught up in doing the right things that you miss the heart of what it means to follow God. Faith is what it takes to follow. It is central so much to the gospel that the word itself is used in place of it. Remember it, preach it, teach it, and live it.

Preach The Faith.

Sons of Serendipity – Galatians 1:15-16a

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” –Galatians 1:15-16a

A father and son were driving down the road after a fishing trip. During their trip, they were in a car accident. Both the father and son were rushed to the hospital, but the father passed away in the ambulance. When the boy reached the operating room, the doctor walked out of the room. “I can’t operate on him,” the doctor said. “He is my son.” How can this be?!

Paul refers to Jesus as the “Son of God” 15 times in his letters. Every time Jesus is mentioned as the Son, it is in his pastoral epistles. There is no mention of Christ as the “Son of God” in either the prison epistles or the pastoral epistles. Because of this Longenecker asserts that, “… “Son of God” as a Christological title was derived by Paul from his Jewish Christian heritage.” The idea of Christ being God’s son is probably an idea drawn out from Paul’s old life of Judaism. This is important because the men in Galatia who were spreading around false teaching were also Jewish, so they might’ve been using the same words to describe Jesus.

Referring Christ as the Son was also a relational term for Paul. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states: “‘Son’ describes the bond of love between God and Jesus and hence the greatness of the sacrifice. The title relates, not so much to preexistence, but to the wonder of the saving act. It is grounded in Christ’s passion rather than his exaltation and kingship.” There were other words like “Lord” or “Christ” that could be used to talk about Christ’s kingship. This is specifically talking about Christ’s relationship to God as his Son, sent to save the world. Jesus came as God’s Son in that he was the full representation of God. He was a reflection of God much like many children are walking reflections of their parents.

This is Paul’s logic: If Christ is God’s Son, and Christ is in Paul, then Paul is God’s son. This is why Paul has the privilege to call God, “Abba” or Father (Galatians 4:6). Not only so, but Paul will be saying the same thing about the Galatians later in the letter. To be in Christ not only meant that one was in God’s family, but even more so, that they are viewed as God’s children – his sons and daughters.

The love and sacrifice that God took as a Father to send his Son, and the love and sacrifice that Christ made to offer his life, should remind us just how much God has done to allow us to be part of His family. We are children of God if we follow Christ by faith. Do you see yourself as one of His children? Do you know he loves you? Do you know you are an heir to His promises?

Live today as one of God’s children. Walk as though you are a representative of Him. Just as children are a reflection of their parents, your life is reflective of how you respect your heavenly Father. Represent Him well.

And to answer the riddle, the doctor in the operating room was the boy’s mother.

Brevity of Before – Galatians 1:13-14

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” –Galatians 1:13-14

Every action movie has an, “I didn’t think it mattered,” moment. The main characters are in a bind. They are being chased by the “bad guys,” and all seems to look hopeless. The star male and female turn to one another, and then the female kicks a bad guy in the face! Before the male even has time to be surprised by this, the woman takes the assailant’s weapon, does a forward summersault, and shoots the rest of the men chasing her and her soon-to-be romantic interest. The man looks shocked as the woman still has a look of focus not seen yet in the film. He turns to her and asks where she learned to shoot like that. She responds, “I was in the military for some time and served overseas before becoming a [job that has nothing to do with the military]. I didn’t think it mattered.”

Obviously it did.

Paul spends the next chapter of Galatians talking about his life up until the time he met the Galatians. This is a pretty lengthy section, talking about Paul’s former life of Judaism, his call from God, his travels around the Roman world, and more. Though this section is pretty lengthy, Paul only focuses on his life prior to Christ for two verses. Luke spends more time in Acts talking about Paul’s life of Judaism than Paul does here! There must be some reason why Paul doesn’t think it mattered.

Paul might think this doesn’t matter, because the Galatians already know his testimony. This would make sense since Paul was a growing figure among the church. Paul also was the one to originally tell the Galatians the gospel, and with the story of Jesus, he probably shared some of his own story as well. To stop the redundancy, Paul probably abbreviated his former life to focus more on his ministry since becoming a Christian. The Galatians only knew Paul’s life before he knew Christ, but they are oblivious about everything that happened since he became a Christian. This is why Paul spends so many verses on his early ministry and very little on his life of Judaism.

Paul is also showing that his focus isn’t on his former life. His focus is on the gospel and how it affected his life. If he spent time on his life of Judaism it might cause the Galatians to think that there was something glamorous about it. It might give them an excuse to follow Judaism. Paul is trying to disassociate himself from the political side of his ethnicity. So though he is ethnically Jewish, he no longer practices Judaism. He is now a follower of Christ.

So, in a sense, his life before his encounter with Christ doesn’t matter. If Paul were to focus on that, it would take the focus off of Christ. He wants to make sure the Gentiles know that Christ is the one whom surrounds their faith. He is the one that changed Paul’s life, and Paul wants him to be at the center. Paul says enough to let the readers know he was a serious and a devout Jew. Nothing else mattered.

Too often I hear Christians give their testimonies, and they spend almost all of their time talking about life before Christ. It is almost like they are trying to relive their old life. Amidst the story, they forget to share the purpose of the story in the first place – Christ. A testimony that doesn’t talk about the transformation that occurred when they met Jesus isn’t a testimony at all. It is just a story.

What is your testimony? How has God changed your life for the better? What doesn’t matter anymore? Share your testimony. Remember who you used to be, but focus on who you are now. Focus on what God has done and is doing in your life today.

A Family of Faith and Flesh – Galatians 1:11

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” –Galatians 1:11

This past Thanksgiving was the first one where I was completely away from my family. Though I have only been home to Ohio twice in the past six years, while in college I had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with my sister, brother-in-law, and his family in Missouri. Now, being at a new place (with my nearest family member nine hours away), I knew it wouldn’t be possible for me to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I was seriously prepared to eat macaroni and cheese, sit alone, and watch TV all day. What happened instead was a pleasant surprise.

A family at church invited me, and my roommate Kevin, and his dad to their cabin in the Adirondacks for the weekend. Thanksgiving was a holiday where all of their family came together. I had the privilege of not just hanging out with this great family, but I also got to meet aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. There were almost twenty people there for the meal, and thirteen people crammed in the cabin for the weekend. It was the perfect break I needed amidst a hectic time of the year.

Right after Paul spends a considerable amount of time accusing the Galatians of deserting the gospel, he starts his next section by calling them “brothers” (or “brothers and sisters” for you politically correct folk out there). Right when the Galatians were probably starting to fidget in their seats, Paul points to his motive behind writing them. Of course it was because he cared about the truth of the gospel being proclaim, that is obvious. But if the reader forgets that Paul is writing the Galatians out of love, then the tone of the letter will not make sense. It will seem as though Paul is a ranting child and not a man concerned for the welfare of his family.

Just as the Galatians start to wonder if Paul is abandoning them, he reminds them that they are his family. They are “brothers” – not of flesh, but of faith. To be family isn’t just something one is born into for Paul. This is a theological claim. The Jews believed that one was part of the people of God by birth. To be in God’s family, one had to be born into it. Paul is calling them brothers, because he is reminding them that they have nothing to prove. They are already in the family of God. They don’t need to get circumcised. They don’t need to listen to the false teachers who have come in.

They are welcomed into the family of God by faith in Christ. This is the part of the gospel they have forgotten.

When I showed up to this family’s cabin, I didn’t expect to be welcomed in as one of their own… but I was. Even though I have only known these people for a few short months, they invited me to be a part of their family. We had devotions in the morning. We played board games in the afternoon. We watched movies at night. I even got to wield my first firearm! By the end of the weekend, I felt like I was a part of them. I felt like family.

Do you see your brothers and sisters in Christ as actual brothers and sisters? Do you hurt when they hurt? Or do you just shake hands with whoever is sitting near you during the weekend service? God is calling us to be united in him. He is reminding us who we are. We are a family. This isn’t just your church family. This is everyone who is in Christ.

What can you do to help your family? Maybe it is welcoming someone to dinner. Maybe it is helping someone find a job. Maybe it is praying for a brother or sister who has a loved one in the hospital.

We are a family.

We are the family of God.

We cannot be a house divided.

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?