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?

 

Truth and The Bible

Sometimes I forget what Bible College has taught me.

Or maybe it’s that I forget that people haven’t been taught the same way.

I don’t mean it in a bad way. There are many good things and, crazily enough, bad things I learned while in school. When I was finished with my first semester of my sophomore year, I was confused as to how I went this long not being equipped with what I learned up to that point. Every new thing I learned was like another tool on a utility belt, and I was the Dark Knight of biblical exegesis, preparing myself for when I would go out into the world and defeat Falsehood with the Truth of the Gospel.

Then something happened.

The bible ended up becoming a textbook to me. It was hard to balance the scales of seeing the pages of my bible as inspired text while learning about textual criticism and the like. I became cynical of speakers and preachers and teachers and commentators. I started to only read the ESV, because it was more literal to the original text, and if ever I saw an ambiguous passage, I knew I could just look it up in the original Greek (or Hebrew… if you’re into that stuff).

The bible is a crazy thing. Some people see it as an inspirational text. Some people use it as a justification for war, sexism, racism, patriotism, and capitalism. And some people see it for what it is – the Word of God. The Bible was given to us to share with us the story of Salvation History and our place within it. It is a guideline for how we are to walk in the Spirit. And to mishandle or misrepresent what the bible says is to potentially misrepresent the God who orchestrated the words in its pages.

Just because it is true doesn’t mean it is biblical:

This is an interesting statement, but what I want to address is “exegesis.” Exegesis means, “to lead out” and has the idea of drawing an interpretation out from Scripture. Many bible college students know that the opposite of this is “eisegesis” – or “putting in” one’s own interpretation to a text.

What this means is that someone could be saying all the right things, but not using the right proofs to do so. A classic example of this (and one MANY of my professors used) would be when Jesus calms the storm. By reading this passage in context, the author isn’t trying to say: “Jesus will calm the storms of your life.” What the author is trying to say is clear at the end of the text: “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

Now, it is very well true that Jesus will bring peace to those who suffer. He says it in one of the Beatitudes. But to say that this is what Mark is trying to say in this passage takes away what Mark and God intended – that Jesus is divine. Not only does he cast out demons, and not only is he an incredible teacher, but even the weather is subject to him. For who else can control the weather but God himself?

By putting our own interpretation into a text, we run the risk of being able to justify anything with the use of smoke screens and poor context. Almost every text has one interpretation (for possible exceptions look at prophesies or the idea of sensus plenior). What makes a text different is how we apply that single interpretation to our lives.

Just because it isn’t biblical doesn’t mean it isn’t true:

This is something I find myself saying to my roommate a lot. He laughs at me, because we both know it really doesn’t make sense without an explanation. It honestly makes me feel like a heretic sometimes when I say it. But everyone knows that this is true. There are many ideas, and there are many things that are true that aren’t included in the bible. I know abortion is wrong. I believe that a fetus is actually a person, so it would be wrong to terminate a pregnancy. That isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Smoking isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Swearing isn’t anywhere in the bible.

The word “trinity” isn’t even in the bible.

If we believe that God is truth, then it must also be true that all truth is God’s truth… I’m sorry if you had to read that twice to get the full force of what I was trying to say. It’s scary to admit, because this leaves a big open gray area for a lot of things not mentioned in the bible. But God gave us the bible so that we can make godly judgments regarding these other things. The bible has nothing written against slavery, but we all hopefully know that it is wrong to own a person and to treat them like property.

The bible is the greatest guideline we could have on how to live life. It helps us to understand what God has brought humanity through. It shows us examples of the early church, so we know how to restore God’s kingdom to earth and know how to live Spirit led lives as well. The bible isn’t a tool used to bind people. It isn’t an instrument meant to control people. And it isn’t a book full of passages we can fill with our own “revelations.” This is the greatest physical tool we have for living out the Greatest Commandments. Let’s remember that it might not have all the answers, but it helps equip us to discover them for ourselves.

Loveable Leslie and the Valentine’s Day Parable

Loveable Leslie grew up like any other child. She was quite normal and fun. And she had a heart of gold. While most other kids picked best friends, Loveable Leslie just wanted to love everybody. It was part of who she was – loveable. She learned quickly though that love isn’t always returned. Sometimes love is met with hate and bitterness.

It happened one year during Valentines Day. All the children were to bring in bags or boxes that were decorated and then they would go around the room and put a valentine card in all of their boxes. Loveable Leslie made a very special valentine for a boy that she thought was very special – Tough Tony. On it, she wrote with the best of her ability, “Tony, will you be my very special valentine? Love, Leslie. xoxo”

Tony came back the next day with that valentine in his hand. Loveable Leslie was so nervous she could barely stop shaking. Then Tony did the unthinkable. He signaled the rest of the class: “Hey guys,” he said, “look what that Loony Leslie gave me!” Leslie’s face swelled as red as the valentine in Tony’s hand. She quickly shriveled into her seat. But nothing she did made the moment any less worse. Immediately after school, Loveable Leslie ran home and cried for the rest of the night.

Now – most people would find it hard to love or trust any one ever again after a moment like that. Not only did Tony embarrass Leslie, but he also embarrassed her in front of all of their classmates. It would be understandable if Leslie took a long time to trust again, even at such a young age.

But that moment didn’t faze her.

Even though Loveable Leslie wasn’t so loveable to Tony, she continued to love people. She loved her parents, she loved her friends, and she loved her dog. And sometimes people would take advantage of her. Sometimes they would abuse the love and trust she had for them. But she still loved them regardless. And by the time that Loveable Leslie grew old, she had hundreds of people who loved and cared for her. Through her love towards others she really became Loveable Leslie.

Christ truly taught miraculous things through parables. The way that he was able to use everyday circumstances and situations and transform them into vessels and vehicles of spiritual truth shows what an amazing teacher he was. In the parable of the sower, for instance, we know that Christ isn’t merely giving advice regarding agriculture. We all know that the parable of the sower isn’t about a sower at all, but is about the Kingdom of God.

“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:3-9)

So what kingdom principles can we learn from the parable of the sower?

The first is about the seed and the soil. No matter how good the seed is it won’t grow in some soil. The fact that there are different soils already tells us that not everyone will receive the message of the Gospel. There will be some that won’t understand it. There will be others that abuse it. Some will even extort the Gospel for their own selfish gain. But when those who understand the message allow it to take root, they will multiply.

Later, Jesus says that blessed are those who see and understand. This is not only talking about understanding the parable, but is also talking about understanding the message of the Kingdom of God. To those who are receptive and allow the kingdom seed to be rooted in their heart, God will give them more of Himself. He will give them knowledge and understanding of His Kingdom. That is why it says later in verse 12, “He who has, more will be given.”

The second thing about the parable of the sower has to do with the sower himself. I like to call him the “foolish farmer.” The farmer is to sow seed regardless of the condition of the soil. The foolish farmer here, much like Loveable Leslie, is acting quite foolishly. Leslie shouldn’t have continued to love people the way she was after being hurt. The farmer, if he knows anything about sowing seed, should know that he is only supposed to plant seed in good soil. But in the parable, Jesus has the sower spread seed all over the place. Any farmer would know that he would be wasting valuable seeds if he were to plant them on rocky soil or amidst thorns. Yet Jesus has the farmer spreading his seed, his livelihood, everywhere, not thinking once of how it might affect his crop.

Here Jesus is teaching a lesson. It is easy to look at some who are lost and not see hope for them ever receiving the Gospel. One might think, “What’s the point,” and ignore this person as a lost cause. “What is the point of wasting time and energy into someone who won’t receive the message anyway?” But here, Jesus is saying that it isn’t the responsibility of the one sharing the Gospel to decide who will and will not receive its message. The sower’s mission and responsibility is to merely plant the seed.

Lastly, the parable teaches that growth only comes through God. Despite the terrible terrain and the farmer’s foolish ways, there was still a magnificent crop that was harvested from the seeds that were sown. This wasn’t due to the soil. It wasn’t due to the farmer. Most of the soil was bad and the farmer was planting seeds like he knew nothing of agriculture. No, the growth of the harvest came by the miraculous power of God.

It isn’t our responsibility to decide who deserves to hear the message of the Gospel. Everyone deserves to hear it. And it isn’t in our power that they receive it. It can only be through the grace of God and the Holy Spirit. We, like Loveable Leslie, just need to keep loving people and sharing with them the Gospel, and by the end of our time in ministry, God will have used us to reach a multitude of people.

We just need to share the Gospel and trust in Him to bring in the harvest.

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?

Free For All – Galatians 2:4-5

“Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery— to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.” –Galatians 2:4-5

I had the opportunity to visit The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati, OH a couple years back while on an outreach. I’m not a huge fan of history museums, but I enjoyed learning about the Underground Railroad and the abolition of slavery in America. I learned a lot about slavery in the past, and there was even an area that talked about slavery happening in the world today.

During the years where America was dividing, there were men who were sent out to find and catch escaping slaves. Slave masters hired them out, or sometimes they just went out on their own hoping to make a buck or two. The problem with these bounty hunters, besides the fact that they were catching slaves, was that they would sometimes take men and women who were legally free. They would kidnap anyone who they knew they could make a buck on whether they were a runaway slave or a free man.

There were men who had come to Paul while he was in Jerusalem trying to get Titus to get circumcised. They were trying to enslave the Gentile Christians again through the Law of Moses. Paul makes sure to emphasize that the truth of the gospel is freedom in Christ Jesus. Giving in to these “false brothers” wouldn’t have just hindered freedom for Paul, but it would have hindered the freedom of all who have heard the gospel. This is why Paul says, “our freedom” and not “my freedom.”

Anyone who is in Christ has freedom in him. Longenecker describes this freedom as being both instrumentally through Christ, and locationally in Christ. The freedom that comes in and through Christ is central to the gospel Paul has been preaching. For Paul, if one wasn’t in Christ, they were not free. Freedom is only found in Christ.

What is this freedom? The freedom that comes through Christ is freedom from the Law of Moses. Since the Judaizers are in Galatia trying to get the Christian men circumcised, Paul is using a situation he was in as a parallel tale. These Judaizers may or may not be the same “false brothers” Paul is referring to here, but regardless, Paul is trying to make them seem one and the same as the Judaizers… at least in philosophy. Just as these false brothers tried to take the freedom of Christ from Paul, Barnabas, and Titus, the Judaizers in Galatia are trying to take the freedom the Galatians have from the Law.

What does it mean to be free from the Law? When Christ came, he fulfilled the Law. Since the “Old Covenant” has been fulfilled, we now follow the “New Covenant” which is a covenant in Christ. So as Christians we don’t follow the rules of the Law per say, but we follow the man that perfected the Law in his life, death, and resurrection. We have freedom because all the cultural barriers that existed in the Law have been abolished, such as Circumcision, and Food Laws. Also, the ceremonial law established in the Old Testament – animal sacrifices and Temple feasts, etc. – don’t matter either. Christ has fulfilled that Law with all its rules and regulations.

Imagine now that you are a former slave in the early 1800’s. You’ve earned your freedom. Your “master” wrote for you to be a free man, as one of the stipulations of his will. So you go up north and start to look for work. You end up working for an abolition publication in Ohio. You have your freedom. You have a decent living. You work for yourself now, not for someone else.

Would you want to go back into slavery? Would you want to be considered not your own, but a property of somebody else?

Live your life not as someone who is shackled by rules and regulations. Live your life as someone who is set free. We have freedom through Christ. Live like it. We don’t have to answer to sin’s nagging again. We can overcome it through Christ. We aren’t slaves to the Law or to sin any longer. We have freedom through Christ.

Are you free?