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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • “Ice Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice
  • “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
  • “Summer of ‘69” by Bryan Adams
  • “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
  • “Ghostbusters” by Ray Parker Jr
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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.

A Theology of Expression

Some people have a problem with being thankful. I am not one of those people.

I thank God for things all the time. But I am not one of those irrational people who thanks God for everything – like inventing cars, or soda, or diabetic socks, or bacon. God didn’t invent those things, stupid people. But I usually pray a prayer of thanksgiving every time I eat a peanut butter sandwich that goes something like this: “God, thank you for creating the man who invented peanut butter.” Now, you might say that is George Washington Carver, but you’d be doubly wrong. So, maybe I have to retract my statement about bacon, but the rest still stands.

I’m so glad that God has inspired so many men and women to think, invent, and create.

Inspiration is a funny thing. It can cause a person to paint a picture, write a song, develop an invention, or pen Scripture. All forms of expression come from some form of inspiration. The key to discovering a great form of expression is to look at the inspiration. God is the highest form of inspiration there is. He is the Creator of the whole universe – from the stars in the sky to the fleas on a dog. Every night when I walk into my house, I look up at those stars and am continually reminded at how inspiring God is.

Just like you can look at a great painting and see the heart of the artist, you can look at the heart of mankind and see the hand of God. You can look at Christ’s life, death, and resurrection and see the love of God. You can see the conquest of Joshua and see the wrath of God. You read the Psalms and see how God inspires man. The Bible itself is another example of God inspiring man – in more ways than one.

Expression is only as good as the inspiration behind it. If your inspiration is temporary, if it is fleeting, if it can fail you, your expression loses significance. People who don’t live in an area where there are peanuts probably don’t care for the inspiration behind peanut butter. People who write songs about sex or drugs or money don’t create inspiration. But songs and paintings can be temporary or about current situations in time and still hold eternal significance depending on the inspiration. Great expression always inspires. It’s contagious.

My pastor said a few weeks ago that the gospel isn’t centered on expressing oneself but denying oneself. This is one of those statements though with a paradoxical twist – it is only when denying themselves that people can truly express themselves. If God is the highest form of inspiration, the highest form of expression comes through Him. This can be heard in Handel’s Messiah, seen in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or experienced while walking through a park on a nice day.

A great thing about expression is it speaks about and to its inspiration regardless of how explicit that mention might be. There are some great worship songs out there that are glorifying and directly speak to God’s character. Then there are those songs that speak through metaphor or situations to point to spiritual and godly truths. I think one of the disasters today of the Christian music industry is its forcefulness of the inclusion of God. People love NEEDTOBREATHE and Switchfoot because their expression isn’t forced; it is fluid and it is natural.

One of my favorite songs of all-time is called “John Wayne Gacy Jr” by Sufjan Stevens. In the song, Stevens talks about one of the most prolific serial killers to ever live. The song is disgusting and it leaves the listener feeling sickened as the song progresses. In the heart, the listener feels how wretched this killer was. Then in the last line of the song, Stevens says: “In reality, I am really just like him. Look beneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

There it is.

What a phenomenal song to express the fallen nature of mankind and to show the morality engraved in the hearts of man to feel sickened by evil. It is something I loved about the show Breaking Bad. No show in the history of television has painted such a vivid picture of right and wrong. This is the key to great expression. This is a key that opens many doors and leads the artist down many corridors. This is the key that allows one to think outside the box, outside of themselves, and potentially outside their present reality.

What inspires you?

The Hudson and Our Inheritance – Galatians 3:1-18

Galatians 3:1-18

The Hudson River isn’t too far from where I live. It kind of reminds me of a dirty salty version of the Mississippi River, but that is beside the point. Imagine you are feeling a little risky – a little adventurous. You think, “I can swim across this thing.” So when the weather gets right, you go to the bank, wetsuit on, and just jump right in. Unfortunately for you, sitting on the couch everyday doesn’t count as proper training for something so strenuous, and you very quickly get winded. You are reaching the point of exhaustion, and to your grim despair, you aren’t even half way across. But you can’t go any longer. As soon as you accept your fate and make your peace with God, a friendly old man in a fishing boat comes and offers you a lift across.

I know at first you might be wondering why a man is out on the Hudson in a small fishing boat, but that doesn’t matter. You are just happy he was at the right place at the right time. You hop in and thank him for his hospitality. Though after a few seconds, your stubborn self catches wind and tells the man you want to get out… You can swim the rest of the way across by yourself.

I’m not too much of a swimmer. Even though I grew up right next to a private lake where I would swim EVERY day during the summer, I am not a strong swimmer. I don’t know the right strokes or how to breathe properly in the water. Not to mention I am incredibly out of shape. So anytime I go across a long bridge or see a wide river or a big lake I just think how hopeless I would be if I tried to swim across it. So, this illustration speaks to me.

After Paul shares his proposition for writing the Galatians in 2:16, He goes on in chapter 3 to explain that God has already given His Spirit to the Galatians, and that the Galatians don’t have to follow the Law if they already have the Spirit. And since they have the Spirit, they no longer have to feel like they need to mark up their flesh through circumcision. Here Paul takes a considerable amount of time to contrast; The Law and faith, the flesh and the Spirit, and being cursed verses being justified.

This is a persuasive argument from Paul. When I read this section I think of how I would write persuasive papers in high school. Appeal to emotion, refer to someone who has some level of authority, and weave some modus ponens in there like a fiend. Paul is the same way here.

First, he starts by appealing to the Galatians’ personal experience. For the Galatians to deny what God has done in their lives through the Spirit would be ignorance. In verse 5, Paul reminds them that God worked miracles among them and the Spirit moved through them because of their faith, not because they followed the Law. Paul even described the crucifixion of Christ to them so vividly when he first presented the gospel that he says in verse 1 that it was as though Christ was crucified before their own eyes. How can they deny what God had done in their lives?

Paul then goes on to present an argument from authority. Now, when we present an argument from authority, we usually quote doctors or specialists. Paul quotes a ton of Scripture in Galatians 3:10-14. If the Galatians were getting tempted by Jewish Christians to become more “Jewish” and follow the Mosaic Law, it would be harder for them to make an argument if Paul is arguing from the same source of authority that the Jewish Christians are.

Here Paul uses the promise of Abraham, the first “Jew,” the Pillar of the People of God. Paul is showing that God fulfilled the promise made to Abraham in Genesis – the promise that God would bless all the nations through him. This was only done through Christ, who is Abraham’s chosen offspring. God not only is fulfilling something that predates the Law, but is using an example of some one who was made right with God before being circumcised. Paul even says in Galatians 3:7 – “That it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” The Galatians, by being people of faith, now are considered welcomed in to the People of God and hold equal status to that of the Jews. This was without the Law, but was through their faith in Jesus Christ!

Here’s what happened. The Galatians were drowning and God saved them. They were warm and safe, but they are thinking about jumping back in the cold and dirty Hudson. Paul is trying to show them that if the Galatians go back to thinking they can do it on their own they will sink. They no longer need to follow the Law of Moses. It hasn’t helped them thus far. It won’t help them in the future. Next Paul will show them that they need to follow the Law of Christ – following the one who perfected the Law of Moses. This can only be done through faith.

Have you jumped out of the boat?

Maybe you are like the Galatians, and denying something God has done in your life. How can you deny what God has done in YOUR own life? It doesn’t matter if it was last week or in the last century, don’t forget the moments when God spoke to you. Don’t forget how God changed your family. Don’t forget that time that God healed you when the doctors said it was hopeless.

Sometimes what God has done in the past is the only thing that will keep us going in the present.

Or have you forgotten what the Gospel is about? It isn’t about following a set of rules and regulations. It isn’t about the Law of Moses. It isn’t about attending church, or going to Sunday School, or playing on the worship team. The Gospel is about how Christ came to reconcile a world that was condemned. Let’s not lose sight of Christ. Let’s not jump out of the boat – not even for humanitarianism, hedonism, or “morally sound deism.”

Remember what God did in history when Christ came and made us Children of Abraham – Children of His inheritance. Remember what God has done in your life through His Spirit. And never forget… It all centers on Christ’s faithful act on the cross and our faith in him.

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?

Surrounded for Supremacy – Galatians 2:1-2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.