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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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?

Entrusted Not Entitled – Galatians 2:7-9

“On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.” –Galatians 2:7-9

I love coffee, and I like plaid, and I love to play acoustic guitar. I think that makes me a hipster. Or at least that is what people say. At first I would respond back the same way most hipsters respond: “I’m not a hipster.” Then when I realized that is what hipsters did, I just accepted the title. Now I think it is funny. And though now the fad is fading away, I’ll just about fitting this stereotype as long as I can.

It is strange to me that Paul would go from talking about a unified gospel to talking about a split gospel. Paul’s whole focus is to show that there is one gospel and no others. So now why is he saying there is a gospel to the circumcised and one to the uncircumcised? Why does it seem like he is contradicting himself?

Paul might be in a 50’s style gang fight – a greaser fight. Maybe what Paul is saying is that since the men who came to Galatia came from Jerusalem, they don’t have a right to preach the gospel to the uncircumcised. The Jewish disciples from Jerusalem would only have a right to preach the gospel to the circumcised. Paul might accusing these men are on his turf. Paul might be saying only he has the authority to preach to the Gentiles in Galatia.

Also, this is one of the only times Paul refers to Cephas as “Peter.” Everywhere else in Paul’s letters he refers to the head apostle as “Cephas.” This is telling for Paul. Maybe these aren’t necessarily his words. This could be what the pillars said; this could be what others in Jerusalem said. The change of name could hint to that. This would make sense if Paul used sarcasm or the words of others to drive his point.

Regardless, Paul is showing that his calling from God holds the same authority as does Peter’s. This would make Paul’s gospel message the true gospel. His authority isn’t below Peter. His authority is equal to Peter. They both have a calling and a purpose. And no one should question Paul’s authority – not the Galatians or the false teachers in Galatia trying to sway them.

Paul was pulling a hipster moment. He knew there wasn’t more than one gospel, but he used what people were saying to drive his point. His authority is on par with that of the apostle Peter, and that the church in Jerusalem gave him their right hand of fellowship. They saw Paul as a friend and a companion. They saw him as someone capable of sharing the gospel.

Another astonishing point is to note that the apostles physically saw that Paul was entrusted with the gospel (v 7). They didn’t hear that Paul was entrusted. They didn’t get insight. They saw that Paul was given authority from God.

I wonder what exactly they saw.

What do people see in you? Do they see the love and power of God? Do they see the gospel message? People might see me as the coffee drinking, earth tone wearing, crazy person, but I hope they also see a reflection of Christ.

Live in such a way that people see God in you.

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.

Independence and Immunity – Overview of Galatians 2:1-14

Galatians 2:1-14

My family loves the show Survivor. Though it has been a couple years since I’ve watched the “reality show” that was the catalyst for them all, I still love the show. The strategy and deception that goes on in the tribes is suspenseful. To win, one needs to be good enough to win competitions and nice enough to have friends, but they can’t be too good or too nice, because then people will vote them out because this “nice guy” is a threat.

Every season, Survivor is in a different location. There are usually entirely new people every season (except for a couple fan favorite seasons). CBS has done a pretty good job balancing out having a general theme, but changing the show enough to where people stay interested. There is one challenge that the show seems to have every year. It is one where the contestants balance on a pole in the water. This is usually one of the last “immunity” challenges the contestants have. They have to stand on a wooden pole in the water, and whoever can stay up the longest makes it to the next round. While the show may change throughout the seasons, most serious watchers know to look for this competition at some point every year.

Though my whole family doesn’t have a big party celebrating the finale anymore, I’m sure the show still holds a special place in all my family’s hearts as it does mine.

In the second chapter of Galatians, Paul starts a balancing act of his own. Paul’s main aim in this section is to show his independence. He is trying to show that his gospel came directly from the Lord and hasn’t been changed by anyone. He is trying to show that his gospel is the same as the church in Jerusalem while stressing it is his own gospel, and not theirs that he is preaching.

It’s a tough situation for Paul to balance. If he seems too independent, the false teachers in Galatia will call Paul a rogue and dismiss him. However, if Paul seems too dependent, the false teachers will call Paul a liar and say that their message is really in line with those in Jerusalem. It is almost a catch-22 for Paul. He needs to show the Galatians that his gospel is his own, while also showing that it is the same gospel the pillars in Jerusalem preach. These pillars are Peter, James, and John.

If Paul seems too independent of Peter, James, and John he might not get their approval. It isn’t that Paul needs their approval to be validated theologically. Paul knows the authority of his gospel. It came from God. Paul knows these men are seen as “pillars” of the Christian faith just as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were the pillars of Israel. To lose their approval would be detrimental to his mission not his message. Not to mention it would cause disunity, one of the biggest issues Paul addresses in his writing.

We need to make sure we have the same thing in our life. We need to have a faith and a relationship with God that is our own, but we need to surround ourselves with people to make sure we don’t start thinking Christianity is something it isn’t. In verses 11-14, Paul talks about how even Peter stood condemned for excluding the Gentiles by eating with a group called “The Circumcision.” We must balance how we handle ourselves in situations, we need to balance our message of hope, and we need to help others to stay balanced as well. We are in this to win immunity – eternal life in Christ. Will you keep balance?