Realizing Dependence: H.C. Lord’s Day 50

Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 50

Q 125: What does the fourth petition mean?
A 125: “Give us this day our daily bread” means:

Do take care of all our physical needs so that we come to know that you are the only source of everything good, and that neither our work and worry nor your gifts can do us any good without your blessing;

And so help us to give up our trust in creatures and trust in you alone.
 
 How often do you think about where your next meal is going to come from?  If you are like me, probably rarely.  Even if we don’t have any food in the house (which never actually happens), my family and I could go out to eat at one of any number of restaurants in a 20-mile radius.  We are pretty much never in danger of not having enough food.
 
Not being in danger of this, however, can be a danger in and of itself.  When we are in a place of abundance, a place where our own work seems to be enough for the provisions that we need, not to mention the wants that we often indulge, we far too often forget the true source and provider of all our needs, God the creator, sustainer, and provider for the entire universe.
 
Now, as we have discussed in the past couple of weeks, the catechism is not teaching some magical words that are going to get you more “blessed.”  Neither is it teaching that if you don’t say these things, God is going to somehow pull all of His blessings and provision right out from under you.  Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray and, as such, He is teaching them the importance of both the direction of their prayers and the recognition in their prayers.
 
Praying for the things that you already have seems a bit silly.  This is especially true when you’ve always had them.  Yet the danger in not including this in our prayer life is a plunge into total self-reliance.  Jesus is teaching His disciples to remember the true source of all things and the direction in which their trust should go.  For them this would be even more important in the years that followed Jesus Ascension into heaven, a time of intense persecution of the young Church.
 
Self-reliance, in the face of the trials and tribulations of life, may work for a little bit, but ultimately our strength and our hope come from something much greater than ourselves.  Christians have, far too often, encouraged each other by saying “hang in there” or “you are stronger than this.”  These are certainly good sentiments, but at their core is a very dark and dangerous desire: we want to be in control, we want to support ourselves, we don’t want to have to trust anyone else.
 
The reality for us, however, is that we need to put that trust somewhere else.  What we want is self-reliance but what we need is God-reliance.  This is why Jesus taught His disciples to have this as a vital part of their prayer life.  Excluding it could be a lapse in memory or a simple oversight; it could also reveal a sort of reality of a self-reliant heart that either doesn’t want to or doesn’t feel it needs to look to God for all our needs… even the ones that seem to be already met.
 
Have you ever been at a place in your faith journey where prayer seems to be of relatively little importance?  I know I have.  What is it that shakes you out of that?  Perhaps a crisis… a deep struggle… a significant life event…  We readily go to God when we recognize a need that we cannot meet for ourselves.  Jesus teaches us that, while God will always be there, we should readily go to God for everything, in everything, with everything.  Not only does God invite this, He longs for it!


Luke 16 – Shrewdness

Read Luke 16

It almost seems as though Jesus is promoting shrewdness and material wealth in these teachings.  That doesn’t seem to jive with much of anything when it comes to what Jesus teaches.  Yet when we take a closer look, the manager that Jesus is speaking about is shrewd (sharp-witted, smart, astute) on several levels.  One of the reasons why these debts had not been paid is likely because the manager had compassion on those who could not pay back the debt.

The actions that he took after he was fired were just as good!  He used the position he had to help those indebted to the master which allowed for a continued relationship with these people and for them to be free from their debt.

So the manager is cheating the master?  Actually, probably not.  If these loans are between Jews, and we are able to think that they are as Jews had very little relations with other cultures, the Law of Moses says that they should charge no interest!  (Deuteronomy 23:19-20)  This manager may be shrewd, but he is also righteous in his actions.

Jesus then encourages His disciples to use their places of influence and what material wealth they had to “gain friends.”  It would seem that Jesus is promoting material gain yet He couples the teaching with a warning: “you cannot serve both God and money.”

God has blessed each one of us; we are encouraged to use those blessings to bless others.  This has always been the call of believers: Blessed to be a blessing.  We should use what God has given us to that end.  In this way we will not become a slave to our possessions, serving them rather than God; instead we serve God through the right use of His blessings to us.



Luke 6 – Blessings and Woes

Read Luke 6

The beatitudes recorded in Luke take on a shorter and partially more negative form than those recorded in Matthew.  Yet the message of these teachings is much the same: there is a greater perspective than what is happening currently that we must keep in focus.

Some of these make a lot of sense to us.  God has a special place in His heart for those who are poor, oppressed, and marginalized; Scripture is very clear on that.  It is not a wonder that Jesus teaches that these folks will be blessed.

But what about the reverse of these?  Why is it that Jesus says that those who laugh now will mourn later?  What is it about being wealthy now that will lead to poverty later?  How is it that those who are full now will be hungry later?

As has been mentioned before, the economy of God doesn’t necessarily match up with what we think is important.  The message that Jesus is speaking is not that His followers should seek to be poor, desolate, and unhappy so to gain blessings.  That doesn’t seem to match up with Jesus’ statement in John that He “came so that they may have life, and have it to the fullest.”

What is important here is perspective.  When our perspective on life, fulfillment, and following God focuses only on “living it up” in the temporary, especially when it is at the expense of others, we seem to miss the point.  Jesus relates these things to the idea of loving our enemies and judging others, driving home the point that all of life is lived in relationship.  When we find ourselves marginalized by others, we can find hope in the blessing that will come.  When we find ourselves marginalizing others, we best think twice.



Day 365: Revelation 20-22; The New Heaven and The New Earth

As we close this journey that we began a year ago, we come also to the final scenes of John’s vision in Revelation, and the final goal of what God has been working towards since the very beginning of this story.  This vision, this end purpose, the final will of God which we see in Revelation chapter 21, is that which we are told about in both our reading today and also that which we have heard about for for the past 364 days.  God’s ultimate goal, God’s overall will for creation has always been reconciliation… and that is what we see here today, reconciliation and restoration… a return to Eden, to paradise, to a time when all of creation lives in the presence of God for all time.

You see, what we read here today is the second high point of salvation history, the first being the salvation brought through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  To think, though, that the scope of this salvation is limited simply to humans would be a gross understatement.  Sadly, however, this understanding of salvation is that which runs rampant in the church today and is perhaps a symptom some of the greatest misunderstandings of discussions about the end times and all that will take place.  For too often we’ve pared down Jesus’ salvation work to the saving of human souls so that they can go to heaven when they die.  Again, this is a sad understatement of God’s plan of salvation throughout the Bible.

This thinking, as I said, is held by many people and often leads to an “escapist” mentality of the end times.  Whether it be from natural death or the second coming of Christ, the prevailing opinion that seems to have taken mainstream Christianity by storm is that of the hope of “getting out of here” to be with Jesus.  Thinking like this has become rather prevalent in the idea of the rapture, the idea that Christian’s somehow get to be taken away from the earth in these last years so that they don’t have to endure the awful judgments and trials that are described in Revelation.  While one can understand the desire to not be around destruction of that magnitude, if indeed these are literal things that are going to happen on earth.

However, what is very clear here at the end of Revelation is that this escapist mentality is not what is described in the vision that is given to John.  In fact, it is not what has been shown for us throughout the whole of Scripture.  When sin entered the world, all of creation was affected, and the effect was systemic.  From that point on, God has been working His will through the people that He has called, to bring about the restoration of all creation, so that all things would be reconciled to Him.  How do we see this?  Because what is described to us in these final chapters is that of Heaven coming to a renewed and restored creation.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.  And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

There are several characteristics of this New Heaven and New Earth that we see here.  We hear the voice from heaven saying that “The dwelling of God is with men.”  More than this, in the words that follow John describes the New Jerusalem as being without a Temple.  This is interesting because the Temple was THE center of Jerusalem and the center of all religious life for the Hebrew people.  However, when the New Heaven and the New Earth are present, and God is dwelling with people, there is no need for a center of Worship because God will be the center of worship.  Jesus is the light and there is no need for the sun.  In short, God is the source of everything, the sustaining force of all that will be present in this new Eden.  I think this is even more interesting because this has been the Hebrew view of reality all along.  God is the center, the source, the completion of all being.  As John writes, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

From the beginning to the end, all things have been and continue to be through God.  He is the sustaining force of all creation and at the same time is working to redeem it, restore it, and reconcile it back to Himself.  This is the end of the story, the true end of all things… the conclusion of our journey both through Scripture and in life.  This is the fulfillment of the Covenant, the completion of the people being God’s people and He being their God.  This too is the truest and fullest realization of the Kingdom of Heaven as it comes to earth when the true King comes in all of His glory, splendor, and majesty on the day that only the Father knows.  Maranatha!  Come Lord Jesus.

He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.

(I would like to mention, that the articles that I am referencing as “related” are those that have been suggested by wordpress and do not necessarily support of coincide with the beliefs that I hold or write about.  I neither cast my unknowing support to them nor do I say that they are wrong, simply conversational partners in this journey through the Scriptures.)



Day 360: Revelation 1-3; Introduction to Revelation

At last, after a long journey through the Bible, through the story of God’s redemptive work throughout history, we have come to the final book, the conclusion of it all: the book or Revelation.  The Revelation of Jesus Christ to John is the conclusion of the this epic journey that we’ve been on, focusing on the what Jesus reveals as the final chapters of this story.  John, who is often considered to be the Apostle John, who wrote the Gospel of John and possibly the three letters attributed to John, is also considered to be this writer here as well.  The Apocalypse of John, as this book is commonly called, happened on the Island of Patmos, an island off the coast of what is now Turkey.  John was here, exiled probably from the city of Ephesus, and on this Island Jesus reveals Himself, all that He will do, and (spoiler alert) how He will bring all things to the perfect ending that has been foretold since the beginning.

Revelation is one of the hardest books in the Bible to read, and even harder to interpret and truly understand.  Some of the greatest theologians in the world have decided not to write commentaries on the book of Revelation because of its difficult nature.  Other’s have taken it as a code, a mystery that needs to be dug through and uncovered to find out the true meanings, dates, times, and even characters that this book will show them.  Discussions around the end times have only intensified in the last 15 to 20 years with the writing of the Left Behind series and what seems to be the increase in the idea of the Rapture and other various means of escape from this world before it all goes south.  However, this book needs to be read just as the rest of the Bible, not as a code some mystery to be revealed, but as part and parcel of God’s self-revelation to His people.  The book is written in apocalyptic style, meaning that it is different than that of a “prophetic style” in that John is writing down this vision, this revelation about things that are to come.  Like the book of Daniel, and sections within the prophets, John is not writing in a way that he would name certain people, events, or even nations that hadn’t necessarily happened (or existed) yet.  What we are seeing here are broad brush strokes about the trajectory of what is to come, the cosmic battle between good and evil, and the ultimate outcome when things come to their final conclusion.  This is the reading that we will take as we walk through this final book in these final days of our journey through Scriptures.

Our reading today starts with the prologue of revelation, truly an introduction to all that we are about to encounter.  The true introduction to this, is that of the revelation of Jesus, the center of all that we are about to encounter.  Like the Gospel of John, what we get at the beginning of this book is a prologue, a prelude for all that we will encounter, and a model of how we are to understand what we read.  As with the Gospel of John, we see that Jesus Christ is at the center of all things from which all things before and after radiate outward.  John writes:

‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty…’
Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest.  The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters.  In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength…
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.’

John then goes into writing the letters that Jesus tells Him to the seven churches in Asia minor, what is now modern day Turkey.  Each of these Churches have an individual letter written that addresses various issues and needs that they had been dealing with.  Though they may have been struggling with different things, and may even have wavered from the right path and even struggled in the midst of persecution, Jesus’ words are to encourage them to keep the faith and to keep on faithfully following Him lest they completely fall away.  Times were rough for the Church, there was a great deal of struggling that was taking place, yet in all of this, Jesus was present and remained faithful to them.  These letters, as we read them, also have encouragement for our churches as well.  We too face a number of struggles and issues that seek to sway us from the path that Christ calls us to walk.  The words of our Lord encourage us to remain faithful to all that He has called us to in the midst of struggles, persecution, and trials even if it may not be easy.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.The one who conquers will not be hurt by the second death.
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.
The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father.  And I will give him the morning star.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.



Day 344: Colossians 1-4; The Preeminence of Christ

Interestingly, this letter, which holds its main point as being the sovereignty of God and the preeminence of Christ as its main theme, is one of the letters of which the author is thought the be pseudonymous (written anonymously).  Over the course of the last couple centuries, people have become a lot more interested in textual criticism of the Scriptures and the authorship of the books as well.  This has led scholars and historians to comb through the original text to look for differences in writing styles, grammatical usages, and the like to show that the writers of these books are not necessarily who they say that are.  The book of Colossians is considered by a majority of historians to be not written by the apostle Paul.  The real question in this argument though is whether or not that actually matters.  Most Theologians would say no and here’s why.  In these times, and to a lesser extent in our contemporary context, writing a letter under a pseudonymous name was quite common.  Likely the person that wrote this letter was a student or contemporary of Paul that wrote after Paul’s death or imprisonment.  Writing in Paul’s name would have given the letter a great deal more clout and impact on the community that likely needed to hear what was in this letter.  Moreover, as the process of canonization took place, that process in which certain books and writings were deemed to be part of the Scriptures while others weren’t, we believe that the Holy Spirit was intimately involved in that process and in the process of writing these letters, books, etc.  Therefore, even though the person that is said to be writing this is likely not actually Paul, the nature of the truth that the letter communicates is not at all in question, harmonizing with the whole of the Biblical Scriptures and therefore authoritative and true for us today.

It is a bit ironic that this letter, of all the letters, would be the one that garners a discussion like this as the writer himself is pointing first and foremost to the preeminence of Christ and the truth that comes through Him above all else.  While discussions about historical things are important, the pseudonymous Pauline writer is pointing beyond that discussion to show us that really where we should be looking to is Christ, not grammatical issues or textual criticism.

One of the main purposes of the letter to the Colossian church was to combat and issue that was cropping up in the church.  A couple of days ago I mentioned the word Gnosticism, which was something that the Apostle John expressly writes against in all of his writing.  He, however, wasn’t the only person to encounter that issue as the writer of Colossians is making clear.  There were (and are) people that had taken the Christian teaching and intermixed it with some of their own teaching.  This led to what we could call “Gnostic Christianity” (which really is a misnomer because it is impossible).  These people taught that, while Christ came into the world, we really need a special knowledge to know God and it was this knowledge that saved us.

Right at the beginning, this position is challenged by the simple truth of Jesus Christ:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.  For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.  For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

The Pauline writer is laying out very simply the story of Jesus Christ and the truth of both His deity and the Gospel that we find in Him.  There is no special knowledge here; the writer is not somehow uniquely enlightened apart from the work of the Holy Spirit which is also at work within us.  Indeed this idea of Gnosticism is just another way that Satan is trying to twist the Good News of Jesus Christ so that we turn from it rather than cling to it.

Now, you may be thinking that this is something not worth talking about because of the fact that it is history and the Gnostic Teachings do not exist anymore.  Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  Agnosticism is a “religious” affiliation that has become a major player in the last 50-100 years or so.  Agnostics believe that there is a God out there but that He is ultimately unknowable.  This leads to a sad resignation that there is no way to save one’s self accept through trying to be the best we can be and hoping that somehow God sees that.  Sadly, I think that a lot of agnostics are actually people that are leaving the Church today.  Too often they are leaving because we aren’t preaching the truth of the Gospel and we certainly aren’t living it out.  The ideas of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, that God is out there somewhere but is not intimately involved in our lives so we just need to be good and try harder and God will help us from time to time, are running rampant in the Church and they are leading believers astray.  It is simply NOT TRUE.

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.  In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,  having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,  by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.



Day 343: Philippians 1-4; True Joy

The book of Philippians is another one of the prison epistles (letters) that is written by Paul while he was imprisoned in Rome.  This letter is often called Paul’s joy letter, because he expresses a great deal of joy amid all of the persecution and suffering that he is enduring.  He states that he is imprisoned for the Gospel, yet he takes great joy in it because it has served to advance the message of the Gospel into the Roman guards that have been around him.  I think it interesting that we often worry about “the right opportunity” to spread the message of Jesus Christ and talk about always being ready and aware of it, yet Paul’s example here is that every opportunity no matter how bad it seems, is the right opportunity to share the Gospel!

As I read this book today, I feel that there needs to be an explanation of what Paul means when he says “joy” or even “rejoice.”  Clearly Paul is not in the best of circumstances, and he really doesn’t have any reason to feel happy, upbeat, or anything of the sort.  In fact, his living conditions in a Roman prison, even under house arrest, would have been rather deplorable by today’s standards.  Yet Paul still says that he has joy in his suffering, and even that he “will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

So what is Paul some sort of super Christian or something like that?  I would say that we all hold Paul in pretty high esteem, but he is human like the rest of us, there is no doubt.  The different here is the idea of what joy really is.  We often equate happiness with joy, as if somehow they were the same thing, but they are not.  Happiness is something that we want.  We do things to make ourselves happy; purchase things, give things, create things, even play things all in an effort to make ourselves happy.  Happiness is an emotion, it depends on our circumstances, and is often fleeting.  We could spend our whole lives trying to find things, jobs, toys, and people to make us eternally happy and always end up disappointed.

Joy on the other hand comes only from Jesus Christ.  Joy runs deeper and is stronger becomes from a source outside of ourselves.  The introduction to Philippians in the NIV Life Application Study Bible says that “joy is the quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives – that He will be there no matter what.  Happiness depends on happenings, but Joy depends on Christ.”  This is why Paul can write from prison in such a joyful tone!  He knows that there is more to life than happiness, and that his circumstances here on earth, though difficult, do not compare and cannot change His identity in Christ Jesus.  Again, it is because of the joy that he has in Christ Jesus that he can write, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

More than this, Paul can say to the church in Philippi, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

As we have often talked about, living a Christian life in a Christ-like way isn’t a matter of rules and restriction but freedom from sin.  Because of what Christ has done for us we are free from the Law and from sin, and free to live for Christ.  This is why Paul writes these things.  Out of the joy that you have found in Christ Jesus, live in such a way that your life reflects this joy in every possible way… especially in the unity you have with other believers.  I wonder if people would walk into my church on a Sunday and wonder what in the world was going on because of all that joy that was flowing around that place.  I wonder if those that go to my church would, if the difficult times of life, know that they could find themselves in a place that, in the midst of their suffering and find those that would be willing to both support them in their sufferings and still uphold them with joy because of the hope that they have in Christ Jesus.  I wonder if this is something that is prominent in the greater Church today… or if we spend a lot of time walking around with our heads down because we’re not happy.

Brothers and Sisters we have a hope that is much greater than all the happiness this life has to offer, and we find it in Christ Jesus!

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Only let us hold true to what we have attained.



Day 339: Galatians 1-3; The Only Gospel is Jesus Chirst

The book of Galatians addresses some of the most pressing questions that the early church had in its infancy.  As the Gospel spread and churches were founded throughout Asia Minor, what was really the heart of the Roman Empire, issues started to crop up and people started to ask questions.  Along with this, there were disputes about salvation and even false teachers that began to preach other ways of salvation, and even skewed versions of the Christian Gospel.  One of these groups, the Gnostics, was a group that the Apostle John directly addresses in his Gospel and in the letters that he writes to the church later in the New Testament.

Paul’s writing to the church in Galatia, which was really a region that had within it over half a dozen major churches like Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidian Antioch, contains within it a great deal of material from which we draw our understanding of salvation by grace through faith.  Also addressed by Paul are some of the issues that the church leaders are dealing with, questions about circumcision and the inclusion of the Gentiles, and Christian freedom.  While this may not seem like a big deal to us today, we need to understand that the Church today is formed by the many issues and decisions that took place in the first couple hundred years of the church.  At stake here, in all honesty, was the proper understanding of salvation, which would have led to people feeling the need to do all sorts of works to earn their salvation.  Also at stake could possibly have been the church’s understanding Gentile inclusion in the promise of God, something that would have had ramifications far beyond a church or two in a Roman province 2000 years ago.

This is really the essence of what Paul is addressing here in the his writing though.  It doesn’t just have to do with the proper understanding of some obscure Christian doctrine, it has everything to do with the salvation of people’s souls.  Right from the get go Paul is speaking against those who would proclaim another Gospel.  He condemns those who would preach it and is astonished that people in the church would so quickly go away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  At the beginning of this letter he really doesn’t go into much detail about the nature of who and what is actually going on, but the fact is these people are trying to pervert the Gospel.

To be honest, this isn’t simply something that happened back then.  It is happening right now, in our churches today.  Across the nation and the world, ‘churches’ are growing by leaps and bounds preaching the health and wealth ‘gospel.’  These places preach of God’s desire to bless you, but only based on the amount you give.  This happens a great deal in the tele-evangelist circles too, sending you trinkets that are ‘blessed’ if you send them money.  Paul says that these preachers ought be ‘accursed’ because of their preaching.  Anyone who preaching a Gospel other than that of Jesus Christ crucified and salvation by grace is absolutely wrong.

Sadly, I think that sometimes stumble into issues like this as well, and it doesn’t just happen to your everyday, average-joe Christian either.  In chapter two of today’s reading we see that Paul has to address, of all people, Peter (the rock on which Jesus is building his church).  Apparently, due to fear, Paul is being sort of hypocritical in his actions with Jews and Gentiles.  There were those, at that time, that felt that the only way to salvation had to do with following the Jewish laws as well as accepting Christ.  They are called the ‘circumcision group’ here and apparently they were intimidating.  In any case, Paul stands up to Peter which, as Paul is explaining it, sends him on a whole explanation about salvation by grace through faith and not any sort of human work.

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

I like too, Paul’s explanation of the relationship between the law and the covenant of Abraham.  Many people had and have come to the belief that somehow the giving of the law nullified the original covenant that was made.  Paul points out that can never overlook the original covenant, which is more than the law, it is a promise which is fulfilled completely in Jesus Christ.  The law was only put in place in the mean time, something to help guide the people of God until the promise was fulfilled.

Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.  Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.



Day 337: 2 Corinthians 8-10; The Cheerful Giver

Paul has the dubious pleasure that I think every pastor throughout the history of the church has probably had at some point in time in his ministry, that of talking about giving.  You know… that awkward sermon that is given on the need for tithing and giving cheerfully when you “can’t afford” it.  Generally it is made more awkward by the fact that church funds are usually low, giving is down, and many of the church member blame the pastor and leadership.  It is an interesting paradox that churches often face as we are asked to give into a system that is clearly broken, and we are asked to do it joyfully.

Well, that might be a little bit more than what Paul is talking about here.  Paul has asked the churches to given gifts for an offering that he is taking to the church in Jerusalem who has suffered a great deal of persecution at the hands of the Jews.  They were, at this time, likely doing a lot more hiding and were probably very poor.  Chances are, the church in Jerusalem had been kicked out of the synagogues and many of the believers had been arrested.  It is entirely possible that they were meeting in houses or even in back alleys to worship, if they were able to meet at all.  Some of them may have lost much of their businesses, their homes, and perhaps even their families.  While Saul, now Paul, wasn’t persecuting them anymore, there were no doubt many that rose up to take his place.

Wisely, Paul approaches this from the angle of giving cheerfully, even drawing on Scripture like Psalm 112 to talk about the need and benefit of giving.  He doesn’t simply say that he needs money and then guilts them into giving by making them feel bad.  Instead, he talks about how giving is part and parcel to the Christian life, yet another part of the sanctification that is taking place within the believers.  Interestingly enough, Paul points out right away that it is a matter of the heart, not a matter of wealth or physical abundance.

Remember a long while back when we talked about the Shema and some of the meanings of the words “heart,” “soul,” and “strength?”  Let’s recap real quick here:

MIGHT – מְאֹדֶֽךָ – “Me’od” – power, strength, very, greatly, sore, exceeding, great, exceedingly, much, exceeding , exceedingly, diligently, good, might, mightily – Roughly translated… “me’od” means ‘muchness.’  If you have some sort of a spell checker, you will see that ‘muchness’ isn’t actually a word.  If we look at what we are loving God with so far, it encompasses all of our inward and outward being.  This word indicates then, all of the things that make up our lives.  For Hebrew people, one’s strength and power was related to his (and I say his because it was a patriarchal society) family, his wealth (money, flocks, herds, servants, etc), his house, his land, defenses, etc.  All of these things were to be used to love God completely and bring glory to Him.  While loving God with your exceedingly large biceps is a nice thing, this really means a bit more than that.

This is a direct quote from Day 53, we talked about the deeper meanings behind this command that really has become the overarching theme that runs throughout Scripture.  Not only are we to love God with our mind and our heart, and even by the things that we do and the interactions that we have, we are also supposed to be honoring God with all the physical things that we have as well.  Part of this is really understanding the nature of all we have as being first and foremost a blessing for God.  Our Heavenly Father is the creator of all things, He is above all things, and it is He who has blessed us with all that we have, great or small.  In this we need to make sure that our hearts are not for our things, but for the One who has given them to us.

The other part of this has to do with the nature of our hearts in this recognition.  Not only do we remember that all we have is given to us as a blessing from God, we are also to have a cheerful and open heart when we are giving back to him and to others.  Yes, it isn’t simply about the giving of things that Paul is talking about here, he is talking about the nature of our hearts both when we give and in our everyday lives.  We have not been blessed to be hoarders of our blessings.  Like the gift of grace in Jesus Christ, we are blessed to be a blessing, given to so that we can give ourselves as well.  This is both the attitude and the stance that we are to take as grow ever deeper in humility and thankfulness, giving generously and joyfully of the gifts that God has given to us.



Day 334: 1 Corinthians 14-16; The Resurrection

After talking a great deal about the content and happenings of corporate worship, Paul then turns to the many different people that are present within those worship service.  Much of what he has to say in chapter 15 of today’s reading is very applicable for today’s church goers.  There will always be people that come to church that don’t believe; those who come because its what they did as kids, because their parents are making them, or people that go because it is the thing to do in particular social circles.  Here Paul speaks both to believers and non-believers alike, a sort of “Gospel reprise” as it were.

The first thing that I noticed when I read this was that Paul was indeed talking about believing the Word of God and also what it means to “believe in vain.”  These are folks that are not holding to the Word of God, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ that Paul had originally presented to them.  I’m sure that every church in the history of the Church has had people like this in their midst.  What Paul is saying here is that there are people like this in our midst.  What Paul isn’t saying here it is our job to seek them out, hunt them down, and expel them from our churches.  In fact, he doesn’t say anything about that right here, not like he did earlier when we was addressing the issues of the church in the first half of this letter.  Remember, as he is challenging the church in Corinth about some of the things that they are allowing to happen within their midst, he clearly points out the need for church discipline and even the removal of certain people.  This is not the case here.

It happens often in churches that we conduct our own type of “witch hunt” for those that aren’t believing quite the way we are, or “worse yet” aren’t getting involved in different things within the community of faith.  But this isn’t what Paul is calling the church towards in his addressing the church in Corinth.  In fact he doesn’t say anything about it here.  We cannot take on the Spirit’s role of working in the hearts those that God has called to that particular place of worship.  Like when we talk about election and not truly knowing who is elect and who is not, so too should we not question the hearts of those who are gathered to worship but rather continue constantly to preach and teach the Gospel in order to encourage all those into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Paul then goes on to talk about the Resurrection, both Jesus’ resurrection and the resurrection of our bodies when Jesus comes again.  There is really little that we know about the nature of the second coming except that it is going to happen and that it will be when Jesus physically returns to this earth.  We also know here what Paul teaches about the resurrection of our bodies.  He talks about the resurrection in terms of planting and gardening metaphor.  One cannot truly imagine what a plant will look like until the seed is planting.  We cannot look at a seed and know the exact shape and size of it, but we know that it is going to grow up into something that is greater than the seed it came from.  So too will we be transformed.  Our physical bodies in this life are like a seed and what we will be in the resurrection will be so much greater.  I think that we like to spend a great deal of time talking about what we think this will actually be like, which is not bad.  We may even disagree with friends or brothers and sisters from other denominational backgrounds.  However, what is important here and what Paul makes clear without actually saying it, is that the fact that it is going to happen is certain, and really that is the hope that we hold to.  In Christ Jesus we have received grace, salvation from our sins and the promise of eternal life.  This is the hope of all humanity, and the hope to which we attest in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.