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Archives for September, 2016

In Galatians 2 we learn that Paul took Titus and Barnabas with him when he consulted with the leaders of the churches in Jerusalem. Paul says he took this trip in response to revelation from God. This is probably the same revelation given by Agabus in Acts 11 that links Antioch and Jerusalem as well as the gift to the impoverished Christians just like we find in Galatians 2.

Paul had proclaimed the Gospel 14 years prior to this meeting. He knew the fruits of his labor. He was convicted of what God was doing among the Gentiles apart from the requirements of the Law of Moses. Without a doubt, Paul did not need confirmation from them that his ministry was on solid footing. God had demonstrated that to Paul the whole time. That was undeniable.

What was in question, however, was whether or not Paul’s ministry could be supported or undermined based on those who would discredit him and it seems Paul believed getting backing from Jerusalem would help his case.

How do you truly determine if you have their backing? That is where Titus comes in. Titus is who turns the conversation from hypothetical abstraction to incarnational reality…where ideas put on flesh to test the veracity of our beliefs.

Titus was important because he was an uncircumcised Gentile believer. How Titus was received by these leaders would prove to be a litmus test that Peter himself would fail later in Galatians 2. Paul tells us in Gal 2:3 that during their time in Jerusalem that Titus was not compelled to be circumcised and that the “false believers” who would have pleaded for such a thing were discredited in the process.

I believe Paul took Titus with him because it is one thing to deny God’s activity in some other group of people in a hypothetical sense. It is quite another to do it to someone’s face. It is one thing for the Jerusalem leaders to talk about what God is or isn’t doing over there among the Gentiles. It is quite another for a Gentile Christian to be present with them to personally demonstrate the actuality of God’s working among the Gentiles.

Today, this is the value of working alongside people whose faith we are tempted to question. If you are convinced a certain group who proclaims to be “Christian” truly is not then I suggest you get to know them. Go and see what fruit is being produced. Test your assumptions and conclusions not just with paper and ink (or hypertext) but with flesh and blood.

It is one thing to talk a good game about which groups are real Christians and which ones don’t make the cut. It is quite another thing to get to know someone from the groups you struggle to include to test the legitimacy of your ideas and ideals. It may well be demonstrated that you were right in your assumptions. It is also entirely possible that God’s circle might be wider than yours. If that is the case, the call on our lives is to widen or close our circle to match what we believe God’s circle to be. This is a humbling process but it is a necessary one.

It is necessary to deal with real people, not hypotheticals just as the Jerusalem leaders weren’t just concluding things about Gentiles “over there” but also about Titus who was “right here”. It is necessary to understand the implications of our convictions. It is necessary that we don’t exist in a bubble, rather we put our faith in the marketplace to be tested in real time with real people. That is exactly what Jesus did and what Paul did and what Peter did. Even they didn’t do it perfectly, read the rest of Galatians 2 but it was necessary that they try and we should follow suit.

What the Bible takes seriously we take seriously. When you find something over and over again, constantly being emphasized to multiple groups of people by the inspired authors of scripture it is important to pay attention.

The New Testament writers both emphasized the power of God’s grace and the power of sin. The first one triumphs over the second but it doesn’t mean the second becomes unimportant. The second is important and should get our attention for the very reason that it is something God is triumphing over, therefore, we should have nothing to do with it. If God is battling something, let us be on His side not the side of the enemy.

When Paul talks about Jesus taking care of our sin, he also makes sure to emphasize that we don’t, as a result, get careless about sin. We see that if we reconnect Romans 5 and 6 as Paul initially penned them without chapter breaks,

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 5:18-6:11)

Here you see the seriousness of sin that still exists even though God is working to make us righteous in spite of our sin. It would be like the dad who cosigned the loan with his son and realized he was going to have to pay off the whole thing. Coming to peace with the reality, the father pays the debt in full only to find out that his son has gone out and borrowed from a dozen other lenders. How frustrating. The son should know by now that he couldn’t pay the first one. No good, respectful, loving son would want to continue to put his father in such a position. But one who is manipulative and selfish and uncaring would do just that, gaining more for himself at his father’s expense…anticipating the bail out.

Let us understand that BOTH our sins are taking care of by God through Christ AND that our sins are still deadly serious.

Go and sin no more, trusting God will take care of our failures along the way. Grace doesn’t make obedience unnecessary. Grace makes obedience the logical and natural response.

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” – Acts 9:15-16

Paul was given a monumental task by the Lord that was two fold – to suffer for the Gospel and to share the Gospel with the Gentiles. That is like telling someone to spread a message to 99% of the world. Tough job.

When Paul was commissioned to that task it fit perfectly with his journey that had brought him to this exact point. First, Paul was well in tune with scripture. He was a Pharisee who was trained by an expert teacher in Jerusalem, advanced beyond his peers (Gal 1:14). Second, he was from Tarsus which was a philosophical center in his day. So Paul knew Judaism. Paul also undoubtedly knew Greek philosophy as his use of Greek rhetoric and his knowledge of Gentile authors (as seen in Acts 17) prove.

God had been preparing Paul for this moment and this mission his entire life.

The questions for us are as follows: What has God been preparing you to do for the kingdom? What does your past say about your future? What things have you been through, skills you possess that can be an asset to the church and the kingdom?

God doesn’t send us to do anything he won’t prepare and empower us to do for Him.

 

Can you imagine Jesus meeting the woman at the well, telling her he was the Messiah, healing this outcast of outcast’s brokenness, allowing her to bring her entire community to him and then a few years later starting a church where she wasn’t allowed to speak about any of that?

You may think this is going to be an article about issues but it’s not because honestly, I’m more concerned with how you treat someone who reads that passage and walks away with a different reaction. Because it’s not about on which side of the issues we find ourselves. It’s about how we treat those who see it differently.

Whatever your thoughts on this topic or any topic, be patient and kind towards those who see the Bible differently. Don’t judge their hearts. Don’t call their worship service a talent show. Don’t castigate with violent words. Don’t throw each other under the church bus.

May we, as followers of Jesus, hear the Apostle Paul when he says in Romans 14 to make every effort to lead peaceful, encouraging lives. We have a responsibility to love and serve each other especially within the household of faith. Even to those who worship or read and apply Scripture differently.

I have a couple of choices of routes from my home to my office. One of them winds through beautiful countryside that quickly makes you forget you are within a few miles of a major metropolitan area. I find it calming and lovely.

While the seasons, harvests, and time of year change my views one thing remains: I drive by the king of septic tanks. It is a small farm enclosure, perhaps 150ft by 100ft. In the enclosure are three goats and a small, round concrete pad no more than 3ft across and topped with a metal cover. It is the septic system access point. It rises less than a foot above the ground but one goat – always the same goat – stands on it each day as I pass, surveying his kingdom.

He is the top goat. He is king of that enclosure. The other two are never allowed on his septic tank cover. He is king of the septic tank. And he is proud of it. He has no idea that the world doesn’t view him as a king. His little group knows he is top goat and that’s all that matters. He most likely thinks his little group IS the world and that the entire world – certainly his entire world – looks up to him.

And that brings me to my subject.
There are times I get “Christian” periodicals that spend the bulk of their time 1) attacking those who disagree with them and their views, 2) displaying their expert knowledge in matters of little importance or 3) reminding those in their world, their enclosure, to keep together and keep looking at them. And every single time I get those publications or emails I think of that goat standing on his septic tank cover, a legend in his own mind.

More often than I’d like, I get long articles sent to me going into great, tedious, and minute detail about matters that were long ago discredited. One example is the KJV-Only crowd who can – you must give them this – really produce some verbiage and aren’t afraid to share it. It is as if they never heard of Tischendorf’s discovery of the Sinaitic manuscripts and how other earlier manuscripts have been found, requiring us to update and correct our received text. Their position is a sad one: they are experts in something that doesn’t exist or which has long been discarded (not the KJV – we haven’t discarded it. We have just understood its place in a long line of translations). Most Christian periodicals fit into that same slot: experts holding forth on things which others have long raised serious objections to, at least, or discredited at worst. They spin out old arguments that have failed time after time as 70% of their youth leave their church and the world spins into darkness.

They are kings over the septic tank. I have no illusions about my own history or present: there is no doubt I’ve done the same thing from time to time. There is no doubt that I’ve heard the praise or a few here or there and assumed the tide was turning and that I was THE guy who was right. Arrogance and stupidity? I’m not immune.

So I choose to take the route to work a few times a week that goes by that simple farm enclosure to remind myself: don’t climb on the septic tank and proclaim yourself king.

Philippians 2:1-11 is one of my favorite and least favorite passages. It is one of my favorites because it is challenging and applicable to almost any circumstance. It is one of my least favorites because it is challenging and applicable to almost any circumstance.

I don’t always want to consider others better than myself and yet I know if I did things would go much more smoothly and I would have the character and attitude formed in me that God desires.

In order to have its full effect, Philippians 2 must be read in its context. Paul didn’t write chapter numbers. They are there to get us “on the same page.” Paul wrote letters that are usually advancing very few points and making a concerted effort to convince his readers of something specific. Philippians 1 ends on a note that there are seriously difficult times ahead both for Paul and for the Philippians. They are going to suffer. They are going to be opposed. They are going to faced possibly even with death just as Paul understands death is a very real possibility on his way to meet Nero.

How do you live understanding that trouble is ahead? You live worthy of the gospel (1:27).

You live and strive side by side with your fellow sufferers (1:27).

You ignore intimidation from those who oppose you (1:28).

We count our suffering not as a burden but as a “privilege” that is “graciously granted” (1:29).

If that isn’t enough to get you through, Philippians 2 continues on the same point that we follow the example of Jesus on this one who was God but emptied himself and as D.A. Carson said became a “nobody” so that God would exalt him above everybody.

How do you deal with suffering? You live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ and that is going to require us to consider others better than ourselves, to toss aside vain conceit…to embrace the attitude of Jesus and to allow God to be the one to fill us in the empty space left behind from when we dumped out all the garbage that stood between us and the Lord.

Philippians 2 isn’t about getting along with others. It isn’t about playing nice on the playground of church. It is about living obediently through suffering just as Jesus did, who was able to set aside his rights and privileges of his divinity in order to be obedient to his Father. If he can do who are we to think we are any better than him?

Fascinating lecture on First Century epistles and how Paul’s letters were really used and read in the early church. (Lecture starts at about the 4:55 mark.)

As followers of Jesus we face the daily challenge of navigating faithful living in the context of cultural realities.  And those of us who are leaders in congregations are constantly confronted with creating a safe place to inspire, inform, and engage believers in important conversations about our faith and the world.  This reality has prompted the Siburt Institute at Abilene Christian University to give voice to that dilemma.  Is it possible to be Christian and also deal with hard questions?

We think the answer is yes.  We also think that it takes courage and a little help from others!  In other words, the best place to ask hard questions is with believers who themselves have experience and wisdom and who are willing to share their own navigation over difficult terrain.

So here is what is emerging.  Beginning on September 7, the Siburt Institute will launch a series of videos entitled Contemporary Christian Conversations. The series is comprised of interviews exploring important issues in the context of personal stories. Randy Harris, spiritual director of the Siburt Institute, talks with committed Christ followers whose lives have been directly impacted by the subjects discussed.  Below you will find a brief note about the first three videos to be released.

To highlight the importance of these conversations, I want to especially note the video, Black Rage.  Over the past two years the conversations surrounding race in America have taken on new energy and urgency.  The problems and challenges of racial reconciliation are vast; they have been with us for a long time.  But one way to seek clarity and find a path forward might be to attend to some wise voices.  One wise voice comes from Steven Moore.  Dr. Moore bears witness to the pain of racial discrimination; he also demonstrates a possible path forward—a path marked by promise.  We think his conversation with Randy Harris will make for good conversations and perhaps even some redemptive action among disciples of Jesus Christ.

Disciples of Jesus Christ are willing to ask hard questions about matters of faith.  And when they seek to navigate hard questions, faithful living emerges.

Fall 2016 Overview and Release dates:

Black Rage.  Randy Harris interviews Dr. Steven Moore, Associate Professor of English and Director of the McNair Scholars Program, Abilene Christian University. Dr. Moore shares his personal experiences and perspectives on Black rage. He and Harris explore the complexities of being followers of Christ when racial injustices are commonplace. (Release date: September 7th, 2016)

Clean and Unclean. Randy Harris interviews Dr. Richard Beck, Department Chair and Professor of Psychology, Abilene Christian University. Dr. Beck explains our often-irrational reactions to things (and people) we perceive as “unclean.” He points out how practice is more important than preaching when attempting to address the resulting irrational behaviors. (Release date: October 7th, 2016)

The Crossroads of Art and Faith.  Randy Harris interviews Dan McGregor, Professor of Art and Design, Abilene Christian University. McGregor discusses the value of art to faith in an image-based culture. He highlights how art has the potential of conveying the divine in a way that words alone cannot. (Release Date: November 7th, 2016)

ACUSummitEvery year since 1906, speakers, listeners, and students have come together in Abilene to hear the word of God proclaimed in what ACU Provost Dr. Robert Rhodes calls “perhaps the single event that best tells our story.” Summit at ACU is an event where Christians connect to hear the word of God preached, fellowship together, and work together to promote and spread the gospel. This year’s Summit, September 18-21, will continue the tradition under the theme “Love God, Love Your Neighbor: Living the Greatest Commandments.” We welcome you to the ACU campus to reflect upon what this means and to explore what truly loving God and neighbor should look like.

Jesus’ words, though centuries old, are still relevant. The Greatest Commandments are, theoretically, simple: Love God. Love your neighbor. Jesus says that “All the law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:40, NIV), so until a firm foundation in loving both God and neighbor has been laid, the rest of the law cannot be perfected in our lives. Acting out these commandments, however, can be easier said than done, and at Summit we invite participants to explore practical ways to overcome barriers and truly give themselves over to loving God and our neighbors wholeheartedly.

During the week, you will have the opportunity to hear insightful speakers such as Jerry Taylor, Sara Barton, Jonathan Storment, and David McQueen. These speakers, among others, will focus on what it means to love God and neighbor, and in doing so will open our eyes to places in our own lives where we can love God more fully and serve our neighbors better. We extend a warm welcome to each of you to come explore with us at Abilene Christian University this September. Various class topics ensure that everyone can benefit from Summit. Additionally, we are introducing two all-day tracks, Formation and Medical Missions. Monday, the Formation track will feature guidance for the enhancement and cultivation of spiritual formation. On Tuesday, the Medical Missions track will allow you to listen to those who have served in medical missions, meet with organizations dedicated to global health, and learn about the unique opportunities that Christian medical missions provide. Summit will be full of speakers, classes, fellowship, and even performances, so be sure not to miss it.

Dr. Robert Rhodes believes Summit is an important event because “Alumni, faculty, staff, friends, and students gather from around the world to hear God’s word applied thoughtfully yet boldly to the issues of today. This year’s theme, “Love God, Love Your Neighbor: Living the Greatest Commandments” is uniquely relevant and timely. I invite you to join us on campus for this blessed time together.”

Come, experience Summit at ACU from September 18-21, and be blessed.

 

What can we learn from the apostle Paul?

We can learn from his letters and the instruction he gave to congregations in the first century. We can learn about unity from 1 Corinthians, the Gospel from Galatians or what it means to be the people of God from Romans. We can learn about joy in suffering from Philippians and how we respond to God’s gracious acts on our behalf from Ephesians. We can learn about reconciliation from Philemon and why Jesus is superior to the Law in Hebrews. Did I get you on that last one? 🙂

In addition to that have more on Paul than just his letters. We have Luke’s account of Paul and his ministry in Acts where we learn his story. Certainly we get the story in a few places in his letters like in Galatians 1 or Philippians 3. We find out about Paul’s faithfulness and his drive. We see his zeal for God and for his mission to the Gentiles through his journeys in Acts and ultimately through his arrest and trials.

What can we learn from the apostle Paul?

We can learn to be patient and even joyful in suffering. We can find out what it means to be a person on a mission. Beyond that we learn so much about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit…how to live in community with other Christians and doctrine.

God has given us a great gift through the life, ministry and letters of Paul that have been preserved through the years for our edification. Let’s talk about Paul during September and see what we can learn from him.