Christianity 201

January 29, 2014

Things Scripture Doesn’t Specify

The universality of scripture is found in its identification with humankind and the human condition, but also in the manner in which things that could have been made specific are left unstated, so that they apply to all of us.

Paul’s Besetting Sin

Romans 7:15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? (NIV)

The Reformation Study Bible notes:

Paul is able to analyze, but not to explain, the contrast between himself and the “sin that dwells within me” (vv. 17, 20). There is a real and bewildering conflict between the energies of sin and of grace in his life. He hints, however, that indwelling sin is a temporary lodger in him. While sin still accompanies his new identity in Christ in this life, the new identity will result in the final triumph over indwelling sin (6:2–14).

It is easy to get lost in the doctrinal teaching that is being set up over several chapters here in Romans, and miss the beauty of the identification that this passage has with most, if not all of us. This is the Apostle Paul we’re talking about! What possible sin would have dogged him? Well, we just have to look into our own lives to see possible answers.

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

II Corinthians 12:7 is where we find a phrase that has worked its way into broader English language usage:

  • there was given me a thorn (a splinter) in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to rack and buffet and harass me, to keep me from being excessively exalted. (AMP)
  • One of Satan’s angels was sent to make me suffer terribly, so that I would not feel too proud. (CEV)
  • I am forced to deal with a recurring problem. That problem, Satan’s messenger, torments me to keep me from being conceited. (God’s Word)
  • I was given a physical handicap—one of Satan’s angels—to harass me and effectually stop any conceit. (Phillips)
  • I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. (Message)
  • I was given a thorn in the flesh—a nagging nuisance of Satan, a messenger to plague me! (Voice)

Most of the other translations, even a few modern ones, stay with “thorn in the flesh.” Was this spiritual or physical? While theologians have debated over this for centuries, we are probably safe in saying it was a little of both. Or a lot.

Our point here again is to point out the universality of this passage, but rather than just leave it, here’s how The Message translates the verses that follow:

Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.

Now we’ll move into a couple of different examples…

The Music of the Early Church

Ephesians 5:19 Speak to one another with the words of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing hymns and psalms to the Lord with praise in your hearts. (Good News Bible)

Ephesians 5:19 Express your joy in singing among yourselves psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making music in your hearts for the ears of God! (Phillips)

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. (KJV)

Colossians 3:16 Let the word of the Anointed One richly inhabit your lives. With all wisdom teach, counsel, and instruct one another. Sing the psalms, compose hymns and songs inspired by the Spirit, and keep on singing—sing to God from hearts full and spilling over with thankfulness.  (The Voice)

We probably have better preservation of, or insight into the music that pre-dated the early New Testament Church. We certainly can hear the heritage expressed in Jewish folk songs and anthems sung today. But we don’t know much about how much of that style carried over into the First Century Church, nor do we have any specific melodies, though we do have some that followed in later centuries.

Given the music wars that take place in local churches, that’s probably just as well.

What a Church Service Should Look Like

Herbrews 10: 24-5  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Arthur Sido wrote on this a few years ago:

OK, so what do we glean from these verses?

  • We should gather together as the church.
  • We should be mindful of how we can stir one another up, to love and good works.
  • When we meet, it should be for the purpose also of encouraging one another.
  • We should have a sense of urgency because the time is short.

Now, what does it not say or even imply?

  • Assembling together means going to a church on Sunday morning
  • The assembling consists mostly of sitting, singing and lots of listening
  • The only acceptable way to assemble together is on a Sunday morning in a “properly” ordered church service
  • People who “go to church” are being faithful, no matter what they do the rest of the week. People who don’t “go to church” are being unfaithful, no matter what they do the rest of the week.
  • If you don’t take your children to church on Sunday morning, you are not being a good Christian parent

Again, given local church tensions, it might be just as well that the scripture doesn’t address the order of service, the seating, the role of interactive participation, etc.

There are many more things that fit into each of the two groups above, but we can be thankful that God has left us with a book that can connect with all of us, and that He leaves us with things to work out for ourselves in the freedom He has given us.

March 16, 2013

What it Means to be a Chosen Generation

This particular article worked for me on a number of levels. It’s from The Thought Just Occurred to Me, the blog of Mary Agrusa. There indeed some good thoughts, and I hope you’ll click through and look around her blog. She titled this Generation Chosen.

But you are a chosen generation,
1 Peter 2:9

Several weeks ago, a group of young, ministerial students visited the regular Saturday night prayer meeting I attend. The house was packed. People sat on chairs, stairs and the floor. Others stood shoulder to shoulder. Everyone participated in about an hour and a half of full throttle praise and worship, assisted by a multi-generational band. Later, a time of one-on-one ministry began. The young prayed for the old and vice versa. Each group eagerly and freely received from the other without any sense of competition or superiority.

Much ado has been made about different generations: The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Generations “X” & “Y” and in Christian-ese, the Joshua and Joseph Generations. These definitions are limited to specific age groups to the exclusion of all others. When the church categorizes the new agents of change to a certain generation, it marginalizes those outside that demographic. If Peter’s reference was only to those alive at the time he wrote this letter, most Christians could only read his words and wish they could have been included. That’s not the case.

The prayer meeting that night was a contemporary example of the “chosen generation” that Peter made note of. In the original Greek, the word chosen means: best in its class, excellence or pre-eminence. What made the people there chosen wasn’t anything they had done, but what Jesus did for them. He made them the best of the best, a distinction available to anyone who chooses to receive it. Rather than an age group, the word generation describes a group of people of the same nature, kind or sort. Regardless of their differences, the attendees’ single-minded devotion to God molded them into a cohesive unit.

The English language adds two more meanings to the word generation. First, the process of coming or bringing into being; second, the origination by a generation process, i.e. power generation. The group that evening was part of the process of bringing the kingdom of God into manifestation on the earth. That night a power surge was generated and released into the spirit realm which impacted the natural world.

No single age group or time frame has the monopoly on being Peter’s chosen generation. That would be exclusionary and too limiting. One is never too young, old or anything else to be useless to God for His purposes. Let’s use wisdom and restraint when tempted to label any group as the next “movers and shakers” in the kingdom. God’s chosen generation cuts a wide swath across age, race and denominational lines. The choice is ours, so don’t be left out.