Christianity 201

November 14, 2014

Membership in the Colony of Heaven

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Phil. 3:20

Delight yourselves in God, yes, find your joy in him at all times.” Phil. 4:4 (Phillips)

Although I’ve been linking to the blog Gathering in Light for many years at Thinking Out Loud, I’ve never run a piece by Quaker pastor C. Wess Daniels here at C201. This one caught my eye as it deals with several good things in the last two chapters of Philippians.  As always, click the title to read at source and then take a look around the blog.  Note: Read the first part of this slowly and carefully, so you don’t miss the transition from the verse we quote as “Rejoice in the Lord…” to the other possible implications Paul has in mind for his readers.

Learning to Say Farewell

Saying Farewell

C Wess DanielsFinally, my brothers and sisters, farewell in the Lord.

The letter to the Church in Philippi reflects Paul’s own uncertainty about his life and what I think is his own trying to prepare his community for his passing (cf.  1:6; 1:20–24; 1:27; 2:5–11; 2:12–13; 3:7–11; 3:12–16).

The letter itself is believed to have been written around 62 CE and Paul is believed to have been martyred under the reign of Emperor Nero shortly thereafter.

What is even more moving is a word Paul chooses to use throughout his letter: chairo. It is used 9 times in this letter.  It can be translated as rejoice. Here are a couple instances:

  • Phil. 2:17 But even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.
  • Phil. 3:1  Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again to you is no trouble for me, and it is a safeguard for you.
  • Phil. 4:4   Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice!

But you know how else it can be translated?

It can be translated: be well: be glad, God speed, or farewell.

Let’s re-read these that way:

  • Finally, my brothers and sisters, farewell in the Lord.
  • Farewell in the Lord always; again I will say, farewell. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand (Phil. 4:4 ).

Do you see how this shifts it?

Not only do we see into the heart of Paul, who is one suffering in prison for the Gospel he has preached but also that he is learning how to say farewell through his own process of writing. I think he is coming to terms with the fact that this is the end for him. That his life, like Jesus’, will be poured out for those he loves.

And importantly, it is also a farewell letter to his community. Paul hopes to give them some parting words of encouragement that they may hang onto until the end. In a way, it is meant to help them learn how to say farewell and continue on into the unknown future.

Colony of Heaven

I think Paul knows that the church is always in danger of having “a failure of nerve,” of giving in to the demands of “the world,” of bending under the pressure of being nice, keeping the peace or just plain old survival. Paul is well aware of the cost that is incurred when it comes to trying to build the beloved community or as he calls it the “colony of heaven” (3:20).

To be the church, to be a part of this group of people right here – you’ll be relieved to know – does not mean that you are all saints like Francis, or Teresa, or even like Paul. It doesn’t mean that you spend every day praying, or reading Scripture. It doesn’t mean that you always love your enemies, or always say the right thing to someone. It doesn’t mean that you’ve worked out your prejudices, racisms, classisms, or whatever ism fits you. It certainly doesn’t mean that you always feel like God is close to you. Nor does it mean that since you are a part of the church, all the answers to life’s most challenging questions come to you in a blink of an eye.

This is not what it means to a part of the church.

But there is one thing that I do know that it means to be a part of this “colony of heaven” and that is that we take risks.

It is a risk to be a community of people who have no other reasons to meet together, to be committed to one another, to look out for one another, or to go bat for one another, other than because of a commitment to learn what it means to embody love right here in our world. Right here in a world that so desperately needs people committed to the way of love and integrity.

To be a “colony of heaven” not mean that we are waiting for our exit strategy to get off this planet or, like Pilate, wash our hands of all responsibility. It means that the Spirit has set up shop here and is building heaven on Earth. To see heaven here is to see that we are to live as God intended the world to be. To participate in the colony of heaven is to participate in a “dress rehearsal for the future.” It means to live now what we hope the future will look like.

It means that we aren’t waiting around for people to get their policies rewritten, or their budgets in order, or a better administration, or for them to read a few more books, or for things to sort themselves out over time so that we can begin to live rightly and act justly. No. We are not waiting, we are doing it right now. We will not wait Christ has come and is leading us to respond to the injustices of our world. If we do not stand up, if we do not speak up, who will?

To be a “colony of heaven” means that we will live in contrast with and sometimes have to be a prophetic voice to other colonies. Paul knew that the city of Philippi was itself a military colony that was populated by veterans of wars and as a Roman colony, it had all the rights and privileges of what it meant to be a Roman citizen. In this context Paul says, “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus…”

Every right, entitlement or privilege we have can just as easily become an obstacle to speaking truth to power. Paul knows that even with all his credentials, all his rights as a Roman citizen, this did not protect him from the empire. And he preached the Gospel of love anyway.

To be a “colony of heaven” means that we must have our minds refocused. Those who are a part of the “colony of empire” have their “minds set on earthly things.” Their imaginations are captured by the prestige of power, by the rush of wealth, by the exhilaration of violence, by the pride of silencing others. Imaginations “set on earthly things” will be met with their logical conclusion. Destruction. Violence begets violence. Silence perpetuates domination. Misuse of power is costly for the whole community.

Or as Darleen Ortega wrote this week on Facebook:

Oppression depends on the acquiescence and silence of good people.

This is why Paul stresses again and again throughout his letter that the church’s mind be set on contrasting values, prophetic witness, and concern for the other.

Here my translation of Phil 4:4ff:

Godspeed in the Lord always; again I will say, farewell. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is truthful, whatever is honorable, whatever is equitable, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good report, if there is any goodness and worthy of applause this is all the capital your colony will ever need.

Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

October 27, 2014

Only Visiting This Planet

On Sunday our sermon had a “passport” theme. One of the central points was that we’re just visitors, or what the Bible calls “strangers and aliens.”

NLT Phil. 1:21 For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. 22 But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. 23 I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. 24 But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.

25 Knowing this, I am convinced that I will remain alive so I can continue to help all of you grow and experience the joy of your faith. 26 And when I come to you again, you will have even more reason to take pride in Christ Jesus because of what he is doing through me.

27aAbove all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ…

NLT 1 Peter 2:10 “Once you had no identity as a people;
    now you are God’s people.
Once you received no mercy;
    now you have received God’s mercy.”

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls.

At one point in the message, the pastor reminded us that we go on vacation we recognize that our “moving in” to a motel or hotel room is at best a 6 or 7 day proposition. We’re not there to stay, we’re just using the room, it’s not our home.  As I let that allegory sink in, it occurred to me that the way to tell if you’re not staying is this:

You don’t rearrange the pictures on the wall.

You might move a table to let you work at your laptop in better light. You might change the chairs around to play a board game. But that’s about it. You have no sense of belonging there. You aren’t going to do any painting or change the carpet.

But so many times we let ourselves get absorbed in activities that basically amount to rearranging the pictures. We allow ourselves to fall into the mindset that this place we call Earth is permanent. We invest so much in this life, and I’m not just speaking financially.

The Reformation Study Bible speaks of these investments as “bodily” desires, or we could use the word physical equally, and notes that the desires of our fallen, sinful nature are always going to be perverted by our sin nature. There’s a reference to Galatians 5:

NIV Gal. 5:19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Jesus certainly intended us to take a second look at even our concerns for what we would call the necessities of life in Matthew 6:

NIV Matt. 6:25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.

Take a minute to re-read that last verse: “The pagans run after these things.” The IVP New Testament Commentary reminds us:

Some people today associate faith with being able to obtain possessions from God, but Jesus did not even associate it with seeking basic needs from God. Pagans seek those things, he warned (v. 32; compare 5:47; 6:7); we should seek instead God’s kingdom and his righteous will (6:33).

Verse 33 is familiar to everyone here, it references not worrying in light of God’s ability and promise to provide for those necessities.

However “this world is not my home.” A new passport was issued to you when you affirmed Christ’s divinity, His payment for your sin, and your desire to subject your life decisions to His best ways.

Don’t spend too much time and energy concerned about the paintings on the walls.

February 11, 2013

I Once Was Lost But Now I See

or: I Once was Blind But Now I’m Found

24 Ways to Explain The GospelI admit today’s post title was offered a little tongue-in-cheek, because today we’re looking at the various metaphors that can be used to describe salvation and sometimes we can get our metaphors mixed up!  This was inspired by one of the hundred-odd little laminated pamphlets issued by Rose Publishing of Torrance, California. In a bullet-point world, these pamphlets (many of which are also available as wall charts) distill information on a variety of Bible-based subjects, and for most of you can be tucked into your Bible.

Rather than simply plagiarize the material, I’ll discuss a few of them to give you the idea.  The pamphlet is called 24 Ways to Explain The Gospel and can be purchased individually or in packages of ten. Remember, don’t mix your metaphors like I did in the post title. Stay with a single one at a time.

  • The Biological Model

The idea here is that Jesus offers us a way to move from life to death. Our sin deserved death, a death that was introduced through Adam, but Jesus is the bread of life and offers us abundant life.

  • The Health Model

The concept here is our sinful state is characterized as sickness; that Jesus promises to be our physician; moving us from illness to health.

  • The Family Model

This will resonate more strongly with some people. Jesus takes us from being orphans to being adopted into his family, having the full rights of sons.  Thus Christians refer to God as “Father,” because of that adoption; even to the point of the more affectionate “Abba” meaning daddy.

  • The Relational Model

This is one that is used in many gospel presentations; the idea that we were once God’s enemies; that sin has separated us from Him; and that Jesus is a bridge that allows us to connect and be in relationship with God.

  • The Rescue Model

This has so many different possibilities but all would revolve around the idea that we were perishing but Jesus rescues us from death. This metaphor uses the term ‘saved’ more than the others.

  • The Freedom Model

This begins with the visual of people in bondage or slavery who then experience deliverance to new life and eternal life; from being slaves to being free.

  • The Legal Model

This metaphor begins with people under the the penalty of their wrongdoing — basically a crime and punishment consequence — but Jesus enters the picture and offers us forgiveness.

  • The Nationality Model

Again, this has the potential to resonate more deeply with anyone who has ever emigrated from one country to another. The idea is that we were aliens — without a home — and Jesus provides a way for us to become citizens of a heavenly kingdom.

  • The Vision Model

Referred to in today’s post title, this is the idea of moving from blindness to sight.  Anyone who has ever sung “Amazing Grace” has heard this metaphor expressed. Sight allows us to see God and His wonders.

  • The Knowledge Model

The person who develops a real relationship with God moves from ignorance or foolishness, to understanding and wisdom.

  • The Truth Model

Salvation is described as knowledge of the truth. We move from falsehood and false teaching to the truth of the gospel which makes us free.

  • The Navigational Model

This is the other half of the “Amazing Grace” metaphor, I once was lost but now I’m found.

  • The Ambulatory Model

This is the idea of moving from falling or stumbling to standing and walking; the latter being a commonly employed metaphor in scripture.

  • The Illumination Model

This is another popular theme in scripture; moving from darkness to light. Jesus is that light.

  • The Purity Model

This metaphor expresses what many people desire: Jesus cleanses us, taking us from being dirty (impurity) to being clean (purity).

  • The Agricultural Model

This one goes a little deeper, there are actually several agricultural models including the idea of being trees planted by the Lord, but also including the metaphor of being grafted onto a vine.

  • The Creation Model

Sometimes this takes the form of a garment; the metaphor includes the idea of moving from old creation to new creation. This is the model wherein we would employ the term ‘born again.’

…You’ll notice we had no scripture verses today. I hope the scriptures suggested themselves to you as you reading. It’s also possible that in your discussions with people God will give you some other metaphor from some other aspect of life. I know this is possible because I’ve seen it happen in my own life. If you purchase the original copy of the pamphlet you’ll find ample scripture references for each point; and remember that I did not list all the models here.

Well, okay; one scripture; one that I hope encourages you to commit to imprint a few of these models on your heart and mind so that you can easily share them with people at any time:

…concentrate on being completely devoted to Christ in your hearts. Be ready at any time to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you.  (I Peter 3:15 J. B. Phillips tr.)