Christianity 201

April 30, 2016

The People’s Court

Early in my Christian walk, one writer and pastor who had a major influence on me was Stuart Briscoe. As a family, we traveled to his church in Milwaukee, and many years later I got to hear him in Toronto. Stuart has a devotional page at LightSource.com where this was posted recently. His target audience for this page is men, but there are good thoughts for everyone in his writing. To read more by him, click to this link.

Conflict Resolution

Don’t you know that those who do wrong will have no share in the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. . . . There was a time when some of you were just like that, but now your sins have been washed away, and you have been set apart for God. – 1 Corinthians 6:9, 11

Bumper stickers can communicate messages that might not otherwise be heard, but never take your theology from them! For example, consider this popular bumper sticker message: “Christians aren’t perfect—just forgiven.” The sentiment that Christians are painfully aware of their sinfulness is correct, and they know how necessary forgiveness is. Christians also affirm that while their sins are forgiven, that does not add up to an ongoing life of perfection. But to suggest that Christians are just forgiven is surely to miss the point. Christians are forgiven, they are not perfect, but they are more than “just forgiven”—they are called to and empowered for a new life.

Christians suing ChristiansPaul explained this truth quite bluntly and plainly. Having listed some of the common sinful behaviors of the day—behavior patterns that disqualify the behaviors from participation in God’s kingdom—he concluded: “There was a time when some of you were just like that, but”—and it was a big but—”now your sins have been washed away and you have been set apart for God. You have been made right with God because of what the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God have done for you” (1 Cor. 6:11). The Corinthians were undoubtedly forgiven sinners, but in light of the fact that they had been “washed” and “set apart” and “made right with God,” a higher standard was now expected from them in their lives.

For example, some of the Corinthian Christians were trying to resolve their differences by taking each other to court. There was nothing unusual about Corinthians suing each other, but Paul said it was not acceptable behavior for Christians. Christians will one day “judge the world” and also “judge angels” (6:2-3), so Paul argued that they ought to be capable of settling conflicts among themselves without seeking a legal remedy imposed by unbelievers.

How strictly modern Christians should apply this principle to their business lives is a subject of earnest debate and genuine disagreement. But Christians should, at least, be willing to “accept the injustice and leave it at that,” and they should be willing to “let [them]selves be cheated” (6:7-8). Nobody likes to be treated unjustly or to be cheated. And rather than accept such treatment, the natural response is to take whatever action is available to avoid it. Paul’s point is that Christians respond to life’s injustices in ways that are not “normal.” They have been “set apart” for something different. Their model, of course, is Jesus, who suffered monumental injustice on a cross without complaining. And their empowerment comes from the Holy Spirit. Christians are not “just forgiven,” they’re definitely different!

For Further Study: 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 

Excerpted from The One Year Devotions for Men, Copyright ©2000 by Stuart Briscoe.


Want to go deeper with this topic? Here’s a very lengthy article on the subject of Christians suing other Christians. Or check out an answer to whether or not it’s Biblical to sue other Christians.

 

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.

July 22, 2012

He Is Our Peace: Blood Tears Down a Wall

The reconciliation of God’s people

11 So remember that once you were Gentiles by physical descent, who were called “uncircumcised” by Jews who are physically circumcised. 12 At that time you were without Christ. You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God. 13 But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us. 15 He canceled the detailed rules of the Law so that he could create one new person out of the two groups, making peace. 16 He reconciled them both as one body to God by the cross, which ended the hostility to God.

17 When he came, he announced the good news of peace to you who were far away from God and to those who were near. 18 We both have access to the Father through Christ by the one Spirit. 19 So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Rather, you are fellow citizens with God’s people, and you belong to God’s household. 20 As God’s household, you are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21 The whole building is joined together in him, and it grows up into a temple that is dedicated to the Lord. 22 Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

~Ephesians 2:11-22 (Common English Bible)

Another longer post today.  Maybe we should rename this Christianity 401. The blogger we feature today is Morgan Guyton, a United Methodist Pastor. I encourage to read this — and other posts — at his blog, Mercy Not Sacrifice, where it appeared under the title, How can blood tear down a wall? Sacrifice in Ephesians 2:11-22

This past weekend, I preached on Ephesians 2:11-22. It’s one of my favorite passages because it talks about how Jesus tears down the walls between us. And at first glance it would seem like a great opportunity to talk about how important it is for the church to fight racism and take on all the “us vs. them” conflicts in our day that build walls between people. But there was a line that confronted me in the passage that I felt like I couldn’t just treat as a rhetorical flourish as I’d so often read it before. I needed to be able to explain it. Paul says, “You who were far have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” That line doesn’t make any sense unless you read it with some understanding of the central purpose of sacrifice in the community of the ancient Israelites. Only through the lens of sacrifice can we understand how the blood of Jesus can tear down the wall that had kept the Gentiles out of the Jewish temple.

The Jerusalem temple in the time of Jesus was defined architecturally by a series of walls that only certain people were allowed to go inside. The outer area of the temple was the court of Gentiles, where money changers and animal vendors could come to sell their wares to Jewish pilgrims who traveled long distances to sacrifice in the Jerusalem temple and weren’t able to bring cattle from their own flocks with them if they owned cattle. Another group of Gentiles who would hang around the temple were called “God-fearers.” These were Gentiles who believed in the Jewish God but were unable or unwilling to go through the process of fully converting to Judaism.

The “dividing wall” that Paul speaks of in Ephesians 2:14 is the wall separating the inner temple complex from the court of Gentiles. Archaeologists have found several signs that originally hung on this wall around the inner temple saying: “No foreigner is to enter within the balustrade and embankment around the sanctuary. Whoever is caught will have himself to blame for his death which follows.”

Notice the way the sign is written. It doesn’t say that the Jewish authorities in charge of the temple would kill any foreigner. It is simply indicating that people who enter do so at their own risk of imminent death. The Jews believed that strongly that the divine power inside the temple would be enough to kill someone who was not properly prepared to face it. So what in the world happened in their temple that would cause them to feel this way?

We go to our temples and houses of worship today to sing, pray, read scripture, and hear sermons. We do not ritualistically slaughter and burn an animal as the centerpiece of our worship act. But that’s what the Jewish people did. Animal sacrifice was the means that God gave His people in Leviticus to make their people clean.

It’s important to understand that the ancient Jewish understanding of cleanliness was completely different than the modern understanding of cleanliness. In modernity, we define cleanliness according to biological terms. Being clean means you wash your hands with antibacterial soap and wipe your countertop to avoid attracting ants. In ancient Israel, cleanliness referred to the social chemistry of the community. Things were unclean that would disrupt the social chemistry and create conflict between people. In order to stay clean, the people had an elaborate “law with commandments and ordinances” that Paul references in Ephesians 2:15. At the center of the law was the ritual of sacrifice.

Sacrifice as well had a completely different meaning for ancient Jews than it does for us. Today it means “giving up something for the sake of a greater good,” like sacrificing on my weekly food budget for a few months so I can save money for an airline ticket to Hawaii. Though the Israelites were commanded to offer the best 10% of their flock to God, the primary meaning of the word sacrifice for them didn’t have to do with the loss of giving something up, but with the violence within the ritual of sacrifice. It was through the violence and hideousness of slaughtering an animal that the unnamed violence in the air of the community could be named, laid out before people, and then put in God’s hands through the fire of the altar. Using the violence of sacrifice that God had provided for them as a resource, Jewish people were able to clear the air of their community and dissipate any bad blood between them through the blood of the animal on the altar.

In this context of a society that depended upon the cleanliness created through a powerful violent ritual, it seems reasonable that Jews would worry about what would happen to the transformative space they experienced in their temple if Gentile tourists were given permission to walk through. So they told them they would have to sign on fully to the Jewish covenantal system before being allowed to enter. Note that this dividing wall wasn’t about separating races; it was about drawing the boundaries without which a powerful ritual could not occur.

The problem was that the temple cult gave too much power to the religious authorities in charge and they became corrupted as anyone would in their position. It turned into a sacrifice industrial complex. Then a young rabbi from Galilee named Jesus rolled into town and caused a ruckus in the court of the Gentiles throwing all the money changers out, calling the whole place a “den of thieves.” When the chief priests decided to arrest and crucify Jesus, they did not realize that they were creating the means by which their own vocational function would become obsolete. They didn’t make the connection between the lambs that they slaughtered and burned on the altar every week and the innocent man they were putting on the cross.

But because of the chief priests’ unwitting complicity with God’s plan, Jesus became “the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). His blood became the violence that absorbs every other violence named and unnamed throughout the world. A very common misunderstanding of sacrifice is that it’s something that is done to “appease” God’s anger. This may have been true about other ancient gods, but Israel’s God YHWH makes it pretty clear through His prophets (Isaiah 1:10-17, Micah 6:6-8, etc.) that He didn’t get any pleasure out of sacrifice except insofar as it served as the system by which His people were made clean of sin so they could do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

Jesus’ sacrifice makes peace between us and God the same way that the animal sacrifices of the ancient Israelites did for them, but it’s not because there’s any obstacle on God’s end of the relationship to His full, perfect love for us. Our sin simply keeps us from entering His presence with any degree of integrity or confidence without the assurance of the sacrifice that He has made on our behalf. We hate the light and flee to the darkness when our deeds are evil (John 3:19), so God provides a means through Christ for us to walk into His light without shame and with a purification that we don’t have to provide for ourselves.

The dividing walls that keep us out of God’s temple today are not anything that humans have built. They are rather walls within our hearts that keep us from coming clean before God. Many different walls are possible, but there are basically two types. Walls of pride are built out of our accomplishments and acts of piety when they serve the purpose of proving our faithfulness to God and hiding our sin and inadequacy. Walls of shame are built from the piles of our failures and obvious embarrassments; they keep us from believing we could ever be worthy of God’s acceptance.

Both walls of shame and pride share a basic misconception: that God expects us to be good. No one is good except for God alone. We are only good to the degree that we have allowed God to overpower us and accomplish His good through us. God doesn’t expect us to be good; God longs for us to be clean. He wants to take away all the bad blood and hidden ugliness that we have accumulated by washing our hearts clean in the blood of Jesus. Yes, it is a bizarre concept in our science-shaped world: that blood could make people clean, but there’s a truth to the logic of ancient sacrifice that has been proven through the witness of millions of Christians throughout history whose lives have been changed utterly by Jesus’ sacrifice.

How does Jesus’ blood tear down the walls of the Jerusalem temple? By changing the entire concept of temple from a place where you go to make yourselves clean before God using His prescribed ritual sacrifice to the place in all of our hearts where Jesus comes to take our sins away and make us clean again. It is only because of Jesus’ sacrifice that Paul can say, “He is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Peace is not something that can be established on the basis of rational discourse. We will always be able to come up with reasons why our adversaries are the ones who will not make peace with us. Peace is made between people who have been made clean by God, and that kind of piece makes all of us into one body and one temple where the God who we were created to enjoy can be glorified through our worship.

~Morgan Guyton

Related Post:  June 15, 2012: The Ground is Level at the Foot of the Cross