Tag Archives: Apostle Paul

A Fellowship of Holiness, Newness and Flourishing

9780310277675_1Over the last few weeks, we’ve been looking at Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). Last time we looked at the first three of six traits that McKnight says should define a diverse church. Those three traits were: grace, love and table. In this final post on this topic, we’ll look at the final three traits: holiness, newness and flourishing.

Holiness

“There are three elements to holiness. First, we don’t make ourselves holy; holiness is the inner work of God. Second, holiness means learning to live a life that avoids sin. Third, holiness means learning to live a life devoted to God” (118-119).

McKnight notes what Christian author and minister A.W. Tozer said, “the Christian life begins right where the Bible says it does- with God- and that the only path to holiness is time in God’s presence” (118). Not only is the church a group of people committed to one Lord, it is also a group of people committed to one end: holiness. Holiness should be the result of putting our faith into application in our lives.

Newness

“Everything about this early-church life was new for everyone. including Paul. They were trying out a new kind of community under a new Lord with new people around them with all kinds of new ideas about how to live under the new Spirit with new assignments and new gifts and new morals” (147).

Newness: New freedom, new faithfulness, new politics. As people within the Kingdom of God, we have the freedom to live as people of the Kingdom. We have a new way to be faithful to God because of God’s love and God’s grace. We have a new way to look at the world, a new politic.

Flourishing

“Twenty centuries of dismal disunity and the witness of a fractured church ought to convince us of our raw inability to be the church God wants us to be. The hope of this book is that that history will be reversed by a renewed commitment to be the church God designed, a church that flourishes in a salad bowl fellowship of differents” (191).

McKnight goes on the say that this flourishing can only take place through the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Which means that we can only flourish through the work and power of God, as God, in the person of the Holy Spirit, transforms our hearts individually and collectively.

McKnight’s book is well written, challenging and encouraging. It made me want to be a part of and to lead a church of differents and to see God take people from different backgrounds, social and economic classes and be united under one Lord. Not that they would be melted together into a homogeneous mass but that, like McKnight’s picture of a salad, the best of individual identity and giftedness contributes to the beauty and flavor of the whole. I encourage you to pick up this book.

A Fellowship of Grace, Love and Table

We need diverse churches but we also need churches that are diverse.

We’ve been looking into Scot McKnight’s book A Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together (Zondervan, 2014). We’ve said that bringing differents together is one of the fundamental things that makes the church the church. We also talked about the tension that exists between the need for diverse churches, churches that reach specific people, culture and language groups, while maintaining churches that are diverse in bringing differents together under the Lordship of Jesus.

We left the last discussion with the question, how to we maintain or become churches that are diverse? In his book, McKnight proposes six traits that characterize a fellowship of differents. These six traits will guide the discussion as we look at three in this post and three in the next post.

The first three traits McKnight mention are grace, love and table.

Grace

“Grace takes lonely people and gives them friendship with God. Grace takes our longings for love and ushers us into the presence of God. Grace transforms our yearnings for significance into gifts of significance. God’s grace speaks to us when we are alone and draws us into fellowship with God and with others” (42).

It’s not only God’s grace that saves us, it’s God’s grace that transforms us. It’s God’s grace that weaves people who are different, at one time hostile toward God and, perhaps, hostile toward each other and makes them into a family. Differents come together through grace.

Love

“For Paul, love is central. It was central because he knew the challenges of the Christian life for those who were in fellowship with one another in house churches dotting the Roman Empire. The only way they would make it is if each person learned to love the others” (52).

If that was true for Paul, how much more is it true for us? Just like churches in the first century, we still have to learn to love each other. It’s not something that we learn once, it’s something we have to continually learn, relearn and practice.

Table

“Against this background [the culture of status in the Roman Empire], the fathering of the Christians reconstructed everything from the bottom up: everyone was welcome, everyone got the same meal, everyone was equal, and everyone had one Lord, King Jesus. At the new family’s table they were one” (99).

McKnight is speaking here of Communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper. If status was a big deal in the Roman Empire, it remains a big deal in 2016 as well. So much of our lives is defined by what kinds of things we can afford. It defines what we eat, where we go to shop, who our friends are, what we do for fun and what we post on Facebook. As McKnight says, we need to rediscover the equality and unity within the act of Communion.

McKnight believes, and I think rightly, that if we can rediscover these traits, our churches will naturally begin to become more and more diverse. Differents will know that our churches are places of grace, love and equality.

We’ll look at the other three traits next time.

Walk in Discipleship

walkFor the last three weeks, we have been exploring the idea of walking, or how we live our lives. We have looked at the call to walk in unity, the call to walk as a prisoner of Jesus and how we can walk in a way that helps us remember who we are and who God is. As we close out this little series, I want to look at another “walk” passage: Colossians 2:6-7. These two little verses, written by the Apostle Paul, help us see the stepping stones of walking in discipleship.

About two years ago, I wrote a short e-book on how this passage can be used as a template in the process of discipleship. If you lead others in discipleship in some way, I think it might be useful to you.

Download the PDF- Benchmarks.

 

Walk: How to Remember

I left last week’s post by asking the question, why do we forget? We looked at Paul’s call to live lives as prisoners of Jesus. But, whereas an inmate in a prison does not wake up one day and forget that they are a prisoner, I (and maybe you too) do forget (many times a day) that I am a prisoner, a slave, a bond-servant of Jesus.

Why do we forget? And what can we do to remember?

I mentioned in my previous post that one possible reason we forget is that, unlike an inmate in prison, we are not completely surrounded by reminders of our status as prisoners of Jesus. Literally everything in the life of a prisoner exists to remind them that they are not free and that they are under the control of the one to whom they are a prisoner. Is that idea something we can copy within our lives as followers of Jesus? Or would that take leaving our lives and our culture and moving into a monastery? Should we only listen to worship music and keep Fireproof in the DVD player? Are those the only ways to remember? I sure hope not.

So what do we do? Going back to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, Paul devotes all of chapter 2 to our very question. We can summarize his thoughts in three main points.

1. Remember who you were. Paul calls us to remember who we used to be. We were dead, lived to the lusts of our flesh, we were children of wrath, we were separated from Christ, strangers and aliens. Remembering who we used to be should help us to remember that that’s not who we are anymore.

2. Remember what God is like. If we desire to be prisoners of Jesus and slaves to God, we should know what God is like. Paul tells us that God is rich in mercy and that he loves us with a great love. God is the one who has made us alive and has given us the riches of his grace and the very faith it takes to trust him. God is our peace, our cornerstone and the preparer of the good works we are able to walk in. Reflecting on those attributes of God should cause us to grow in our desire to serve, surrender and give God all of ourselves and all of our affections.

3. Remember what God has done for us. Here Paul dives into the heart of the gospel. God, in Jesus, has made us alive and raised us up to the place where Jesus is. Not only that but God has, through the cross, broken all the walls that separate us from God, given us hope and included us in the promise. We are now fellow citizens of God’s house and the very house/temple itself, through the church, as the dwelling place of God’s Spirit.

Based on Ephesians 2, remembering who we were, what God is like and what God has done for us, you and I may be able to better live a life worthy of the calling of Jesus on our lives. In this season of Lent, even if you have made a commitment to give up something, let’s make the commitment to add something- that being to read Ephesians 2 every opportunity we have between now and Easter.

Walk Like a Prisoner

Galatians isn’t the only place where Paul talks about the way we should walk (the way we live our lives) as followers of Jesus. In this post and in the following two, we will look at three other places where Paul urges us to live our lives in a certain way. We won’t exhaust every instance Paul tells us to walk but I think we will have enough to chew on.

There has been a movement in the last two decades or so to redefine Christianity, redefine being a follower of Jesus, apart from the strict set of “do’s” and “don’ts” that came to stand for Christian belief. One could argue that these rules stood more as metaphor and perception than actual reality but in most cases the perception is the reality. And Christianity was often refused to: “Don’t…..”

Overall, I think that the move to redefine following Jesus away from the “do’s” and “don’ts” is beneficial. Acknowledging that following Jesus is more than external ethics brings a fuller and more authentic understanding of the gospel. However, that does not mean that ethics cease to have a role within the way of life of a Jesus follower.

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In Ephesians 4:1-3 the Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore, I the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

There are a lot of interesting aspects within this thought of Paul. What I find most intriguing is the way Paul seems to casually throws in that he is a prisoner of The Lord. Why does Paul include this?

Paul knows what it means to be a prisoner- I don’t have a clue. I’ve seen depictions of prison on tv and in movies, I even went on a tour of a state prison as part of a college class but those are nowhere close to being a prisoner. But Paul seems to connect the fact that he is a prisoner of the Lord to his ability to implore the church to live a life worthy of the calling they have received from Jesus. Perhaps we can say that the life of a prisoner, a prisoner of the Lord, is the way of life that stands as worthy of the call.

That idea goes against all the ideas our culture tells us. We value freedom; freedom to say what we want, freedom to do what we want, freedom to make the choices we want. Prisoners don’t have freedom. They are fully under the control of the one they are a prisoner of.

We are called to be prisoners of the Lord, prisoners of Jesus. We aren’t prisoners of Jesus as a form of punishment but we are to be fully under the control of the one we are a prisoner to. Just like elsewhere Paul calls us to be slaves or bond-servants to Jesus. If each one of us remains under the authority of Jesus than we can see how we can show patience, tolerance and love toward one another and promote unity (here’s that idea again).

I know I’m not a very good prisoner, slave, bond-servant of Jesus. I want to go and do my own thing. Mostly though, I just forget. The thing is, if you are a prisoner or a slave, I don’t think you’d ever forget that. I don’t think that you could wake up one morning and just forget that you are a prisoner because everything around you is telling you that you are.

Why do I forget so easily then? Maybe it’s because everything around me reminds me that I’m my own boss. Perhaps you feel the same way. What are ways that we can continually remind ourselves of our identity as prisoners and slaves of Jesus? What are your thoughts?

 

Walk To Unity

walk

Last time we looked at the Apostle Paul’s observation in Galatians 6 that, within life, a person will reap what they sow. To say it another way, a person will harvest what they plant. Paul tells us to sow in the Spirit to reap the things of the Spirit which, as we saw last time, are what we lump together as the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control.

This leads to the question, how do we sow in the Spirit to reap the things of the Spirit? Paul anticipates our question and tell us twice in Galatians 5 to “walk by the Spirit.”

“Thanks Paul”, the cynical side of me wants to say, “could you be any more ambiguous?”

Paul doesn’t give us “Walking by the Spirit 1-2-3” but he does give us a few descriptions within his letter to the Galatians. But first, what do we mean by “walk?” This is often one of the Christian-lingo sayings that makes little sense to those outside the Christian community. Walk simply means your way of life. When Paul says “walk by the Spirit” what he’s saying is “live a life marked by the Spirit.” What are the marks of a life lived by the Spirit?

Live a life marked by love. Throughout Galatians 5, Paul urges the church to love one another and not give into attitudes and theologies that attempt to divide the church. Paul even says, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [there were those in the church arguing that a person had to become a Jew- circumcised- in order to be a Jesus follower] means anything, but faith working through love” (Gal. 5: 6).

As we try to live a life marked by the Spirit, the first mark on our lives should be the mark of love to one another.

Live a life not marked by the flesh. The second mark of a life lived by the Spirit is a list of characteristics that stand in conflict to the characteristics of a life lived by the Spirit. I won’t re-write the list, you can read it yourself: Galatians 5:19-21. There are some attributes on the list that we probably don’t have to worry about (sorcery, for example) but what’s interesting about the list is that they deal with attitudes, actions, characteristics that cause division. Paul mentions things like jealousy, anger and envy which have the ability to cause major divisions between people.

As we try to live a life marked by the Spirit, the second mark on our lives should be the absent of characteristics that cause division.

Live a life marked by the fruits of Spirit. The third mark of a life lived by the Spirit is evidence of the fruit (the results) of the Spirit. Once again, you can read the list (Gal. 5: 22-23) and once again the fruits of the Spirit are those attributes that foster unity: love, patience, kindness, faithfulness- to name a few.

As we try to live a life marked by the Spirit, the third mark on our lives should be the cultivation of the characteristics that foster unity.

The main takeaway of this post is that a major indicator of a life marked by the Spirit is the working toward and preservation of unity. We have to ask ourselves, then, is the working toward and preservation of unity within the community of the church found in our lives? If wherever we go division seems to follow, that appears to be a good indication that we aren’t living a way of life marked by the Spirit.

It is important to note that unity does not mean uniformity. Followers of Jesus do not all need to the same in all practices and expressions. Paul calls followers of Jesus to be united in direction, united in love and united in living the fruits of the Spirit.

As we walk, let’s walk away from division and toward unity. Over the next few weeks we’ll continue to explore this idea of “walk” and our way of life.


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Football and the Fruits of the Spirit

What does a football player and a prisoner have to do with the fruits of the Spirit? Let me tell a quick story.

If you happen to watch the Denver Broncos- Pittsburgh Steelers games then you may already know what story I’m talking about.

imagesIn what was already a high stakes game, one Denver Broncos player had a little more reason to be nervous. For the first time ever, his mom would watch him play football. For the first time, Broncos wide receiver Damaryius Thomas, had his mom, Katina Smith, cheering in the crowd.

Katina Smith didn’t miss games because she was estranged from her son. She wasn’t sick and unable to travel or against the dangers of playing football. She was unable to see her son play because she was in prison.

When Damaryius was 11 years old, his mother was sentenced to twenty years in prison for distribution of crack cocaine. His grandmother was sentence to life in prison. During the next seventeen years, Damaryius went on t0 play football, basketball and run track in high school. He continued to play football at Georgia Tech and was drafted with the 22nd pick by the Denver Broncos. In the 2013 season, he set the record for number of catches in a Super Bowl in his team’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

All this while his mother sat in prison.

Now we can all agree that Katina Smith made a bad choice- choosing t0 distribute crack is a bad choice. And what she gave up as a result of that choice was huge.

It makes me wonder what things I have unintentionally given up because of choices I have made. In a positive way, I’ve given up or avoided negative things by making good choices. But I may have also unintentionally given up or passed on good things because of bad or unwise choices. We all have those “what if” scenarios in our lives and while dwelling on them may be harmful not acknowledging them may be just has harmful because we can begin to believe that our choices don’t have consequences- whether good or bad.

The Apostle Paul says it this way in Galatians: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7-8).

Sowing and reaping are agricultural terms and earlier in Paul’s letter he tells us what fruit we will reap if we sow in the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self control.

How does this idea of sowing, reaping and reaping the fruits of the Spirit influence our choices and the “what if”s” in life? I’ll attempt to look at that next time.

An Un-Advent-ful World: Peace

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

2015 will go most likely go down as the bloodiest year for gun violence (although Congress has placed a ban on the collection of fully accurate gun violence statistics. Read an Washington Post article about that here.) Around the world we hear about the Syrian civil war, the fight against ISIS, the fight against Boko Haram, tensions in Ukraine, tensions in the South China Sea and Israeli-Palestinian violence.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

The political left mercilessly attacks the political right. The political right mercilessly attacks the political left.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

National politicians, political candidates and state governments battle over immigrants, refugees, use of the military, gun control, the LGBT community, the environment and healthcare.

Where is peace? Where are the peacemakers?

In an un-advent-ful world, peace is achieved through conflict. That statement, while being full of irony, is also full of truth. Peace is achieved when the strongest voice removes all traces of the voice, or voices, of decent. Throughout history this has typically been accomplished through violence, murder, coercion, assassination or imprisonment.Peace under those conditions is not really peace.

Jesus came not only to make peace between God and humanity but between humans ourselves. Jesus demanded that the Kingdom of God (which he announced had, in fact, begun) could not advance through violence or coercion. The Kingdom of God couldn’t come via Peter’s sword. It couldn’t come by James and John lording over the other disciples. It couldn’t even come by Jesus calling down legions of angels.

The Kingdom of God could only come by way of a cross, a broken body and a bleeding Son of God.

That cross, the Apostle Paul tells in Ephesians 2, not only made peace with God but it made peace between people groups because now all people have access to God. It is also because of the cross that Paul can write, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

How do we advance the Kingdom of God?  We advance it through truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, salvation and the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).

The question remains, even in the midst of Advent, if we are called to a gospel of peace, where is peace and where are the peacemakers? Will be be people of peace and peacemakers within the world?

[This song really isn’t about Advent but it’s theme is very similar to what we have been discussing.]

 

An Un-Advent-ful World: Hope

adventwreathIn this year’s Advent series, I want to take a look at the themes of Advent as they are represented by the Advent candles: hope, love, joy and peace. What is remembered during the Advent season is that through the coming of the Christ-child, each of these takes on a new, a greater and a fulfilled significance. These themes should not be unfamiliar to Christ followers and they are not unfamiliar to this blog. In order to look at these four themes with fresh eyes, I want us to imagine what hope, love, joy and peace would look like in an un-advent-ful world.

Hope: the belief that life will get better- or at the very least that life won’t get worse.

Our lives are really saturated in hope. We hope that we won’t get cancer. We hope that we avoid the tornado, the hurricane or the fire. We hope to find a spouse or have children. We hope that our jobs gives us fulfillment. Some simply hope that they won’t go hungry today. Hope is the admittance that much of our lives are outside of our control and, just like placing a bet on a roulette wheel, we can only wish that the ball lands on the right number.

However, even with the odds stacked against us, it remains a cultural taboo to cross the line from hopeful to hopeless. We must keep hoping because giving up stains our character. It makes us look weak, that when we can’t hope in anything we can’t even hope in ourselves.

In an un-advent-ful world, our hope can only be ourselves. We can’t hope in circumstances. We can’t hope in other people. We can’t hope in the Divine- because even if there is a God/ gods, there’s no reason to believe that God/ gods have any control or care over you and I as individual people in the midst of billions of individuals on a small planet within one solar system of one galaxy in the vastness of all space.

But even hoping in ourselves leave us lacking. It’s been pointed out by others that each of us creates a moral standard that then we ourselves fail to live by. If we hope in our own moral uprightness, there is a good chance we will find that hopeless as well.

The reality is that in an un-advent-ful world, there really isn’t any reliable place or person in which to place our hope. In Jesus, the God of the whole universe proves that he cares about each and every individual. In the coming of the Christ-child, hope comes in a person who heals the sick, calms the sea, feeds the hungry and raises the dead.

In the Advent season we hope not in ourselves but in the God that became one of us.

“Again Isaiah says, ‘There shall come to the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.’ Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:12-13

 

My 30th Birthday and the Worst Question in the World

Yesterday was my 30th birthday.

A couple of days ago I was in Starbucks grabbing a cup of coffee and I overheard two women obviously engaged in a job interview. While listening to them, I noticed two things. One was how little time the job candidate had the opportunity to speak compared to the interviewer- but that’s not the point of this post. The second thing I noticed was the questions the interviewer was asking- at least the ones I heard- were normal interview questions but then I heard what I think is the worst question anyone can ask: Where do you see yourself in five years?

I understand that there is a psychological reason to ask this particular question. It’s supposed to help the interviewer understand the candidate’s ambition, to see what they enjoy doing and find out what is meaningful to them. It is also a way for an employer to gage how long a candidate might be at the position for which they are interviewing.

The reason I think it is one of, if not the, worst question someone can ask is because none of us knows what our lives will look like in five years. My life at age 30 is so drastically different from my life at age 25 that is almost impossible to compare them. The last five years have included the birth of 2 kids, 2 jobs, 1 period of unemployment and 2 funerals. There has been a lot of happiness in the last five years and there has been a lot of sadness. There are things that were important that aren’t important anymore and things that arisen that are now central in and to my life. The bottom line is that if the 25 year old me was to describe my life at 30, I know it wouldn’t look anything like my life now. The same is true if my now 30 year old self attempts to describe my life at 35.

I’m sure you have experienced the same thing. We don’t know what our lives will look like five years from now- or even one year from now. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t plan for the future or dream about what we would like to accomplish in our lives but trying to project our future is a dangerous task. Either we end up judging our lives against the lives of our peers or we judge our lives against our past projection and most of the time we find our lives lacking. We can always look at someone more “successful” (however you define that word) than we are and we can almost never check off every plan, goal and dream that we have our eye set on achieving. For most of us our reality never quite reaches our ideal. We dwell on bad decisions, tough breaks, bad luck and missed opportunities. Yes, we are able to celebrate the good but often it’s the bad that haunts us. That is unless there is a higher vantage point from which we can view our lives.

In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul tells us what the higher vantage point is. He writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30). Paul wants us to see that our lives aren’t measured against our peers or our projections of our future. Our lives are measured against the image of Jesus; everything that happens in our lives, the ups and downs, joys and defeats, the twists and turns, are all being worked together by God to conform us into the image of Jesus.

When life is viewed from that perspective, we know that our lives are moving toward a destination and that God isn’t surprised by what our lives look like five years from now. We also can trust that, as we are seeking after God, that God is conforming us more and more into the image of Jesus and that is a pretty good goal to have for the next five years and for a lifetime.