Monday, September 16, 2013

When better is worse

Everyone wants to be good at something, but what if you are good at being bad? Paul says he was cruel to God's church, but he was a much better Jew than anyone else his age.  Before I became a Christian, I was good at being bad too, but I didn't call my bad "good". Here is what Paul said:
"You know how I used to live as a Jew. I was cruel to God's church and even tried to destroy it.  I was a much better Jew than anyone else my own age, and I obeyed every law our ancestors had given us.  But even before I was born, God had chosen me by his gift of undeserved grace and had decided to show me his Son, so I would announce his message to the Gentiles. I didn't talk this over with anyone. " Galatians 1:13-16 CEVDCUS06
Religious people call their bad "good". The murder others and say they are "serving God". They burn down houses and drive people of other faiths from their towns and villages and say they are "cleansing evil from their midst". They burn the sacred writings of other faiths and say they are "serving God." The most horrible thing about religious people is how they cloak their evil and relabel it as "good." It's not good. It's evil. There is not much hope for religious people because they think they are "good". Well there's not much hope for any of us, unless the Lord intervenes.

Paul also says that "before I was born, God had chosen me". He acknowledges that in spite of his religious evil God, in his sovereign plan, had chosen him for something special. It wasn't because of his religion, his being good at being bad, or his being good at being good, but rather God chose him based on God's undeserved grace alone.

We imagine that God chooses us because of something He sees in us. Maybe that is so, but the Bible doesn't say that. The Bible says that God chooses people for His own reasons and purposes that we may or may not ever understand. It's not about us, but about God. In this case God chose Paul to take the good news about Jesus to the non Jewish peoples of the earth. Perhaps his religious bigotry and zealotry prepared him for this task. I think it did, especially since he ended up on the other side of the bigotry - the receiving end - and was able to endure it graciously. Still the main thing is that God chose him before he was even born. Wow, talk about destiny.

I wonder how Paul would describe his motivation before and after meeting Jesus. He was highly pro-active and dedicated before and after meeting Jesus, but at the same time, he experienced a heart transformation. Before he was motivated by religious hate cloaked as zealousness. Afterwards he was motivated by love and compassion. Both of these fundamental motivations were powerful, but one enslaved and other freed people. One controlled through fear, the other gave up the goal of controlling others, and depended on the Holy Spirit to do that through love. One drove out those who disagreed, the other served them and sacrificed for them. One shrunk the heart of man, the other enlarged it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

You can go to hell

I'm sure that, at some time in my life, I told someone to "go to hell". For a Christian who believes in eternity and final judgement, it's a pretty bad thing to say to someone. Granted, if I said that to someone, the last thing on my mind was God & eternal destinies. At the time I was probably just ticked off and not at all concerned with spiritual things.

Paul, on the other hand, is quite earnest when he tells the Galatians that the false teachers who have messed them up can "go to hell." Here is what he says,

Galatians 1:6-10 GNTD
"I am surprised at you! In no time at all you are deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ, and are accepting another gospel. Actually, there is no “other gospel,” but I say this because there are some people who are upsetting you and trying to change the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel that is different from the one we preached to you, may he be condemned to hell! We have said it before, and now I say it again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel that is different from the one you accepted, may he be condemned to hell!  Does this sound as if I am trying to win human approval? No indeed! What I want is God's approval! Am I trying to be popular with people? If I were still trying to do so, I would not be a servant of Christ."
Paul is pretty riled up and blasts the Christians at Galatia with both barrels. He says if anyone is preaching a different gospel, different from the gospel of salvation by grace that I (Paul) preached to you, that person can "go to hell", the real hell.

What do you get ticked off at? I get ticked off at people who take cuts in line ahead of me, miss appointments without so much as a phone call to say "sorry I can't come", plastic packaging that has to be open with a box knife. A lot of the stuff I get ticked about is trivial and unimportant. There aren't that many recorded instances of Paul getting angry. He was persecuted, starved, falesly imprisoned and misunderstood. He had some kind of chronic medical problem that bothered him constantly, yet we never hear him complain or get angry over these things. But he gets really pissed off over these false teachers, because they are striking at the heart of the gospel, telling people they have to "be good" in order to "get right" with God. In fact he gets so mad, he says "they can go to hell" - really - really go to hell over this.

I think I care too much about things that don't matter, and don't care enough about the things that really matter. One of the things that really matters is the good news that Jesus died for my sins, rose again and offers forgiveness and new life to anyone who wants it, freely. You can't pay for it, you can't perform for it; all you can do is accept it with thanks.

Lord help me to care more about the things you are passionate about, especially the gospel of Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

What's in a "hello"?

How do you greet people? I struggle with this. When I write an email to a customer, do I use their surname and "Dear" or address them by the first name with "Hi". What is the right balance between respect and friendliness?

Paul greets the people in the church at Galatia with a prayer.
"I pray that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to you and will bless you with peace!  Christ obeyed God our Father and gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins to rescue us from this evil world.  God will be given glory forever and ever. Amen." Ga. 1:3-5

 Imagine that - "Dear Michael, I'm praying that God ..." It's kinda cool. Who doesn't want to be prayed for or blessed? Who wouldn't want God to be kind to them and bless them with peace?

The tough part of Paul's greeting and prayer is his specificity (the spell checker didn't highlight it, so it must be a real word, yeah!) He prays that God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ will be kind to them. He goes further and makes sure that they know which Jesus He is talking about - the one who obeyed God our Father and gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins to rescue us from this evil world - that Jesus. Paul was specific because the Galatians were struggling with some fuzzy thinking about who Jesus was. Some false teachers had confused them, so he starts out in his prayer - by being very clear as to who Jesus is.

Does this mean that a generic prayer is wrong? Am I compromising the gospel if I pray for someone and don't mention the cross and salvation? Is is okay just to pray for people and ask God and Jesus to be kind to them and give them peace?

Of course it is. No one wants to be force fed the gospel, especially when you haven't established a relationship or credibility, but praying for people are asking if you can pray for people is a very nice and appropriate way to show Christian love. Of course, you need to follow through and really pray for them.

How do you say "hello"? Even if you don't vocalize it, when you meet someone why not whisper a prayer to God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ asking "God, Please be kind to _________ and give them peace." It might change the way you relate to people.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Talk about authority

"From the apostle Paul and from all the Lord's followers with me. I was chosen to be an apostle by Jesus Christ and by God the Father, who raised him from death. No mere human chose or appointed me to this work." Galatians 1:1-2 CEVUK00

If God knocked me to the ground, blinded me and spoke to me, telling me what to do, then I guess I could say "I was chosen by Jesus Christ and by God the Father", but that didn't happen to me. I've been smacked to the ground plenty of times, but in every case God has used an agent to do so, rather than doing it personally. 

The whole idea of a divine calling is bit sketchy to me. Some people think that I have abandoned my calling to do business. They will cite verses like "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" to say that if ever, you decide to be a full time pastor, then that is what you must do until the day you die. It is true, that I feel completely unworthy to serve as a pastor and the role of businessman is more comfortable. A businessman does not have to be perfect, but a pastor may not have feet of clay. I have feet of clay. 

I don't think I will ever have the absolute confidence of Paul. All I have is this: Jesus said "Go and make disciples of all the nations ..." and I'm trying my best to obey Him. He said "all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me (Christ)", so I don't need a personal calling - I have a command to obey. My calling, if you want to call it that, is to obey Jesus.