1 Thessalonians 2:15-16 and Crimes Against Humanity

P12_0Crimes against humanity are usually categorized as war crimes that targeted civilians or genocide. They can happen in a time of war or peace, and are when there is a wholesale policy of dehumanizing a certain group of people and taking action against that group. The title for the crime is because we believe, as a human race, that when one part of us suffers in this manner, it is an attack and a crime against us all.

While Paul did not have in mind the International Criminal Court, he did detail a crime against humanity:

They don’t please God, and they are hostile to the entire human race 16 when they try to stop us from speaking to the Gentiles so they can be saved.

Paul was speaking here about the non-believing Jewish people in Judea who were opposed to the Gospel. By attacking the prophets, killing Jesus, and seeking to prevent the spread of the Gospel to Jews as well as Gentiles, they were hostile to the entire human race. This is because only the Christian Gospel message can truly bring healing and wholeness to the brokenness of the world and in each one of us.

In this line of reasoning, anyone who impedes the spread of the Christian message is an enemy of humanity and has committed a crime against humanity. This is not to say that those who oppose the spread of the Christian faith would ever be brought up on charges at the Hague. Our society has decided that it can do well without any one religion being promoted. Ironically, that is a crime against humanity as well, from this biblical point of view.

Do not be complicit in this crime. Do not be a co-conspirator with those who seek to keep the Christian message marginalized. Share your faith and the reason for the hope in you with others around you. Some may think you are weird or strange. Others may think you are judgmental and self-righteous. Yet those uninformed slanders are nothing compared to the charge of being an enemy of the entire human race. Do not commit a crime against humanity. Tell people about Jesus.

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Philippians 3:12-16 and Becoming a Mature Christian

ChristianPerfectionThe Methodist movement began with its goal as spreading Scriptural holiness across the land. John and Charles Wesley taught this in the form of Christian Perfection–a process of growing into the likeness of Christ. Wesley understood the term perfection as something that was ongoing, not completed, therefore his understanding was that Christian Perfection was an ongoing growth in perfecting a Christian.

When Methodism moved to America, after several years the Wesleyan understanding of perfection was lost. The process of perfecting a Christian became replaced with Entire Sanctification, a state in which the Christian had been perfected and completely (entirely) sanctified. Because this was no longer a process, people began to look for the outward signs that one was perfected–a life full of the Holy Spirit that would naturally prevent one from engaging in sinful actions. The emphasis shifted from the process of growing into the likeness of Christ and became focused on not wearing jewelry, costly clothes, not dancing, not drinking, not smoking, not going to movies, not (fill in the blank).

For the obvious reasons of both making it sound like a person who was entirely sanctified was completely perfect in every way, and the focus on a negative explanation of the faith–do not do this, do not do that–the doctrine of Entire Sanctification has all but disappeared. The original emphasis by the Wesleys on the process of perfecting a Christian is all but lost as well. Yet this does not negate the fact that it is Scriptural. Look at what Paul writes here in Philippians:

12 It’s not that I have already reached this goal or have already been perfected, but I pursue it, so that I may grab hold of it because Christ grabbed hold of me for just this purpose. 13 Brothers and sisters, I myself don’t think I’ve reached it, but I do this one thing: I forget about the things behind me and reach out for the things ahead of me. 14 The goal I pursue is the prize of God’s upward call in Christ Jesus. 15 So all of us who are spiritually mature should think this way, and if anyone thinks differently, God will reveal it to him or her. 16 Only let’s live in a way that is consistent with whatever level we have reached.

Perhaps a better way of explaining this doctrine is to use the same language Paul uses here of being Spiritually Mature. This is essentially what Wesley meant when speaking of the process of being perfected. He was speaking of becoming a mature Christian, one who is growing into the full nature of Christ.

Ironically, because Entire Sanctification and Christian Perfection have fallen out of favor, we have tended to replace this Christian Maturity with conversion as the goal of Christianity. When we do this, the focus becomes preaching and teaching for a decision to follow Christ. When that happens, we end up making a serious mistake. Jesus said that it was the Holy Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin and it was our job to make disciples. By making conversion the goal of the faith, we take the Holy Spirit’s job on ourselves and leave our job to the Holy Spirit. I believe this is why we have an anemic Church in America today and why the criticism of being hypocrites can be spot on with us.

The goal of the Christian faith, of our relationship with Christ, is to become mature. It is to grow into the full stature of Christ. And notice what Paul says in verse 15–if anyone disagrees with this assessment of growing into mature Christians, not that their other opinion is also valid, but that God will reveal to that person that s/he is wrong and point that person towards the truth of the matter. Our goal is not the proverbial get out of hell free card. That actually makes a mockery of the biblical vision of the faith. Our goal is Christian Maturity, growing in God’s grace so that we can come to the full stature of Christ in us and experience the fullness of God’s power and presence in our lives.

2 Corinthians 5:17-21 and New Creation

end-is-nearMany different people are talking about the End of Days and New Creation right now. Some of these conversations are coming from some of the most unlikely sources (just watch this video of a secular Jewish boy who had a vision during a near-death experience). It seems that there is a general feeling among many that the time is right for the end to come.

This may be true, but it is also true that the New Creation began quite some time ago. Look at what Paul writes here:

17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

There will come a time when Christ will return, the Messiah will reign completely, but the New Creation already began when Christ showed up originally. As long as there are Christians in the world, the New Creation will be here. It is already present, if not fully realized.

Christians, members of this New Creation, are given a role in it as well. We are to be ambassadors to the Old Creation for the New Creation. We are to offer people the opportunity to be reconciled with God so they can become part of the New Creation as well. Notice explicitly that this ministry of reconciliation is not about judging people’s sins. Dealing with sin is the Holy Spirit’s job in this world. Our job is to offer reconciliation to people. This is a very important point. Sometimes I think the Church has grown weak in the West precisely because we have tried to take the Holy Spirit’s job of condemning non-Christians’ sins and wanting the Holy Spirit to do our job of offering reconciliation to those people after we have condemned them.

The days may be getting shorter. The time may be drawing near for the End of Days. But until Christ returns, as Christians we have a job to do–a ministry of reconciliation–so that the most people can be a part of the New Creation as is possible when Christ returns.

One other thing about this passage that sometimes gets overlooked is the last verse. Part of being in the New Creation is that we are given the ability by the Holy Spirit to become the righteousness of God. Salvation is not forgiveness for our sins and the ability to continue living life exactly as we did before we were saved, only now knowing that we are always forgiven because we prayed a prayer. That is invocational magic, saying the right incantation and forcing a being on the other side to act as you desire. Christianity is about being forgiven, yes, but so we can become a part of the New Creation and be transformed by God’s grace into the very righteousness of God. Christianity is about becoming holy. Forgiveness of sins is one step along the way of becoming holy. Seek Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in your lives to become the righteousness of God. In this way, we will be more faithful ambassadors offering a ministry of reconciliation to the world.

This is how the New Creation begins.

Acts 10:27-33 and Confusion When God is in Control

Peter-with-CorneliusI tend to think that when God is in control and people are actively obeying his leading and guiding that everything will be very predictable and nice and neat. It seems like this would be the case, after all God is a God of order and not of chaos. Therefore, it would only seem logical that this order would manifest itself in the Body of Christ.

True as this may sound, it is not always the case. That is why I love the story of Peter and Cornelius. It is extremely obvious that both men were being faithful in this story. An angel was sent to Cornelius, who obeyed, and a vision and message was sent to Peter, who obeyed. Once Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house, look at the exchange that takes place:

27 And as he talked with him, he went in and found that many had assembled; 28 and he said to them, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without objection. Now may I ask why you sent for me?’ 30 Cornelius replied, ‘Four days ago at this very hour, at three o’clock, I was praying in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling clothes stood before me. 31 He said, “Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon, who is called Peter; he is staying in the home of Simon, a tanner, by the sea.” 33 Therefore I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. So now all of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say.’

Pay close attention to verses 29 and 33. Neither Peter nor Cornelius know what is going on. Neither of them know why they are meeting with each other. They are both confused as to why this meeting is taking place.

It is clear that it is God who orchestrated this meeting, not either of them. And it is equally clear that God did not give the whole vision of what was happening to either of them. Each of them was given a piece of the mission/vision and were asked to be faithful with the piece they had been given. Because they did not understand the whole scope of what God was doing, there is this confusing exchange between Peter and Cornelius where Peter wants to know why he is there and Cornelius wants to know what Peter is supposed to say. But because they were faithful with the piece they each had, this exchange could happen.

There are times in our own lives and ministries when things do not seem to make sense. It is precisely at those times when we need to be faithful with what we know we have been asked to do. We are rarely given the whole picture of what God is doing, but if we are willing to be used by God, we are given a piece of it. God does not call us to understand everything. Rather, he calls us to be faithful with what he has called us to do. If we are faithful, then there could be times when we have a meeting like Peter and Cornelius, where we gather with other Christians and no one quite understands why. Rest assured, God knows, and God is in control. Even if it seems confusing, God is in control.

John 3:17-21 and Christians Should Not Judge

nicodmeusOne of the biggest criticisms against Christians by those who are not Christians is that they are very judgmental. Unfortunately, this criticism is not without reason. We, in the Church, have become very good at thinking we are proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ by telling everyone else why they do not measure up to what God desires for life. We have decided along the way that one of the best ways of appealing to people is to make them understand just how far away from God they are by pointing out all of the sinful actions and attitudes in which they participate.

Look closely at this passage of John’s Gospel, a part of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus:

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

The world is already in the dark, and thus condemned. The Good News does not need us to condemn or judge people. First of all, that is not our job. If Jesus Christ was not sent into the world to condemn, neither were we. Second, this is Good News! It ought to be presented as Good!

One way to think of it is that the whole world is drowning and Jesus is the life preserver. What we do not need to do is berate people over why they are in the water having a hard time staying afloat without the life preserver. We do not need to point out that they should have been on a different boat or shouldn’t have gone in the water in the first place. Why? Because according to this passage, we all start out in the water. We do not suffer in sin because we chose to enter that world. The world is already condemned. What we have to offer people is the way out. We have the rescue. We have the salvation. We have Jesus Christ.

If we, as Christians, spent less time trying to make people feel guilty for their actions (which is the Holy Spirit’s role anyway) and point out how bad they are (because we are all born into a world that is condemned), then we can proclaim a message of Good News to all people. In Jesus Christ the evil and degradation of this world is undone. In Jesus Christ our guilt is cleansed. In Jesus Christ we have the ability to live in the grace and power of God to overcome temptation and sin in the future. In Jesus Christ we inherit everlasting life.

This is all Good News. We do not have to package it in a way that requires people to feel completely miserable with themselves and their lives before they can accept it. If we present the reality of new life in Jesus Christ to people, the Holy Spirit will do the rest.

Finally, remember these words from Jesus to his followers:

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:1-2).

Luke 5:36-39 and the New v. Old Debate

This is a post from January 13 of this year. It is still good information.

 

There are a few statements that can act like a hand grenade thrown into the middle of a church board meeting.  One of them would be, “Let’s quit doing what we have been doing for the last twenty years and start something completely new.”  Jesus alludes to this with one of his parables:

Then he told them a parable. “No one tears a patch from a new garment to patch an old garment. wineskinOtherwise, the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t match the old garment.   Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the new wine would burst the wineskins, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined.   Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins.  No one who drinks a well-aged wine wants new wine, but says, ‘The well-aged wine is better.’”

I’ve seen this passage for years and always looked at it from the point of view of doing something new.  A new work of God often needs new structures for it to achieve all that God wants it to do.  This is part of the reason why church planting is usually the most effective way of reaching a community rather than trying to revitalize an older congregation.  New work needs new structures.

What I really never saw until I re-read this passage today as a part of the Bible Reading Schedule was the last sentence.  Here Jesus does not condemn those who do not want the new, but rather like fine wine, he says that the new usually does not have the same appeal as the old for those who are used to the old.  Just think about many (valid, in most cases) criticisms of contemporary praise choruses from people who are used to hymns.  The new is not as full or beautiful or potent as the old.

In this line of thought the new structures can even help preserve and save the old.  It would do little good to try and completely re-imagine a church fellowship with an older, dying congregation that does not want to change or do something new.  The endeavor would likely kill the existing congregation and kill off the attempt at something new–with the unintended result that people might think new ideas simply will not work in that particular community.

However, if a new structure is created, a new fellowship is born, it will draw new people.  AND if that new structure is a cooperative venture with the old congregation, and they are seen as complementary to one another rather than adversarial (read: no one thinks that the new fellowship is just trying to steal the old congregation’s people/resources), then, as we say in Florida, when the tide rises all the boats in the harbor go up.

There will be people that come to the new out of curiosity but would be a better fit for the old.  There will be people seeking a new fellowship that stumble upon the old one.  The two fellowships could work cooperatively with one another, sending people to each other who would better resonate with what is happening at the different fellowships.

Keep in mind, this is not just about styles of worship, either.  It can also be about vision and focus for ministry within a given community.  One fellowship might be firmly committed to helping the local poor and homeless.  The other might wish to tackle modern-day slavery with the Set Free Movement.  One may focus on ministry with Hispanics in the community, another may focus on ministry with the underground church in China.

Either way, different wineskins are needed for different types of wine.  Different fellowships can be needed for different types of ministry, even in the same community.

Zechariah 2:10-11 and The International Scope of the Church

Bible Series ZechariahI love when I see clear references to the Church in the Old Testament. There are so many different prophecies that may or may not be interpreted to be the Church, and then there are some that are obvious upon first reading. Take this section from Zechariah:

10 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Zion,
        because I am about to come and dwell among you, says the Lord.
11 Many nations will be joined to the Lord on that day.
        They will become my people,
            and I will dwell among you
            so you will know that the Lord of heavenly forces sent me to you.”

Jesus, God the Son, dwelt among us. The Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, continues to dwell among us. The Church opened up the Covenant People of God to all nations, not just the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is a view of the restoration of Jerusalem and the Covenant People beyond the scope of what most Jewish people would have thought, and it is given around 500 years before Jesus was born.

I love how God prepares and foreshadows what he is going to do well in advance!