Sunday, October 08, 2017

This week's lesson (October 7-13): the Controversy

If you're reading this, then you're probably a Gentile.

Yes, one of those people.

When the Israelites left Egypt, in other words, we were the ones who came after them in chariots.

And when David fought the Philistines, we rooted for Goliath.

The destruction of Jerusalem?

That was us.

Ditto the "mixed multitude" who caused all that trouble during the Exodus.

In short, there's good reason why Jewish Christians thought people like us shouldn't join the church -- not so long as we remained Gentiles.

But if God opened the door to people like us . . .

Then maybe we should think twice before we shut the door behind us.

Thursday, October 05, 2017

This week's lesson (September 30 - October 6): the Apostle Paul in Rome

This is not my church.

Not any more.

Not since they took over.

And yes, I know I'm supposed to be grateful. If it wasn't for them, people tell me, our church would be in bad shape; that's because their numbers are growing (while ours are dwindling).

But they're so ignorant.

Their kids are so rowdy.

And you should see the food they bring to potlucks!

So you can understand why I'm skeptical about Paul's plan to visit our churches here in Rome. To be sure, he's one of us -- but if you want my honest opinion, he's just a little too close to them.

And no, it's not that I'm prejudiced; some of my best friends are Gentiles.

But I wish they knew their place -- knew it, and stayed in it.

Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, September 03, 2017

This week's lesson (September 2-8): Freedom in Christ

Sure, Jesus is nice . . . 

But is he enough?

That's the question Paul answers in Galatians 5:1-15 -- and it's an answer we still need today.

Even today, after all, you still run into the idea that following Jesus is okay for beginners . . . 

But if you really want to get serious about following God, then there's always something else you need to do.

In Paul's day, that "something else" was circumcision.

In our day, it may be speaking in tongues. Learning to meditate. Or achieving sinless perfection.

And no, it never stops there; no matter how much you do, as a matter of fact, there's always something more that needs to be done -- something more that's said to be the real mark of the true believer.

(As in, "Yes, we're glad you're vegan -- but we've noticed you're still eating fruits and vegetables at the same meal, and . . .")

Paul calls this attitude, "slavery."

We might call it an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

But whatever you call it, the fact remains: Jesus is enough.

You can't add anything else.

No, all you can do is subtract.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

This week's lesson (July 8-14): the Unity of the Gospel

Peter deserves our thanks.

Few have done more for the Gentiles, after all.
  • It was Peter who baptized Cornelius.
  • It was Peter who backed Paul at the Council of Jerusalem.
  • It was Peter (along with James and John) who confirmed Paul's mission to the Gentiles.
  • And when Peter visited Paul's converts in Antioch, he was delighted to work with them. Worship with them. And even eat with them.
In short, Peter has consistently defended the right of Gentiles to be Christians, even though they are still Gentiles.

So why shouldn't he recognize the right of Jews to be Christians, even though they are still Jewish?

That's all these "men from James" were asking: nothing more than the right of Jewish Christians to practice their traditional (and God-given) way of life.

And if this caused some ill-feeling among the Gentiles . . .

Well, nothing is gained by blurring the distinction between God's chosen people and the world.

No, Jews are Jews and Gentiles are Gentiles -- even within the church.

And if Peter is willing to defend the things that make us different . . .

Then who among us would not do the same?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

This week's lesson (July 1-7): Paul's Authority & Gospel

 Detective: "Is there any other point to which you could wish to draw my attention?" 
Sherlock Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." 
Detective: "The dog did nothing in the night-time." 
Sherlock Holmes: "That was the curious incident." 
-- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Silver Blaze.
One of the most curious things about the Book of Galatians is something Paul doesn't say.

In most of his other letters, remember, Paul begins with some kind of compliment:
  • In Ephesians, he praises the church because it "loves all the saints."
  • In Philippians, he thanks the church for its "partnership in the gospel."
  • And even the church in Corinth -- a church riven by factionalism, and marked by sexual immorality -- is told that it "does not lack any spiritual gift."
Yes, Paul finds something good to say about every church . . . 
Except the one in Galatia.
And it's not as though the Galatians had abandoned all standards; if anything, just the opposite. No, they'd added rules. They'd stiffened requirements. They'd raised the bar for church membership -- raised it back to what it had been in the past.
"You can't be too careful," was their motto; "You can't be too strict," was their policy. "There's no such thing as too many rules" -- that was the way they did church.
But did Paul thank them for their devotion?
Did he commend them for their dedication?
Did he thank God that, whatever their faults, they're not as messed-up as the church in Corinth?
No.
And its just that lack of appreciation that is so odd.
If Paul could say something nice about the church in Corinth, after all, then you'd think he could say something nice about anyone!
But when it came to those careful, earnest, and dedicated believers in Galatia?
Paul doesn't say anything nice.
Given the choice between "too strict" and "too loose," in other words, Paul silence seems to suggest that "too strict" is worse.
Which is . . . curious.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

This week's lesson (June 24-30): Paul - apostle to the Gentiles

All through Scripture, it is clear that God has a people who love and follow Him.

All through history, it's been clear that we are that people.

And ever since Abraham, it's been clear that the definitive mark of God's people has been circumcision -- in fact, the Bible even refers to it as "an everlasting covenant."
  • Jesus was circumcised, remember.
  • The apostles were all circumcised.
  • And while God may have reached out to the Gentiles in love, there is no evidence from Scripture that He has ever intended them to be the leaders of God's people.
To be sure, the Apostle Paul has written that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" -- but however true this may be spiritually, the fact remains that all these distinctions are still binding socially.
That is why we must resist recent attempts to make our churches "politically correct."
Yes, that is why Gentiles must not be ordained. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

This week's lesson (June 17-23): major themes in 1 & 2 Peter

"Respect all human authority," it says in 1 Peter.

"Submit to governing authorities," it says in Romans.

"Pray for all those in authority," it says in 1 Timothy.

So that's what I've been doing.

Ever since January 20, I've added a prayer for the President to my pastoral prayer at church. "Bless our President," I say, "that he might govern with wisdom, humility, and justice."

Has it changed him?

Dunno.

Has it changed me?

Dunno.

Have I received a lot of feedback on this from church members?

Oh yeah!
  • Some have taken this as a show of support for the President.
  • Some have wondered if this is an ironic critique of the President.
  • And one member told me that, "You can pray for him -- but he's not my President!"
All of which suggests that we're still struggling with the central question of 1 & 2 Peter -- the question of how we follow God in an imperfect world. (Or as Bruce Springsteen put it, "How do we keep our ideals after we've lost our illusions?")

Do I have an answer?

Not yet.

Do my church members agree on what that answer might be?

Not yet.

And that, in itself, is reason enough to pray.