Tag Archives: paul

On Loving Sinners

You know the story of Exodus.

God sent Moses to deliver the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery. He sent the plagues on Egypt because of Pharaoh’s rebellion, and parted the Red Sea allowing the Israelites to cross on dry land. He provided water and food for Israel in the desert, and led them toward the promised land as a pillar of cloud in the day, and a pillar of fire by night.

If any doubter were going to pick an ideal time in history to live in order to see things that would cause them to believe and trust in God, you’d think the time of the Exodus would be a great one.

You’d think … but you may not be correct.

See, the Israelites had witnessed all these things with their own two eyes. They’d tasted the manna, they’d knelt down and felt the dry sediment at the Red Sea. The water coming from the rock in the desert was sweet, and the presence of the pillars of cloud and fire were as comforting as they were magnificent.

But Israel was quick to forget.

Exodus 32 will mess you up – not only because it reveals the sinister side of human nature, but also because it reveals the great love we should have for fallen people.

Exodus 32 reveals the end of Moses forty-day pow-wow with God on the top of Mount Sinai.

Forty days of his being gone was all it took for the Israelites to lose their faith in Yahweh who’d done so much for them only to begin looking for something else to worship. They’d approached Moses’ brother and spokesman Aaron with their concern basically saying, “Make us gods to follow! Moses is gone!”

And Aaron dropped the ball in a big way.

He had the people gather their gold together and melt it down. Then he crafted a golden calf for them to worship as god, and worship they did. They threw a party with the calf at the center the likes of which Israel had never thrown. If glow sticks and lasers had been invented before 1500 BC, I’m sure Israel would have broken them out at this point.

Here are the very people Yahweh had done so much for and delivered so many times throwing a party of praise around an idol, giving it credit for delivering them out of Egypt, at the foot of the very mountain on which the presence of the real God rested and shown like “consuming fire” at the top. I don’t know about you, but if I were going to worship an idol (and I’m not), I don’t think I’d do it at the foot of the mountain that has a huge, supernatural fire going on at the top that is supposed to be the presence of God.

Of course God took notice of this:

Exodus 32:7-14
7 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, because your people, whom you brought up out of Egypt, have become corrupt.
8 They have been quick to turn away from what I commanded them and have made themselves an idol cast in the shape of a calf. They have bowed down to it and sacrificed to it and have said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’
9 “I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people.
10 Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”
11 But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand?
12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people.
13 Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.'”
14 Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
(NIV)

So God Himself was about to destroy them, but Moses interceded on their behalf and God relented, then Moses made his way down the mountain.

Coming to the bottom of the mountain, Moses witnessed the scene. Can you imagine the look on his face when he saw what was going on? Sure, God had told him about it, but he hadn’t seen it yet. Can you feel what he felt at this point?

The Bible says “his anger burned” (v. 19). I have a feeling that’s an understatement. Obviously, Moses wasn’t happy. He threw down the stone tablets God had given him breaking them, melted the golden calf down before grinding it to powder, then mixed the powder with water, and made the Israelites drink it. He then put out a call to all those who’d remained faithful to God, and instructed them to take out their swords and strike down the rebellious. Entire families were killed, and about 3,000 died that day (not nearly as many as would have died if Moses hadn’t interceded on the people’s behalf earlier).

Now comes the part that will mess you up:

Exodus 32:30-32
30 The next day Moses said to the people, “You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the LORD; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.”
31 So Moses went back to the LORD and said, “Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold.
32 But now, please forgive their sin– but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written.”
(NIV)

Moses said to God – the One inhabiting this all-consuming fire at the top of the mountain – “I know the people have sinned. I know they’d turned their back on You … but please forgive them, and if you’re not willing then go ahead and send me to hell too.”

Woah.

We hear a lot of stories about a person laying down their life for another, but do we ever hear about someone laying down their eternity for another?

Are you ever willing? Am I ever willing?

The apostle Paul was the same way:

Romans 9:1-3
1
I speak the truth in Christ– I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit–
2
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.
3
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race,
(NIV)

Again, are you ever willing? Am I?

Here’s the challenge for you and for me today – to love those outside of Christ this much … to be willing to let go of your place in heaven, so that they can have it.

That’s the example we’ve been given, and that willingness is indicative of true, delivering love.

The bar couldn’t be set any higher, could it?

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Great Passage Articulating Mission in Ministry

When I think about the mission of the church, lots of Scriptures come to mind. One group I’m particularly fond of is found in 2 Corinthians 5:

2 Corinthians 5:14-20a
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.
15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!
18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
20a We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

I love this section of Scripture.

Paul starts out by saying, “Christ’s love compels us!” In other words, Christ’s love should be the motivating force behind all of our actions. As it says in 1 John 4:19, “We love because He first loved us.”

When people realize how much Jesus loves them – how much they’ve been given – they can’t help but give back! Jesus’ love is like a fire that serves as fuel for your spiritual life! Without it, you’re simply out of gas.

Paul understood this, and Jesus’ love, put on display through His sacrifice on the cross, literally drove everything Paul did. He could not stop obsessing over it, and this is why he could take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’!

Paul goes on in v. 16 saying, “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.” What does this mean?

Notice the word “we” – Paul is writing to the Corinthian church – a group of Christians. He’s saying, “We, as Christians, do not look at people the way the world looks at people. We don’t judge people from outward appearances. We don’t categorize and stereotype. We don’t assign value based on worldly standards. We see people the way Jesus sees them – as souls, priceless and beautiful, created in the image of God.”

The Corinthians especially would have had a tough time with this. Their society was full of elitist snobs, and the snobbery was contagious. Paul’s telling them, “Don’t be a bunch of snobs! Don’t look at people the world looks at them, and don’t treat people the way the world treats them!”Why?

He explains in v. 17 – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” In other words, “You’re not the same old person you used to be; you’re something completely new – something different. You’ve been washed by Christ’s blood, and have been reconciled to God.”

That word, “reconciled,” is one I frequently find myself thinking about. Reconciliation means “to exchange a hostile relationship with a loving one.” When Paul tells the Corinthians they’ve been reconciled, he’s telling them that, through Jesus, they’ve exchanged a hostile relationship for a loving one with God the Father. Reconciliation means they’ve moved from condemnation to salvation, unrighteousness to righteousness, folly to wisdom, darkness to light. Reconciliation equals newness, and it’s a beautiful thing.

But he doesn’t stop there – v. 18-20a says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.

Herein lies the mission of the church: carrying out Christ’s “ministry of reconciliation” initiated after the Fall by the Father, culminating in His Son’s death, burial, and resurrection.

The entire world is infected with the disease of sin, this disease in 100% terminal, Jesus is the cure, and we, the church continue His ministry. We are called to administer Jesus to a dying world through ourselves as new creations in Christ!

Paul describes us in carrying out our mission as “ambassadors.”

This is a military term used by the Romans to describe a particular type of official serving their government. When the Romans would conquer a territory by pounding it into submission, often the conquered peoples would remain hostile toward their rule for a very long time. A specialist known as an “ambassador” would be sent to govern that  territory with the sole purpose of fostering good relations with whomever they represented (in this case the Roman empire).

Paul’s use of the word here would have meant much to the Corinthians as Corinth was a Roman city. Paul was saying, “We are representatives of Christ in a territory that is largely hostile toward Him, but we need to work to fix that. We must introduce people to Jesus, and assist in fostering a good relationship between they and He as an ambassador would.”

And I love this last bit: “as though God were making His appeal through us.”

I’ll be discussing the vision and mission of Lake Merced’s college ministry with the students this evening, and this is one of the passages we’ll look closely at.

Studying this fires me up.

Be a blessing to someone today!

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On Boycotting People Into Heaven

I’ve been reading Everyday Theology: How to Read Cultural Texts and Interpret Trends for a class I’m in. The main thrust of the book is this: Christians shouldn’t limit exegesis to the biblical text – we should also be proficient in exegeting culture.

Let me put it another way. If I am to love my wife, I must first have some level of understanding of her. If I have no understanding of her at all, how can I express my love to her in a way she’ll understand?

I heard of a missionary overseas once bringing a stork figurine to a native couple who had just delivered their first baby as a gift for the newborn. The missionary was surprised when the native family took great offense at the gift. What was a symbol of new birth to the missionary in the stork was a symbol of death to the natives. The missionary had said without uttering a word, “I hope your new baby dies.” The missionary didn’t understand the culture, and, as a result, his act of love was interpretted as an act of malice by the natives.

The point is this: understanding culture is integral to meaningfully showing love to our neighbors.

In addition to keeping the proverbial foot out of one’s mouth, an understanding of culture will also give you a glimpse into a people’s worldview. If a missionary understands a culture’s worldview, they’ll be better equipped to share the gospel with them in a way they’ll understand.

In the Bible, John’s use of the concept of “the word” or “logos” is a great example of this. The Gospel of John was written to a Greek audience, so John used a concept from Greek philosophy to communicate the message of Jesus to them. John understood the Greeks, and was able to more effectively minister to them as a result.

Paul’s work in Athens recorded in Acts 17 is another great example of a missionary understanding a culture and using that to the Gospel’s advantage. Paul observed the culture of the Athenians, found a way to use it to communicate the Gospel message (ironically, through an idol dedicated to “An Unknown God”), and did so with great effectiveness.

Both John and Paul’s worldview was vastly different from that of their Greek audience, but both understood enough about Greek culture that they could communicate their own worldview in a way the Greeks would understand.

For John and Paul, a good understanding of culture led to effective communication.

John and Paul’s attitude toward the Christian mission are quite a bit different from what my own was in the past. Instead of having a “let me examine your beliefs so I can understand them and better understand you” attitude, I had a “I’m not going to listen to you at all if your beliefs slightly offend me” attitude.

I remember several years ago when Rolling Stone featured a picture of Kanye West with a crown of thorns on his head on the cover of their magazine. The caption read “The Passion of Kanye West.” I saw that and it didn’t take me five minutes to email everyone I knew telling them they should boycott Rolling Stone. Now, did I even read the article? No. But I called Rolling Stone’s customer service department to inform them I wouldn’t be reading their magazine anymore.  Was I a subscriber to Rolling Stone? No. Was I even a casual reader of Rolling Stone? No – never have been. Even when I was working in radio I didn’t read Rolling Stone – I always preferred Spin. But I went out of my way to inform them I wouldn’t be reading their magazine, and I made sure to let them know why too – because I was a Christian! Kind of funny now (and sad).

Anyway, here’s the point: I saw something offensive, and instead of listening I reacted with a call to boycott even going out of my way to express my displeasure to a nice lady in their customer service department. I’m not saying I necessarily embrace the depiction of Kanye West in a crown of thorns or of his “suffering” in the music industry having any relation to Jesus’ suffering on the cross, but my first reaction shouldn’t have been what it was. My attitude and actions were counterproductive to the Christian mission, and I imagine John and Paul would have rolled their eyes at me. I’ll bet the customer service lady I talked to on the phone did.

I know the Greeks’ outlook on life and living was offensive to John and Paul’s Christian worldview. I can only imagine how Paul felt as he walked through Athens in the midst of all those idols – in fact, the Bible says he was greatly distressed because of what he saw. But Paul didn’t call all his Christian friends together and tell them to boycott Athens. He observed and listened, then he reached out respectfully and in love.

Fast forward to the present: I’m in San Francisco – one of the most liberal cities in the world. What should Christians do when they encounter something offensive to their worldview here (which happens, like, everyday)? Boycott? Protest? Scream? Picket the steps of City Hall? Or should we observe, listen, and then reach out respectfully and in love?

I vote for the latter.

If anything needs to be boycotted today, it’s the attitude that leads to boycotting being your first move. Please, boycott that immediately and email all your friends encouraging them to do the same.

Less boycotting, more listening and observing. From listening and observing comes the ability to show love meaningfully and communicate effectively – two things integral to the Christian mission.

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