Tag Archives: Unity

Understanding Paul, part 6

Read Romans 15:22-33; Acts 21-22

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 CEB).

Decapitación_de_San_Pablo_-_Simonet_-_1887To sum up this series, I think it is beyond doubt that Paul is the most influential theologian in the history of Christianity. As this series has attempted to show, much of the problems that Christians run into when it comes to interpreting Paul arise directly because Paul is interpreted as a “Christian” theologian. Yet, the truth of the matter is that, while he was an Apostle of the Risen Christ, the Apostle Paul was NOT a Christian but a Jewish theologian. He just happened to subscribe to the Jewish sect known as “the Way” and believed that Jesus had called him to preach the Good News of an open Jewish covenant, through Christ, to all the Gentile world.

Throughout the centuries and especially in Christianity Today, Paul has become a conservative icon of the church and a guardian of the faith. Thus, his words and writings have been used to uphold church doctrine and dogma in support of slavery, against women clergy, and for the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. In fact, the Apostle Paul’s words on marriage are also the foundation of the Roman Catholic doctrine on clerical celibacy. For those supporting such doctrines and positions, Paul’s words have become a rallying cry; however, by and large the Apostle Paul’s writings have divided more people than they have united. While those seeking to keep things as the perceive they’ve always been find Paul to be their champion, others who are frustrated by the Church’s resistance to change find Paul to be irritating at best and downright egregious at worst.

All of this division, all of this animosity, all of this tension coming from a man who literally spent his life trying to unite people in Christ Jesus. While Paul was Jewish and firmly believed that Jesus was the JEWISH MESSIAH, he also firmly believed that this Christ, through his death and resurrection, had opened up the Jewish covenant to all Gentiles, through their faith in Jesus Christ. This set him at odds with both the Jerusalem church, as well as with the majority of Jewish people as a whole. Yet, rather than abandon one side for the other, Paul spent the rest of his shortened life and ministry trying to make peace with all parties and he tried to unite them in the grace, peace and love of the Risen Christ.

Throughout his ministry, Paul collected money from his Gentile church communities in order that he might bring a peace offering and financial support for the church in Jerusalem. In Romans 15 he wrote to the church community in Rome to pray not only that he be rescued from those who don’t believe in Judea, but that the leaders of the church in Jerusalem (e.g. Jesus brother, James, among others) find his monetary gift to be acceptable. We also learn, in Acts 21, that Paul’s worries were founded as the church wanted him to prove he was a committed Jew by going to the Temple and going through a purification ritual with his fellow Gentile travelers. In complying with them to solidify the unity he was seeking, Paul sealed his own fate, was arrested by the Temple guards, was sent to Rome and was, eventually, martyred.

Paul literally died in order to bring unity to an already divided church. He was not the conservative icon of the church in his day, but a progressive (to use today’s language) visionary of an INCLUSIVE church. He believed and died for a church that would INCLUDE all people who share faith in Jesus Christ. He strived for a church that would live in LOVE and live out Christ’s commandment for us to LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Paul died to witness to his belief that we “all are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 5:28). This, for Paul, was the Gospel message and it should be the message that we, too, embrace as the Gospel Message.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Talent perceives differences; genius, unity.” – William Butler Yeats

PRAYER
Lord, build me into a peacemaker. Even as I hold firm to my convictions, keep me convicted to bear your grace in all things. Amen.

Understanding Paul, part 2

Read Romans 15:25-33

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“From now on, let no one make trouble for me; for I carry the marks of Jesus branded on my body.” (Galatians 6:17 NRSV)

paulWhen you count the Acts of the Apostles and the Pauline Epistles, over half of the New Testament was either written about him or by him. What’s more, every writer in the New Testament came after him and were influenced by his ministry in one way or the other. What that means is that when we read the Gospels, when we read the stories of Jesus in Mark, Matthew, Luke and John, we are reading accounts by people who were writing after Paul, and they were writing from a Christian perspective that was informed by Paul and his mission to the Gentiles.

Of course, this does not necessarily help us to understand who Paul actually was or what he actually believed. Furthermore, this doesn’t help us to better interpret Paul for Christianity today. Over the last two millenia, Paul has been interpreted and reinterpreted. In fact, often times, Paul has even been misinterpreted. As a result of the misinterpretation of Paul’s theology, other people will flat out reject Paul. I have often heard people say that what Paul thought didn’t matter. I have heard some say, “We should be following the teachings of Christ, not of Paul.” While I think that, on the surface, Paul would agree with that statement, I also think it comes from an ignorance of just who Paul the Apostle is, and how he came to believe what he did.

While Paul didn’t spend time writing about the life of Jesus, it would be a huge mistake to say that he wasn’t influenced by the life and teachings of Jesus. He was a Pharisee, knowledgeable in the law of Moses and steeped in traditional Judaism, who came to experience the risen Christ and believe that Jesus was the fulfillment of Judaism. He spent years in Arabia (Galatian 1:17) learning of this Jesus and his teachings, before returning to Damascus to begin teaching about Christ himself. Paul felt strongly that, through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, the Jewish covenant had been opened up to Gentiles as well. What’s more, the Gentile didn’t have to be circumcised or follow special dietary laws. They were accepted by God by virtue of their belief in Jesus.

While many Gentiles were glad to be accepted into the Jewish covenant by virtue of their newfound belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord, many of the Jewish Christians were not so certain that this Paul’s teachings were so correct. They argued that Jesus was a Jew who came to the Jews. While they were completely okay with accepting Gentiles in should they decide to convert to Judaism, these Jewish Christians were not okay with accepting them in willy nilly, just because they “believe” in Jesus. As such, there arose a division between Paul and those Christians who disagreed with him.

Paul stood up against opposition and, in his letters, defended not only his position but also his authority as an apostle. At the same time, he also respected those who opposed him, such as Jesus’ half-brother James, and did all he could to find common ground with them. He even raised money to support the Jerusalem church and chose to deliver that monetary support of the Jerusalem Church’s ministry himself, at risk to his own life. While firm in his convictions, Paul always sought to be a uniter, regardless of the cost. The question for us Christians today is this, are we up to that challenge? Do we firmly believe in the Gospel o Jesus Christ? Are we firm in our convictions of Christ’s radical love and inclusivity of all people who accept him as Lord and Savior? Are we committed to being an agent of unity even amidst opposition? This is what Paul lived and died for, and what we are called to live and die for as well.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised Him from the dead. I want to suffer with Him, sharing in His death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!” – Paul of Tarsus (Philippians 3:10-11 NLT)

PRAYER
Lord, strengthen me to be not only firm in my convictions, but also humble enough to seek unity in mission with those who may not share in them. Amen.

Born to Follow Revisited

Read Galatians 3:23-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.” (John 13:34)

Bon_Jovi_TheCircleAlong with being a pastor and a chaplain, I am also the co-coordinator of the district youth team in the district that I am serving. As the District Youth Co-coordinator, I am act as a bridge between the youth in each of the local congregations within the district. This past weekend I co-led a district wide Open-Mic Night which turned out to be a wonderful evening of listening to all of the many talents that came out and shared their gifts. I also performed and, being that I just recently wrote about it, I chose to perform Bon Jovi’s “We Weren’t Born to Follow”, among others.  It really is an awesome song and it is a lot of fun to sing to. So, I gave that song my all and enjoyed rocking out to it.

Prior to singing the song, I explained to the people present that I had just written a devotion about the song, and how we ARE actually BORN TO FOLLOW. We are born to follow the ONE who created us. We are born to follow LOVE and to be LOVE wherever we may go. I basically succinctly summed up what I had written in that devotion, because I feel that it is important to take the stigma off of following. There is NOTHING wrong with being a follower…depending on who or what it is that one is following.

But I didn’t end it there, as I had in the last devotion. It is absolutely true that WE ARE BORN TO FOLLOW, that we were made in our Creator’s image, and were born to follow the example and the path that our Creator laid before us. That being said, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora weren’t talking about that when they both wrote the song; rather, they were talking about following what others tell us about ourselves…about following in line with who and what world tells us we are. I am not sure where Jon and Richie stand spiritually, especially regarding this song; however, there is definitely some wisdom to be found in their words.

This world often tells us that we ought define ourselves based off of what we do for a living, based off of our status in life, based off of what community we live in, based off of our income, and based off of other such things. The world tells us how thin to be, how pretty to be, what clothes to wear, what foods to eat, and how to continue to hollow ourselves out into shallow, empty shells with no purpose or meaning to fill our lives. If we turn to the world we learn about might makes right, strength (aka force/violence) equals peace, and that there is a pecking order that we need to submit ourselves to.

But WE ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY WERE NOT BORN TO FOLLOW THE WORLD!!!! We were born to follow God, in whom there is no longer Jew or Greek or French or Iraqi or Russian or American. We were born to to follow God, in whom there is no longer slave or free, male or female or transgendered or whatever other label the world wants to impose on each of us. That is not to say that we should ignore the unique value of each individual, or that we should pretend we don’t have differences, but that we should stop limiting our sights to the “labels” that we use to define each individual!

In the end, we are all CHILDREN OF GOD! That’s what matters! Each one of us was born a child of God, which makes each one of us related to each other in and by the Spirit of God. We weren’t born to follow the World’s labels or definitions. We weren’t born to follow the things of this world but, rather, were were born and are called to follow our Creator who had deemed us to be one, to be united as kin! Let us stop getting hung up on what the world tells us to think and/or to do, and let us preoccupy ourselves with following the ONE who created us with a purpose and a plan in mind: TO LOVE ONE ANOTHER AS GOD HAS LOVED US!

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“Keep love in your heart. A life without it is like a sunless garden when the flowers are dead.” – Oscar Wilde

PRAYER

Lord, help me to tear down the walls of division in my heart. Heal me and teach me to love others as you love me. Amen.

Dying for Both Sides

Read Galatians 2

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“Pray that I will be rescued from those in Judea who refuse to obey God. Pray also that the believers there will be willing to accept the donation I am taking to Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:31)

saint-paul-the-apostle-07In the Bible, there is a man named Saul who was born in the city of Tarsus in the Roman province of Cilicia. He was well educated and rose up to be a scholar of the Torah, a Pharisee, and a zealous defender of the Jewish faith. When a new sect of Judaism broke out claiming that a Nazarene rabbi by the name of Yeshua bar Joseph was the messiah and that Gentiles should be included in the Jewish covenant, he lashed out against the group, having many of them arrested. According to Acts, one was even killed.

With that said, this Saul encountered the risen Yeshua, you may know him by his Greek name Jesus, somewhere in or around Damascus, which is a city in Syria. This experience transformed Saul into a follower of Jesus. Paul tells us in his letter to the Galatians that, following the encounter with Christ, he went into Arabia for a while and then came back to Damascus. After three years he went to Jerusalem and met with Jesus’ brother James, and his disciples Peter and John.

To make a long story short, Jesus’ brother James and Paul didn’t really get along…at all. Peter and John weren’t too crazy about Paul either. James believed that in order for Gentiles (non-Jews) to become a follower of Christ they had to first become Jewish, since Jesus was a Jew. Paul thought this was ludicrous, seeing Jesus’ death and resurrection as the opening up of the covenant to Gentiles. If they had faith in Jesus who was likened to a Gentile on the cross (being under God’s curse as the Torah claims of anyone hung on a tree), then they would be brought into the Jewish covenant despite not being circumcised or being bound to any one of the Jewish laws.

Though they struck a deal and Paul left thinking he had their blessing to go and preach the Gospel as he felt Jesus had called him to do, James, Peter and John never really accepted Paul’s vision. We find out from Paul in his letter to the Galatians, and in Acts, that James and his followers were counteracting Paul’s Gospel message and causing people to question this “self-proclaimed apostle” who had never been an eye-witness of Jesus. This angered Paul, as anyone would imagine, but it did not stop him from trying.

Paul had been gathering up a collection for the church in Jerusalem and he was going to bring that collection to them, hoping to reconcile their differences if it cost him his very life. Paul was afraid it would. His last written words, written to the church in Rome (a community he had never met), ask for prayers that the non-believing Jews won’t attack him (as he was a heretic in their eyes having abandoned his Pharisaic Judaism for this new messianic Judaism) and that the church in Jerusalem would accept his offering. Unfortunately, his prayers were not answered.

Paul was arrested, and eventually died, trying to get both sides (his and James’) to be unified, even if different, in the cause of Christ. Today, like then, the church is split on many fronts and we seem to get stuck on one side or the other. We fail to see Christ in the midst of our differences. Like Paul, we are called to see Christ in those who believe differently than us. We are called to find the balance of reconciliation, even while remaining true to what we firmly believe. There are many contentious issues dividing the church, yet there is still ONE Lord! Rather than deeming each other heretics, let us have the grace and the humility to see that Christ is indeed working in, through, and in spite of us all! Remember, he Gospel calls us to be a people who are unified in LOVE, even if divided by difference.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“You don’t get unity by ignoring the questions that have to be faced.” – Jay Weatherill

PRAYER

Lord, help me to see you even in those who think and believe differently than me. Humble me, I pray. Amen.

God’s Concert

Read 1 Corinthians 12:14-27

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE

“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4:15-16)

ChristmasConcertThis week I am working on putting the final touches on a Christmas Concert that will be happening at my church this coming Saturday evening. As a person who loves the arts and loves singing, I can think of nothing better than planning and hosting a Christmas Concert. Last year’s concert was amazing, for lack of a better word. We had people performing who had performed on stages throughout the world, including places like The Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

In last year’s show, we had talent ranging in age and experience. As I mentioned above, some of the performers were professionals and had performed on world-class stages. Another person who came is a folk musician and did a rendition of the “Little Drummer Boy” that has since become my favorite version of the song. Still yet, we had a people playing music on the flute and guitar, and even my daughter participated and sang “Rocking Around the Christmas Tree.” It was a truly wonderful concert filled with a little of everything.

If you were to ask different people what they thought was the best part of the concert, I guarantee each of them would have a different response as to which part moved them the most. Perhaps, for some it would be the operatic performances of “O Holy Night,” “Panis Angelicus,” “Jesus, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” or “Gesu Bambino.” For others, perhaps it was the acoustic rock performances of “Do You Hear What I Hear,” or “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” The fact of the matter was that the concert offered a little bit for every kind of taste.

The reason that was possible is because everyone who was a part of the concert, in one way or the other, came together to make it all happen. My Church hosted it, my good friend and vocal coach Chip helped me recruit many of the performers, my good friends Eugene, Andrew, Becky, Martha and Will came out to deliver solid performances. Another good friend of mine, Adam Glibert, provided the accompaniment for the show. My daughter committed herself to learning her song and sung it with great energy. In reality, the concert itself would have not been what it was if it weren’t for all of the people who dedicated themselves to it.

The same is true for us as people of faith. There are many people who come together to be the witnesses of Hope, Healing and Wholeness that God is calling us to be. By ourselves, we are not the concert that God is calling us to be. Solo acts are great in tandem with other surrounding acts; however, even solo acts are supported by other players. There is truly nothing that we absolutely do alone, which is why Paul focused the Corinthians on recognizing the importance of the other “parts” of the body of Christ.

Not one part is greater than the others. Each part serves its purpose and plays a vital role in the community of faith. Christ is challenging us to lay aside our desire to be solo acts at the cost of everyone else. Instead, be a part of the whole, working together with others to make the kind of music that God is calling you to make. Sometimes that will involve singing a solo, other times it will involve providing the harmony as a back up. Regardless, it will always involve others supporting you and you supporting them for the betterment of the whole. It is then that people will look at us and say, “Wow! Now that moves me! I want to be a part of that!”

THOUGHT OF THE DAY

“United we stand, divided we fall.” – Unknown

PRAYER

Lord, teach me to work together with others for the good of the whole. I want to be a part of your body, working with the other parts to witness to your hope, healing and wholeness. Amen.