If you are a follower of Christ, I have a question for you. How much importance do you place on gaining knowledge? Do you read all the latest books by the most popular christian authors? How about sermons? Do you spend time listening to all the podcasts by your favorite pastors? Among American evangelicals, there seems to be a certain significance placed on gaining information. I mean, it seems like everyone likes to name drop their favorite big-time pastor, or discuss the latest books by guys like Piper, Driscoll, or Groeschel. We even try to learn theology, and use big “christian” sounding words like “existentialism” or “eschatology”.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things. I listen to several different pastors' sermons online each week. I have a list of books by some great authors that I want to read. I even like to use the word “eschatology” sometimes. But there may be an aspect of all this desire to learn more, this need for information, that fails us. I'll try to make my point here quick and concise.
The problem that I have seen in others, and in my own life, is that knowing all that stuff sometimes doesn’t make a difference in us. Seriously. We read the latest book on christian living, and tell others about how good it is, yet we really don’t apply it to our lives. The same thing applies to our study of the Bible. It's easy to just read, and not actually move to application.
Now don't hear me saying that gaining more biblical knowledge is bad. That is NOT what I mean. My point is that we should apply and live out what we know, rather than making the pursuit of knowledge our end goal. Take some of the Christians who have lived under persecution in places like communist China, or Romania. I have read stories about people who have been radically saved after reading only a few pages torn from a Bible.
One pastor I was listening to recently put it like this. “the problem with learning more information is that it just means there is more stuff you know, that you have no intention of actually doing.” Or, as a line from a great Rush songs says, “the more we think we know about, the greater the unknown”.
This is especially convicting to me. There is a lot of really simple stuff that I know from the Bible, that I still have a hard time following thru with. For many of us, I'm thinking it might be good if we focus on being transformed by what we already know, rather than trying to learn something new and doing nothing with it. Try this with the Bible as well. Instead of trying to understand some deep doctrinal theology, what if we just let the simplicity of the gospel change our lives. Let the deeper stuff come as your growth allows.
Knowledge is good. A transformed life is better.
I'm a little behind with my Galatians series posts, and I apologize. I'll have a couple more in the coming week to get it up to date. It just seems that no matter how much I want it to, time just doesn't slow down! The last couple weeks have flown by and I've found myself struggling just to keep up. Our group went to the lake last weekend and had a GREAT time! We ate some awesome steaks(thanks Matt!), played games, enjoyed some time on the lake, and had a great time of worship Sunday morning. It was nice to get away. Then last Tuesday, my wife and I, and some friends went to Cedar Point. Its been 20 years since I had been there. I learned one thing. My mind may be willing, but my body does not respond to the coasters the way it once did! Again just another reminder that time keeps right on rolling along.
And today marks another reminder of that same time issue. As I write this, I have just finished loading the van with Carissa's (our second oldest daughter) stuff to take to college. And again I find myself sitting here wondering where time has gone. I swear it was just a few months ago that she was wearing that cute orange sweater for her preschool pictures. And I'm sure it was just a few weeks ago that she had that huge grin as she held up her first largemouth bass at the lake.... wait...that was like seven years ago.
Oh yeah. Caylan, our oldest, is in Florida right now with her best friend (and our "adopted" daughter) Dani, enjoying some fun before going back for her second year of college. And again I wonder. Where has time gone?
Dawn and I just celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary(ice-cream at TasteeTwirl!). Seriously? It can't go that fast!
But it does. Time is one of the few things in our lives that never changes. It keeps right on rolling along, and doesn't even hit the brakes.
It's this reality that reminds me... We only are alotted a certain precious amount of time, and no-one knows just how much. So live well... love others... and love Jesus. Actually, love Jesus first. Then it's much easier to do the other two.
And let me encourage you with this. Live with reckless abandon for Jesus. If you sense his leading, DON'T hesitate. JUMP with both feet! As time marches on, dont let the regret of missed opportunities to serve him creep up on you. The exhilaration of living fully submitted to Him is better than that first big drop on any coaster!
As we move into Galatians chapter two, the apostle Paul is still making his argument against the Judaizers, those holier than thou enemies of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. He has spent the first chapter defending himself against their false testimonies, and now he brings out the big guns in chapter two, and proceeds to shoot holes in their argument.
The issue that they are pushing is this. They say that any gentile who wants to become a Christian must first agree to follow the Mosaic laws, and get circumcised. And Paul says no, you don’t have to do that stuff anymore. Jesus changed all that. But they are continuing to persuade the believers in the Galatian church that Paul is not preaching the same gospel that the "true" apostles would teach. They were talking about Peter, James (the brother of Jesus), and John. They liked to throw the names of these guys around like they were best buds or something, and they tried to prop up their false version of the gospel by saying that the "Big Three" agreed with them.
So Paul sets out for Jerusalem to set everything straight, and he takes Barnabas and Titus with him. Barnabas was a good character witness for Paul, since he was the one who repped Paul with the other apostles when he was first converted. And he took Titus as an object lesson.
See, Titus was a Greek. A gentile. He was the pastor of the church in Crete, and a very reputable leader. He was a genuine follower of Christ. And he was uncircumcised.
So Paul stands Titus before the Guys in Jerusalem, and asks, "What do you do with Titus here? He’s a respected church leader. Are you saying he’s not legit, just because he has a little extra skin?"
Ultimately, the other Apostles confirm Paul, and stand with him in his presentation of the Gospel, and the Judaizers' arguments are busted.
The issue that Paul was warning the Galatians about specifically was law and circumcision. But ultimately, this was an issue of culture over the Gospel. These false teachers were trying to adapt the gospel to fit their culture, and that doesn’t work.
Jesus stands above culture. He is always relevant, but he is never CHANGEDby culture.
Today, we fight the same issues as Paul did in Galatia, only in different forms. People try to change the gospel to make it more "appealing" to different cultures or generations. They water it down, stretch it, bend it or add to it. And we, as real, committed, followers of Jesus Christ, should never give in to those who want to change Jesus for their own benefit.
Paul says in Galatians 2 vs.5:
"We did not give in to them for a moment so that the truth of the Gospel might remain with you".
Stand firm. Don’t give in. Not even for a minute.
In Galatians 1:11-24, we find the apostle Paul defending his own apostolic authority. We can tell by Paul’s statements in this passage what kinds of questions were being asked. The Judaizers were saying that either he himself made up what he was preaching, or he learned it from someone. They were also calling in to question whether Paul even had the authority to teach as an apostle. They knew that if they could discredit him as an apostle, they could shut his ministry down. If he has no authority, then why listen to him, right?
In Verse twelve, Paul says "I did not receive it (the Gospel) from any man, nor was I taught it, rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ".
Then he goes on to tell about the transformation that took place in his life. Paul, who was once filled with hatred against the Christian church and aggressively persecuted them, had met Christ on the road to Damascus.
And he was transformed.
Here is how Paul relates his experience to the Galatians:
"For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus." Galatians 1: 15-17
As I studied this passage, there were three points of truth that made an impact on me.
The first is that people can be very passionate about an idea or set of beliefs, but that doesn’t make that idea true. When Paul (then Saul) was persecuting the church, he was as passionate about his beliefs as anyone could be, but he was wrong.
1 John 4: 1 says:
"Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world."
The second truth is also clear from Paul’s writing. Paul was not saved by his own will, or by any human influence. He was saved because God was the active agent. God can and will save whomever he wants, whenever he wants. And here is the difficult part for many of us. I know that I have struggled with having views of certain people that, because of their lifestyle or their personality or attitude seemed "unsaveable". We write them off as if God is powerless to do anything with them. The fact is that when Paul was persecuting the Church, many people would have viewed him in the same way that we might view a Bin Laden or even Hitler. He was that militant against Christians. If Paul was alive today he would be considered a terrorist. And yet God saved him. What does that say about how we view those "unsaveable" people? Is God "mighty to save", or do we just sing that song because its catchy? I’ll let you wrestle with that one.
And thirdly, I kept coming back to the fact that this book, and every other book in the Bible for that matter, is about truth. Paul is saying to the Galatians "I am giving you the truth, but you are also hearing lies, and you have to decide". This is not something you can avoid or ignore.
The same principle holds true for us as we read Paul’s letters. We are presented with his argument that what he writes is GODS WORD, and we have to make a choice. There are those, even today, who like to discredit some of Paul’s writing, saying things like "that’s just his opinion", or "some of what he says is just not culturally relevant now". Here’s the problem. Paul wrote 13, possibly 14 of the books in the New Testament. That is HALF of the entire New Testament. We as well must listen to Paul’s argument that his teaching is the revealed word of God and decide. If What Paul was preaching to the Galatians was not true, then what do we do with the other 12 or 13 books he wrote. It is all truth, or it is all a lie. There is no middle ground.
A little something to think about.
On Sunday as I sat listening to Pastor Jeff preach on patience, he made a statement that got my mind wandering. I can’t remember his words exactly, but his statement had to do with the time we have on this earth, and how we should wait patiently on the Lord.
Its not that I stopped paying attention to what he was saying at that point, but I just couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of how much time we have in life.
The scriptures are clear in teaching us that our every breath is God ordained- that each moment of our existence is orchestrated by him, and that when he sees fit to allow our heart to beat its last, there is nothing we can do to change that.
The same can be said for Christ’s’ return. Men have tried to figure out what day and hour he would return, and those days have come and gone, and the world continues to turn. People have tried to predict his return for centuries. That predicted day came and went and now their bones are turning to dust in graves that remain sealed. The Bible says that he will return "as a thief in the night". In other words, it will be a surprise. The truth is, we don’t know. It could be soon, or it might not.
So here is the thought that has been haunting me. IF Christ chooses not to return in my lifetime, it means I am going to die. I have no other choice. Now, I could die in my sleep tonight. Or maybe next week. Maybe next year I’ll be stricken with an illness that will take my life. Maybe in five years I’ll die in a car accident. No one knows. Let’s say that I live to a healthy old age and die a peaceful, natural death. What’s an average age for a healthy male these days? Eighty-two? Eighty-five? MAYBE ninety? If I look at it this way, since I’m forty-three now, I might have forty more years to go.
So if Jesus chooses to hold off for that long, and I stay healthy and out of car accidents for that long, best case scenario is I have NO MORE than fifty years until I will be standing before the throne. Think about that! In the next forty-five to fifty years, I AM going to see Jesus, whether I’m ready or not. Now I don’t know about you, but these last forty odd years have went by like a flash.
The inevitable reality of meeting Jesus has somehow became more tangible and real for me. And this is a best case scenario. What if it is this week, or this year or the next?
The reality is that I have to ask myself if I am ready. Have I done the things that he wanted me to? I don’t want to have to stand before him and wish I had done more with the time he gave me. I’m not sure how I would measure up now, and knowing that pushes me to live better, love more, and be less selfish. It makes me want to be more submissive to what he has called me to do, and hold onto things in this world a little less tightly.
So my question to you is this….. If you really had to face the reality of how little time each of you has till you stand before a holy God, is the life you live a reflection of that, or are you more concerned about temporary things?
Now there is something to chew on.
Hey! We are finally in the process of getting things rolling with this new website. Jeff has done a great job getting it going. For those of you who have read my blogs before, this is where you will find any future postings, as I will be not be posting to the old blog.
So has the thought ever occured to you that in one way or another, everything is broken or in the process of breaking? I mean really. Name for me one thing in life that doesnt blow up, dry up, rust out, fall apart, burn up or get torn down, at least in some form or another.
This realization has become even more clear to me in the last couple weeks. On top of having so many items on the to do list that I may have to get a three ring binder to keep up with the list, I started running. No, not for office, and not from my wife either. Running as in willingly making your body hurt. Even though I just turned 43, this is not a mid-life crisis thing either. I have several reasons for doing this, none of which have anything to do with the point here, so I wont mention them. what I do want to touch on is this. The first day of "training", i thought I'd start out light, and just run an "easy" mile. Now mind you, I've always thought of myself as being in pretty decent physical shape, or at least good enough shape that I could handle a mile. As I neared the half mile mark, my lungs felt like they were going to explode through my chest, all the blood in my body rushed to my face, and I swear I could hear my heart pounding over the sound of Twelve Stones playing in my headphones. I was finished! I had to walk the rest of the mile, and even that took some determination. I was ashamed! How could this happen? I mean, when I was in junior high I could run a mile in like six minutes. Oh Yeah. That was thirty years ago. I guess things change.....or break down.
As I tried to regain first my breath, and then my dignity, some thoughts started floating through my mind. I started thinking about how it seems like everywhere you look in life, you can find things that are falling apart. The economy, world affairs, big businesses,and small mom 'n pop shops, and things like families and marriages, and yes, even our bodies. We see things everywhere that indicate that the world is in a constant state of decay.
I thought maybe it was just a fluke and tried to run again the next day, and got a little further...like a couple hundred yards. I was frustrated. On top of that, there were some things that needed done around the house that only added to the frustration....A water leak around a couple of windows which required removing the siding on the house just to name one. Why does everything have to fall apart!
Why does everything seem to be going to hell?!
And then I heard that still small voice. Do you know what it said? It was very simple. It said.... "that is why you need me".
Thank you God, for giving us hope. Thank you for Jesus.
Yes, there is hope. Hope for something better to come, thats far better than this decaying world.
Oh and by the way. I just ran two miles tonight and felt pretty good!
OK here's the deal. A couple weeks ago I preached a message on missional living, and one of the main scriptures I used was Romans 12:1-2. It went pretty well, but there is a point that keeps sticking in my head about that particular passage.
I know that typically this passage is used to illustrate what our heart attitude should be. It's used in messages that deal with worship, and being "in the world but not of it". All of this is completely accurate, useful and true. But one word in that first verse stands out to me...."sacrifice".
You know how there are always particular passages of scripture that just seem to stick with you. They seem to always come to mind at the strangest times, or you just seem drawn to them for some unexplainable reason? For me, this is one of those. Lately, I just can't seem to get it out of my head (not like I'm trying to forget it.... you know what I mean). It's just that God has made this more apparent in my mind, maybe for reasons only He knows. Anyway, back to sacrifice.
I have to wonder if the Apostle Paul didn't use the word sacrifice for a reason that we may sometimes miss. It's true that there is the whole concept of "dying to one's self" at work here, and I think that is how this passage is typically interpreted . The idea of sacrificially giving of one's self... giving up our own desires to follow Him is normally what we take away from this, and that interpretation is absolutely correct. However, there may be something else at work here. You see, Paul wrote this in a time when people would have been very familiar with the idea and practice of sacrificing animals to God. They knew that even though it was something that was commanded by God in the books of the Law, it was messy and ugly. When the people in the Roman Church heard Paul's words, their minds would have instantly pulled up images of what sacrifice was. Even the Gentiles in the church who would not have made sacrificing animals on an alter part of their lives would surely still have known what it was all about.
When an animal was sacrificed, there was blood and pain and yes, even if only briefly, some suffering, and then death. Death does not always come quick and painlessly. Who should we ask that would know about that kind of death..... maybe Jesus comes to mind? When Paul wrote these words, Jesus' death was only 60 years or so past. The people no doubt would have still been very aware of the crucifixion of Jesus, and I can't help but wonder if that's not what Paul wanted them to be thinking about.
So let me just sum it all up like this. Paul himself knew all too well how painful it could be to walk the path of Jesus. Sometimes, it even involved spilling his own blood. It is more than just giving up our own desires to follow the path of Christ. Sometimes we Christians today set back and lament over how much we "sacrifice" for Christ.... one night a week..... a couple hours of our time on Sunday. Maybe even some material possession that we really wanted, but "gave up" so that we could be good and tithe. I'm not necessarily convinced that that's how Paul intended that verse to play out.
Sometimes following Jesus can be painful and messy and hard. In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says "blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness". Later He teaches about the cost of following him, and he tells his disciples that "men will hate you because of me".
Paul could have used any number of words when he wrote that sentence to the Romans, but I believe he chose his words very carefully. Following Jesus is not some small, insignificant decision. It may be at great cost, and he wanted to make it clear that if we really understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, we would be prepared to do the same for him.
Not trying to be too heavy here...... I'm just sayin'....
The truth is.... truth..... what IS truth? I sometimes wonder if we really understand what that word means anymore, let alone practice it, or God forbid we actually live by it.
It has become so accepted to bend the truth to conform to our standards that we cant even be honest with each other about how we feel. We tell each other what we want to hear. Maybe it's like that famous line by Jack Nicholson. "You want the truth.... you can't handle the truth".
I don't know. I suppose I'm just as guilty as anyone else when it comes to the truth and honesty. Our society has done a fine job of convincing us that there is no honor in truth. That if bending the truth a little gets you out of a jam, it can't hurt. That if being dishonest gets you the job, it's just business. That if cheating on a test gets you a better grade, well you know.... it's the end result that matters. That "forgetting" about that extra little bit of income on you taxes will get you a little bit more on your return..... ouch. We have become so prone to stretching, bending, or even blatantly destroying the truth that I'm not sure we really know who we are anymore.
I am currently involved in a situation where two parties (both Christians, by the way) are at odds, and one of them (I don't KNOW which) HAS to be lying. This isn't just a difference of opinion, or a disagreement. By nature of the situation, there can only be one right story, the other is completely false. As I have watched this happen, I have found myself wondering how we as a people, God's people, have come to accept half truths and lies as the norm. I know... you say that this is nothing new, and that is true. In Acts chapter five, Ananias and Sapphira hit the floor dead because they lied. Peter's denial of Christ was a lie. We have a whole Bible full of liars and cheats. The question is, have we learned anything from them?
Here is the point to all this. The Bible is truth. Every word in it is truth. Think of how many times you read the words of Jesus and he starts out saying " I tell you the truth...". If we live in such denial of the truth in our daily lives, and if we have gotten so used to making the truth fit nicely into our own self-centered lives, I wonder.... do we believe the truth in Gods Word? Do we really believe what Jesus says?
Jesus said in John 8: 31-32, "If you hold to my teaching, then you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free"
If the truth sets us free, I'm afraid that there are a lot of people walking around in bondage right now. I don't know about you, but I want to live free. I want to live by truth, and for truth.
By the way, I want say that I'm already in line with all the other sinners to ask forgiveness and ask for strength to live by truth. Care to join me?