Thursday, October 20, 2016

What Do To With THOSE People...Part XVII

I just got home from a trip to the east coast.  We drove through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

I stayed in a hotel named after Calvin Coolidge's dad and the room where the son/president stayed had no number on it--he was a bit suspicious.  I visited Emily Dickinson's house--that was a treat.  I adore her poetry and to step into her world was lovely.  I was privileged to read one of her poems to the tour group.

I suppose my affinity with Emily is how nature was her schoolhouse, and the lessons she learned about life, death, God and immortality take my breath away.  I, too, have lived in the mountains above Boise, Idaho, and have learned much about God, His character, life and love and how His hand is never too far from His creation: "Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear." (Is. 59:1)

So, as we drove through New England, and saw the beautiful fall colors of the trees, I kept asking the Lord, "What do you want me to learn from this?"  Then, this morning, looking at my previous blog post about how we deal with people who are not aligning their lives with Biblical norms, it hit me: change is slow, uneven, and sometimes rather hidden for awhile.

As my pastor points out, we are quick to shower a new believer with God's forgiveness, but we are even quicker to throw them under the Condemnation Bus when after a while, their lives are not aligning with Biblical norms.  Yet Romans 8:1-14 sounds the clarion call:

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.

I quote this long portion for a reason.  It outlines the transformative process that we all undergo once we are born again.  It takes time for us to live according to Christ in us.  He provides the power; we must surrender each and every area of our lives to His lordship.  Some areas of our lives may be instantly conformed to Him; others will take time.  So, let's allow the trees of New England to illustrate the process.

Look at this tree.  Half is in glorious color; the other half still speaks of summer and spring, with just a hint of fall colors.  Why haven't the tree's leaves all turned at the same time?  One side was closer to some other trees; the other side was fully uninfluenced by other trees.  It had more direct sunlight but also more direct contact with the chilled air.  Within this one tree is a variety of color.

Doesn't this speak to our walk in Christ?  We have surrendered certain areas of our lives to His lordship and the glorious color of His power is evident.  We have not surrendered other areas and they still speak of the old nature, the old us.  We are changing, yes, but at an uneven rate.  Christ wants all of me, but not all of me wants Christ.  

Here is a group of trees, all next to each other.  Only one is showing evidence of the change, even though all the trees are nourished by the same soil and receive the same amount of light each day.  

Not too dissimilar from church, is it?  We sit with others who seem not to evince Christ's work in them, even though they are hearing the same pastor's message and fellowship with the same people week after week.  We show the power of Him in our lives and expect others to be experiencing the same rate of change that we have. 

But these trees have taught me a valuable lesson:  Change is uneven in myself.  It is equally so in others.

So, what do we do with those people?  We trust that the same loving God who is infinitely patient with us is likewise with them; if we don't see the change, pray that it will come through an obedient heart.  Pray for such a heart.  Condemnation never won anyone over.  

The church will face those people in every generation.  Why?  Because human nature needs to be transformed by Christ in every generation, regardless of the sin that is being expressed.  He wants us to reflect His glorious power and presence and can only do so with surrendered hearts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What Do We Do With THOSE People? Part XVI

The church, from its inception, has faced the conundrum, "What do we do with those people?" We are studying Jesus in the Old Testament through His name, Yeshua.  This ties in because if He came to bring us salvation, then who exactly is the "us"?

Yeah, I know, you're thinking, "The whole world, based on John 3:16--you should know that!" but in reality, we have always wrestled with what "the world" means and has meant throughout history.

 Let's go to the book of Acts and see this early debate:   

 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church,      including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”

So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue. At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

Can you see it?  All throughout the Old Testament, the Jews were promised salvation from their enemies, their sins and their captivity.  God's love never would fail them: "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (Lam. 3:22-23)  Each generation longed for the day of Redemption, embodied by the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 52-53.

Many Jews in that first century AD said, "It is Jesus!  Yeshua is the promised Messiah!"  Even though the Old Testament alluded to the universality of God's love, many Jews chose to stay focused on their own nation.  Jonah, for example, a prophet called to preach to those other people, the Ninevites, disobeyed God by running away rather than to have fulfilled his calling.

In that first century, Jesus became the Great Divide.

Earlier, Jesus asks the disciples who they think He is:

When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."
(Matt. 16:13-18)

Now, fast forward to the new church as chronicled in Acts.  It's no surprise it is Peter who broke the stalemate.  He declared the Messiah once before, and now here he is again, speaking to a wider audience.  Peter, in his flesh, would have preferred to keep Jesus exclusive to his people (remember the sheet with all the food on it that he was commanded to eat?) but now, under the Holy Spirit's revelation, he gets it: Jesus is for all people, for all time.

Let's take a moment to go into the mind of a good, God-fearing Jew in this first century, sitting in at this council and debating the issue:

Those people.  Those Gentiles.  They eat food sacrificed to idols (which we know are demons); they engage in public nudity at the gymnasium; they enjoy pederasty; they enjoy prostitutes; they worship gods--gods under every rock and in every tree, and their worship is equally as scandalous.  

Their orgies defy description, and their behavior, oh dear.  Their women are not modest.  They place unwanted babies outside to languish and die, all because some father doesn't want the child.  I could go on, but I am feeling nauseated. They, in a word, make me sick. 

Those people.  But here is Peter saying that the Holy Spirit, the Almighty's precious Spirit, has been given to the Gentiles, cleansing their hearts because of their faith (is it even possible for such people to even have faith?)  He is saying God is making no distinction.  It is true that the Law is a heavy burden, and I have failed more times than I can count to obey it, but those Gentiles...they don't even try to be moral!  They are steeped in sin.  But here's Peter saying their faith has saved them.  Our precious Messiah, Yeshua, has saved them.  Oh, Lord, what am I to think?  I feel as if the whole world is spiraling out of control...

Ponder this man's conundrum for awhile. Maybe you sympathize with his horror, or maybe you are aghast at his judgmental attitude.

Maybe you're thinking, Hey, lighten up, I am that Gentile.  I am the descendant of those people, and without Peter and Paul's courage to take the message outside the walls of the synagogue, I wouldn't be here.  

Now, fast forward to now.  Who are THOSE people we are debating about?  Think about this and pray.  We are not alone in this and yet the answer is the same for every generation:  Jesus.

To be continued...

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