Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Who Then Is Jesus Christ?

If it is true, as the Bob Dylan song says, we’re gotta serve somebody, how do we decide who to serve? Paul in Romans 1:1 indicates that the One he serves is Jesus Christ. But why? Paul proceeds to answer that question in the following verses. Jesus is the Son of David predicted in Scripture and was shown to be the Son of God by His resurrection from the dead. It is this which makes Him the One worth trusting in and the One worth serving. There were many significant moral teachers going around in Jesus’ day. The Jews had their rabbis and the Greeks and Romans their philosophers. If Jesus were merely one of those, then we could put Him on the shelf with all the other moral teachers of history, and He would be just one more addition to the sum of human moral wisdom. He might have founded a small school and left a few wise sayings to be quoted on appropriate occasions, but His ultimate historical significance would be minimal. 

If He were just one more claimant to the Jewish throne who claimed to be the Messiah and tried to overthrow the Roman control of Palestine and failed, He would be nothing more than an historical oddity. (Even if by some unproven accident of history His descendants became the founders of the Merovingian line of the kings of France.) If He were just some mystic who claimed to have an experience of God, He would have sunk into the huge mass of mystics down through the ages (including many in His own time) who claimed such experiences. If Christianity were just another interesting foreign religion, it would have been lost in the multitude of strange foreign religions dotting the Roman empire at the time. But Jesus was the one who fulfilled the prophecies of Scripture and rose from the dead.

Now there were many who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. But they did not fulfill the prophecies. Many of competing religions in the Empire had the idea of a god who died and was resurrected (this is not surprising since God promised from the beginning there would come One who would crush the head of the bringer of death; see Genesis 3:15). But the competing gods died and were resurrected who knows when and who knows where. Jesus was resurrected in the full light of history, with witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:1-11). This not only demonstrates that He is God come in the flesh (John 1:1-18; Colossians 2:9), but He is the One who has broken the power of sin and death (Colossians 2:10-15; Romans 3:21-28). Therefore God is able through Jesus Christ to offer forgiveness even to the chief of sinners, as Paul calls himself (1 Timothy 1:12-16). It is for this reason that Jesus Christ is the One who Paul served and should be the One we serve (Titus 2:11,12; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15; 1 Corinthians 6:20). For He is the One who is worthy of our service.

Monday, May 2, 2016

A Touch of Humor - The Accusation

When should church discipline be applied? What is its goal?

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Old Erich Proverb - Failure

No one is a failure who truly seeks to follow God.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A Voice from the Past - Bernard of Clairvaux

And first, of His title to our love. Could any title be greater than this, that He gave Himself for us unworthy wretches? And being God, what better gift could He offer than Himself? Hence, if one seeks for God's claim upon our love here is the chiefest: Because He first loved us (I John 4.19).

Bernard of Clairvaux, 1190-1153, On Loving God, Chapter 1 (CCEL internet library, Posted by Paul Halsall (HALSALL@MURRAY.FORDHAM.EDU)).

Why is it important to love God? What are the reasons for doing so?

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Bernard of Clairvaux - Mystic

There was a question that arose in the later part of the Middle Ages: How could a person be serious about following Christ in the mechanical and nominal state of the church of the time? One could join a monastery.  But by this point, even that could become routine. One could rebel against the whole system. But many were not willing to go that far. One person who tried to come up with another alternative was Bernard of Clairvaux. He spearheaded a new movement called mysticism, which, without changing the church structure, attempted to promote the idea of a love relationship between the individual and God.

Promoting a relationship between  the individual and God was a good thing. But changes in the church organization were also needed. The result of this was that, rather than seeing a love relationship with God as something every believer should have, it was seen as something reserved for the few and the elite, who had leisure to pursue it. While the established church organization tended to pump out nominal Christians like an assembly line, there were only the specialized few who pursued a deeper relationship. Now for Bernard and his immediate followers the main idea was the contemplation of the greatness of God's love. Martin Luther claimed that Bernard had a clearer idea of the love of God even than Augustine. But there were others in the movement who went to extremes, inventing complicated mental gymnastics, which even in some cases involved the harsh treatment of the body, to get to God. Some even held that God was the sum total of all things and that we were part of God and, by following their procedure, could be reunited with God. But that was the distortion of a needed positive emphasis.

Bernard was not perfect. He advocated the Crusades and preached that people should join the Second Crusade (which, through no fault of Bernard's, turned out to be a total disaster). He also worked against those who, for whatever reason, rebelled against the church organization. But his emphasis on the love of God was a much needed concept and paved the way for the Reformation. However, he was not willing to question the existing church structure; the Reformation was needed for that.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Christian Failures

It is sometimes easy to feel like a failure as a Christian. We start out in the Christian life with great plans. We are going to accomplish marvelous things for God. And somehow our life does not turn out the way we thought it would. We feel like we are caught up in the daily grind. And we have long ago given up on our dreams. Or we live for the day when we will get our act together and truly live for God. Moses found himself in such a position (see Exodus 2,3). He had thought to do what he could to help his people, the Israelites, who were enslaved by the Egyptians. But his attempts to accomplish this failed and ended in his losing his place in Egyptian  society and becoming an exile. And he ended up tending his father-in-law’s sheep in the Sinai desert. Until he encountered a burning bush.

When we think we are failures, we need to remember who our God is. One of the first things God did for Moses was to tell him His Name. God said His Name was “I Am who I Am” (Exodus 3:14). This means that God is the eternal One, the One who does not change. It also means that because He does not change, He is always faithful to His promises. What does that mean for our lives today? We must remember that if we have put our faith in Christ, He has saved us (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9) and made us His children (John 1:12,13; Galatians 4:4-7; Romans 8:14-17). He is also at work in us to change us into the people He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29). He also says He will guide and direct our lives to accomplish His purposes through them (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Romans 8:28-30). 

The problem is that God’s  purposes for our lives may not match our purposes, and God’s timing may not fit our timing. Therefore, it is important to trust God ,that He is at work in our lives right now to accomplish His purposes (Proverbs 3:5,6; Psalms  37:3-6; Isaiah 40:31). Now I am not saying we should not ask if there is something different  we should be doing to better serve God. And I am certainly not trying to justify sinful behavior that we need to admit to and repent of (Proverbs 28:13; 1 John 1:9; 2 Corinthians 7:10). But  we need to put aside the idea that we are failures and recognize that God can meet us where we are at to take us to where He wants us to be. I wish that I could promise everyone a burning bush. But sometimes we do not see the things we want coming about, at least in our lifetimes (Hebrews 11:13-16; 2 Samuel  7:1-17; Jeremiah 45:1-5). But we can trust God, that He is at work in our lives to accomplish His will.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Avoiding Hypocrisy

God hates hypocrisy. This is clear throughout Scripture (Matthew 23:25-28; Malachi 1:6-8; Isaiah 65:2-5). And our immediate response may be, “I am not like that; I am a better person than that.” Or I admit I have some places that I fall short, but give me a little while and I can fix them. But Scripture says we are all sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9). Also, it affirms we have not arrived yet, even as believers (Philippians 3:12-16; 1 John 1:8-10; Galatians 5:17). The solution, then, is to honestly admit our sin and bring it to Christ for forgiveness (Ephesians 1:7; Romans 3:24-25; 1 John 1:9). This does not mean simply condoning sin and not responding in obedience based on God’s love for us (1 John 4:19; Romans 12:1,2; 2 Corinthians 5:14-15), trusting His power to work in us to change us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Galatians 5:16). But I do think it must mean not pretending we are something we are not or trying to fake a level of holiness we have not yet attained. There is a careful balance here. Martin Luther spoke of the necessary balance between law (God’s commandments) and gospel (God’s promises of grace). Go too far one way, and we end up following our sinful desires; go too far the other, and we end up in self-righteousness and hypocrisy. 

There are a few things that help me to find that balance. The first is to remember the full content of God’s law (Matthew 5:17-48; Romans 7:7,8; James 2:10). God is interested in not just external observance, but perfect obedience from the heart. None of us has achieved that yet. Also, I need to remember that I have right standing before God not on the basis of what I have, but of what Christ has done (1 John 2:1,2; Galatians 2:21; 2 Corinthians 5:21). We need also to remember that the Christian life is a journey from the person we are to the person God is making us into, and we are not there yet (Hebrews 12:1,2; Colossians 2:19; 1 Timothy 4:8). If we do this, it will help us to be serious about changing our lives, without needing to fake that we have arrived.

This will also affect the way we deal not only with ourselves, but with other people. We will be more willing to reach out to those who need Christ, without having our own self-righteousness get in the way (Matthew 9:11-13; Luke 19:10). It will also affect how we deal with other believers who have fallen into disobedience (Galatians 6:1; Hebrews 12:12,13). For it is only when we realize that we are guilty of the same kind of things we want to judge in others (Romans 2:1,2) that we will have humility to deal with sin rightly, whether in ourselves or them.