Archive | April, 2011

Galatians: Introduction (Part 2 of 6)

25 Apr

After Jesus resurrected from the grave, He gave the Great Commission; part of it came in the form of Acts 1:8. Jesus told His followers to witness in Jerusalem (Acts 1-7), then in Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1-4), to upper Samaria (Acts 10:24-35), and finally to the outermost parts of their known world (Acts 11:19-24). So churches are springing up everywhere at this time— the New Covenant is in effect. God’s people are sharing the message of Christ (forgiveness, hope, abundant life now and eternal life later) to both Jews and Gentiles.

Since most of Christian believers and leaders are scattered, they are going everywhere– especially the Apostles. The Apostle Paul made his primary work reaching out to non-Jewish people with the message of the Jesus because some of the other Apostles were effectively taking care of the Jewish people.

So churches are being established. The Apostle Paul is traveling with a group of friends. Leaders are helping him set up communities of Christian faith throughout the Roman Empire. He takes several such trips, called missionary journeys. The first missionary journey occurred around the late 40s AD.  We read about it in Acts 13-14. Some cities mentioned on Paul’s journey are Pisidia, Lystra, and Iconium.

The gospel (the good news of Jesus’ love for all people, his forgiveness, and the possibility of abundant life now and eternal life later) is being taken to the outermost parts of the world– like it was supposed to be.  Paul has taken his first missionary journey, and goes to the area of Galatia.

Later on, he hears of some events going on there and writes a letter to those churches– in hopes of clearing up the problems there. The main problem was that, after he left, some people there began to distort the truth of his message. The book of Galatians was written to clarify what the Gospel is about and what it gives believers,

Let’s begin, reading verse 1-5.

Verse 1 clarifies that this book is an epistle, a formal style of letter. Unlike other letters in the New Testament, this one isn’t addressed to a specific person or a specific church– it’s written to a group of churches… all of which were positioned in Galatia (present-day Turkey).  The letter went out generally to all of the cities in the region, because they were all dealing with the same issues at that time.

In this verse, Paul notes that he is called “of God.” His authority is from God, not from any denomination or group who thought he was a nice guy or a human organization who gave him ordination papers.  God calls— all an organization can do is recognize a man is called.

In verse 2, Paul discusses the fact that he is not alone; there are men and women with him in his missionary travels. Paul refers to them because the Galatians know who some of those are (because these are people who traveled with him in Acts 13-14), and these others have credibility with the Galatians as well.  So Paul is saying, “we’re still here— we’re still saying the same thing.  We’re of one heart and mind on the issues we’ll discuss in this letter.” Strong Christians add to the credibility of Paul’s message— that was going on here.  And the others also cared about the Galatians and wanted to say ‘hi’ as well.

Verse 3 is a typical Pauline greeting, wishing ‘grace and peace’ to the Galatians. Grace ALWAYS precedes peace in his letters. Grace remits sin, and peace quiets the conscience.  Without grace, there can BE no peace.

In verse 4, Paul reiterates that Jesus died for sin. Sin is so vicious that only the sacrifice of Christ could atone for sin. God planned that Jesus would die for sins.  WHY? To rescue the world from itself, from self-destruction and from destroying others. Sin includes personal evil, societal wickedness, and territorial and spatial wickedness. Christ died to free people from all types of sin.

In verse 5, Paul breaks out in praise– all glory belongs to God forever and ever. Because God HAS rescued the world from evil through Christ— Christ’s work defeated the cause of evil and broke its power.

For that reason, Amen (true, yes!)

Galatians: Context (Part 1 of 6)

18 Apr

Today I’m beginning a series on a book of the New Testament called Galatians.  Each book of the Bible is indispensable and important in its own way and Galatians is no exception.

In fact, Galatians is a very important book for both professing Christians (people who think of themselves as followers of Christ) and for those who are at a point in their lives that they want absolutely nothing to do with self-righteous people, organized religion or the institutional church.

That’s because, in this book, God gives Christians the facts on what the Christian life is really all about—and helps those who aren’t Christians see that a lot of what is sometimes called the Church and that masquerades as Christian Faith actually has nothing to do with Jesus or with biblical Christianity. So, if you’re a Christian, a spiritual seeker or something in between, this study is for you— and I’m glad you’re reading.

Today, before I really get into the text of the book called Galatians, I want to help you understand the historical background that led to the writing of the book.

WHY? Why spend time on that?  Because anytime you study ANY book of the Bible, you need to understand what led to and precipitated the writing of that book.  Nothing happens in a vacuum.  God doesn’t just inspire Scripture for no reason.  There were goings on in the early days of Christianity—things that became of such a critical and serious nature that God Himself intervened and, through the agency and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, guided the Apostle Paul in the writing of this book.

The problem with that is that lots of people feel lost in the Bible, and studies like this often get a little confusing to people. For that reason, as I approach this study, I’m going to break it down into little, bite-sized pieces—and I’m going to explain it bit by bit, piece by piece and morsel by morsel, so nobody feels left in the dark.  And I’m going to try to take the complex and sometimes complicated story of the Bible and New Testament and put it in plain language that I hope you can understand.  And with that introduction, here we go!

The Old Testament Context

To understand Galatians, you must understand Judaism and the Old Testament. So that’s where I’m going to start, with a brief introduction of how the Bible and the book of Galatians fit together.

Judaism as an organized religion isn’t the first ‘organized’ religion in the history of the world, but the Judeo-Christian God (the God of the Bible) is the only God that Christians believe in and that is the one mentioned throughout the Bible. God is eternal and has always existed.  That God created humanity and all that is. God established boundaries and expectations for people, which they broke and violated. God expelled them from His presence because of their disrespect and rebellion—because their actions proved they weren’t interested in having an intimate relationship with Him. Even though God allowed people to rebel, like a loving parent, He still loved them and pursued them with forgiveness and cared for and provided for them.

Fast forward: At a certain time in history (around 1450 BC), God established a holy covenant with a man named Abraham.  Abraham had a child, Isaac.  Isaac had two sons, one of whom was named Jacob. So the God of the Bible became known as the “God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” (Genesis 32:9).  Jacob was later renamed Israel after a supernatural experience he had with God. Jacob, now Israel, had twelve sons, each of which had large families that, over time, became clans, then tribes.  Generally speaking (and this is oversimplified and not exactly the way it occurred), the dozen sons of Jacob/Israel became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. God wanted to honor the agreement He had with the descendents of His follower, Abraham.  They had been enslaved over the centuries that followed by Egypt (Exodus 2:23-25). God then rescued them from Egypt and gave them a parcel of land (called the Holy Land) that He had promised to them hundreds of years earlier.

They later became a nation under God—known as the nation of Israel (comprised of the twelve tribes of Israel)—and they were governed by God’s Law—that is, the Old Covenant, and namely, the Ten Commandments.   And when they broke the Law, they had to make blood offerings to God (Leviticus 1-7) to show sorrow for their sins and make restitution to God for what they’d done. Later, the nation had a break up, and what remained were two smaller nations—one named the nation of Judah (which was comprised of the tribe of Judah, namely the Jewish people).   God then continued to interact with them, to have His Will done on earth through that Covenant people.

The New Testament Context

Ultimately the Jewish people, as a whole, failed to keep their end of the deal, leading to a New Covenant— meaning God established an additional covenant with a new group of people, in order for His Will to be done on earth.   The original people He made this covenant with (John 12) were the Jews—but were told to include all people, particularly Gentiles (Matthew 28). So while the Old Covenant was with the Jewish people as an ethnic group, the New Covenant still honored that covenant (Romans 9-11), but introduced all non-Jews, called Gentiles, into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

How does this work?  Well, instead of breaking the Law and making offerings of animals, Christians trust in Jesus Christ who made HIMSELF an offering for sin which is why He died on the cross. After Christ was murdered and then resurrected from the dead, the church sprang into existence.  That meant Christians would no longer make offerings and do all of the things written in the Old Testament (like be circumcised as a young child or man, make animal offerings, keep certain dietary or eating regulations, and so on).  All of those things became obsolete when Christ did His work (Hebrews 8:8-18).

In Jerusalem, at a Jewish holiday called Pentecost, a few weeks after the resurrection, the Christian movement as we know it today sprang into existence and Christian bodies/churches—groups of Christians meeting together (I’m not talking about churches as-in ‘buildings’) began to be established everywhere. Over time, those churches spread throughout the then-Roman Empire. They first began as Jewish followers of Jesus (in Jerusalem, Samaria and Jewish communities elsewhere), but in time churches were established among Gentiles too—just as Christ had told them to do.

The Pauline Context

The leader who helped Gentiles (non-Jews like many of us) become introduced to Jesus was a Jewish leader named the Apostle Paul.  The primary leader who helped Jewish people find Christ was the Apostle Peter as well as James, the half brother of Jesus.

But understand this—because this is part of the key to understanding the Book of Galatians— In some churches, there were both Gentile Christians and Jewish Christians. Not only were they different ethnicities and nationalities, but were from totally different cultures, and the Jews were known to have a great sense of pride about their heritage as God’s people.  But now, as you know, God was including Gentiles in His plan—like He had ALWAYS wanted to, but the Jews failed to do.  Some Jews were jealous that God had included the Gentiles in His New Covenant—and were resistant to non-Jews coming to Jesus in the New Covenant (Acts 14:45-47).This ongoing struggle led to the situation in churches in the area of the world known as Galatia (basically current day Turkey).

In the New Testament, after the life and times of Jesus appears (in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), there is a short history of the early church (Act.s) and then the letters to the churches begin.  Those letters are called ‘epistles’ because an epistle was a type of letter writing technique at that time. Paul wrote many epistles—letters—to Christian believers, some Jewish believers and some Gentile believers. Here, in Galatians, we read of a church with both.  They were having problems understanding what the New Covenant really meant—and what God expected of people.  There was a sharp disagreement about that, and it was confusing people about the truth.

Today, people are also confused about the truth. Why?  Because Churches are often confused too.  In the next few weeks, we’ll discover the real truth about the Christian message—and it’ll help both Christians and seekers understand what the message of Jesus really was and is.

Live As If It Really Matters

11 Apr

Sometime at the end of high school or the beginning of my college years, I began to understand how important life really is.

What is life?  What does your life consist of?

Life is the cumulative effect of every decision you will ever make. We can conclude, if this is true, that decisions are important. And not “just” important… they’re ultimate. Since they’re of ultimate importance, it’s a good idea to learn to make good decisions and every decision begins in the mind.

Because of the centrality of the mind in our decision-making, I want to challenge you to explore your own thought process to see if you can improve your ability to “live as if it really mattered.”

Socrates said that the unexamined life isn’t worth living. Let’s take his advice and examine three things about our minds

Examine Your Decisions: Think about WHAT you DO.

You and I both know lots of people who live their lives as if it’s a game— like the stakes aren’t that high… never stopping to ask themselves, “WHAT AM I DOING?  WHERE IS MY BRAIN?”

The truth is that one decision you make in a moment can have lifelong ramifications— for good or bad. Those who don’t think about what they do end up making bonehead moves with a high price tag attached to them.

When was the last time you just weren’t thinking about your actions and harmed a relationship?  hurt a friend?  wounded a family member? violated another person?  dishonored your own body?  offended God?

Remember the advice of Colossians 4:5,  “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity.”  1 Peter 1:13 tells us to “Prepare our minds for action.”

Examine Your Assumptions and Beliefs: Think about WHAT you BELIEVE

Most people’s beliefs are like a patchwork quilt, a family heirloom. Passed down from generation to generation without much thought, they’re a hodge-podge of ideas from all kinds of different places. Without even realizing it, many Christians hold conflicting positions about political, social, moral, legal and spiritual issues.  Sometimes the views are so inconsistent it’s absurd, but they don’t realize it because they haven’t really thought about it.

You must have a workable philosophy of life… one that’s consistent with reality– one that’s in harmony with truth and the way things really are.  If you don’t, life will eventually cave in on you because you’re living a lie. That’s why the Apostle Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you.”

IF YOUR LIFE IS GOING TO COUNT FOR GOD, YOU HAVE TO THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU BELIEVE AND WHY.

Examine Your Thought Process:  Think about HOW you THINK

Most people don’t think much about anything… they live on autopilot. Don’t veg-out and put your mind in neutral. Don’t get so lazy mentally that you don’t think critically

When you don’t think about how you think, before you realize it, instead of your mind being transformed into a powerful tool God can use, it becomes like a lump of clay that is molded and conformed into thinking like everyone else. That’s why the Apostle Paul said in Romans 12:2 not to let your mind (your thinking) be conformed to the world, but to be transformed— to undergo a metamorphosis so you’ll know how to live like God wants.

So that’s my challenge to you today:  Live As If Life Really Mattered by:

Thinking about WHAT you DO
Thinking about WHAT you BELIEVE
Thinking about HOW you THINK

The Golden Tongued Orator: What v. How You Say It

4 Apr

In Christian history, one of the greatest speakers was known to be Chrysostom, the fourth century Church Father and Bishop of Constantinople.  Chrysostom was known as the “Golden Tongued Orator.” 

Chrysostom was a champion of great speaking and was known to deliver the best content.

As a minister and professor, no doubt, I place a high degree of importance on the “content” of my message or lecture. 

But some speakers pay attention to WHAT they will say to the neglect of HOW they say it.  In fact, some speakers have consistently neglected the development of greater speaking skill and even criticize good speaking and good speakers AS IF those speakers are less serious about their content than the less-than-stellar speaker.  That’s too bad. 

Speaking prowess is more important than one may think.  Don’t take that to mean that HOW WELL we speak is “more important” than what we say… but it’s naive to neglect your speaking and to underestimate the importance of skill. 

Preparing to Speak

Lots of preachers, teachers, and speakers of all types spend a dozen or two dozen hours of preparation for their talk, only to spend all or nearly all of it on the CONTENT (exegesis, outline, etc.) without spending much on technique or method.  Why is that? 

A book I was reading on speaking a while back reported that 93% of our impact in speaking is related to the EMOTION-PASSION and PROWESS of the speaker.  Having said that, while the “raw material” itself is crucial and all-important, that content may or may not be heard and hindered by the listener if the speaker cannot deliver the goods so it can be heard and received, then applied

The truth is that a speaker simply doesn’ t have 10 or 20 minutes to sell the audience.  In fact, you don’t have even 5 minutes.  Your  first impression is made in seconds, not minutes.  So to command an audience, you need to sell your stuff up front– hook the listener quickly, then bring the bacon. 

In other words— as a speaker, bring the HEAT, then bring the MEAT.