Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A School Bus, The Law and Faith

Well, Biblical Hermeneutics is behind me.  I achieved an 83%.  I am happy with that only because I got sick and missed one class which is an automatic 5% deduction.  I wanted to go to school that night, but I didn't want to infect my classmates, so I "took one in the gradebook" so to speak!

My final exam was to prepare a short sermon, which I thought we would be delivering, but it turns out our professor wanted it scripted, so I've written it, it's now been graded so I feel I can share it with you.

For those of you supporting me, I received all of my text books for my next class through your generous donations, THANK YOU!  ON the tuition front, I am still shy of covering my first semester, and the deadline is approaching, but I'm trusting God to provide.  If He's tapping you on the shoulder, and you'd like to contribute, click on the blue "Go Fund Me" button on the right side of the screen.  And Thanks Again.  Your ongoing support is MUCH appreciated.  If you are new, click on the "My Story" button above and read why I am back in school at the ripe young age of 45.

My short Sermon...

A School Bus, The Law and Faith
[Open with Prayer…]
There once was a little boy who went to school on his first day of Kindergarten.  His mom put him on the bus in the morning and told him, “After school, you just look for me right here at the corner, and you’ll know where to get off the bus…”  Well.  After school, his Mom wasn’t at the bus stop.  The boy knew it was his stop, he could see his house, he knew this was his street, but when he looked out the window at corner, he didn’t see his Mother.  So he stayed on the bus.  He figured she would be there the next time they passed by.  After all, he had seen the school bus many times each day at that corner.  Maybe he thought the bus just kept going in a big circle all day…  But for whatever reason he chose not to get off of the bus.  Not too much later, the bus was empty, except for that little boy, who realized the bus was not going back to the stop at which he should have gotten off the bus.  He didn’t want to get in trouble, so he did what any self-respecting five year old would do.  He hid under the seat so the driver wouldn’t see him.
I don’t remember a lot of the details of that day.  I know the story because my mother has told it several times.  What I do remember is that my mother arrived at some point shortly thereafter and we were reunited.
I’ll get back to why I share that story in a few minutes, but right now, please open your bibles and turn with me to Galatians.  We are going spend most of our time today in Galatians so drop a book marker or one of your bible’s ribbons into Galatians so you can get back there quickly.  Let’s start in Galatians 1:6 to establish and understand Paul’s reason for writing to the Galatians.  Paul says, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.”  (NIV)
Paul is writing to the Galatians because they have wandered from the gospel that he had preached to them when he was there.  In the next few verses Paul declares that the gospel he preached to them is the true Gospel and if anyone, even himself, tries to teach a different gospel, they should be cursed, not listened to.  Paul is very emphatic that there is only one true Gospel and it is the one he shared with them previously, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Paul then goes on to reiterate some of those teachings, one of which we are going to look into in a little more detail.
Now, let’s fast forward into this letter to the Galatians and move forward to chapter 3.  The Galatians were dealing with false teachers who were spreading a gospel of conformity to the Jewish laws and traditions.  They were spreading a gospel that said in essence; In order to have a relationship with Jesus Christ you must adhere to a set of laws.  I think this teaching had taken root in the churches of Galatia because Paul spends a good deal of time discussing what the law is, why it was given, and why it was important.  Paul does not deny the law, nor does he deny the good that came from the law, but he does declare that the law was given to direct people to Jesus, not the other way around.
Turn with me to Galatians 3:23 – 29, which is the passage from which we will draw today’s lesson. 
Galatians 3:23 – 29
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed.
24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.
25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith,27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (NIV)
“Before the coming of this faith”.  This is a new thing, this Gospel of Faith that Paul is preaching.  Especially faith in a man.  Well, it’s not really “new”, the Jewish people had been looking forward to a Messiah for many, many years.  So the concept isn’t “new”, but the fact that what they had waited for so many years had finally come to fruition was indeed “new”.  We have all looked forward to something for a long time, and then when it finally came, it was almost hard to believe the day had come.  Weddings are like this, we plan and plan, for what seems like a very long time.  Trish and I were engaged for almost two years, and when our wedding day finally came, it was hard to believe it was finally here.  This is what it must have been like for the Jews of Jesus’ day, only they had been waiting for GENERATIONS!  Years were short, they had been waiting hundreds of years.
Many people had preconceived notions of how their Messiah would arrive and as a result, many did not believe Jesus Christ was who he claimed to be because He had not come as they expected him to.  “Before the coming of this faith”.  Jesus IS the faith he refers to at the end of this sentence, it IS the faith that was TO come and WOULD be revealed.  Only at the time Paul is writing, he refers to a PAST belief that this faith was coming and would be revealed.  But it is no longer necessary to speak of this faith in the past tense.  This faith that was coming HAS NOW BEEN Revealed.
SO, what was it that was BEFORE the current faith?  Look at the scripture, “Before the coming of this faith, we WERE held in custody under the law”… We are no longer held in custody under the law, we WERE held in custody under the law, but now that the faith that was to come has been revealed, we are NOW in a different state of being.  We are no longer “held in custody”.
Let’s continue with verse 24.  “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.”  Remember my opening story.  Wouldn’t it have been a much better situation for me if my mother had hired someone to get me to and from school?  You know, someone who took me to school.  Maybe actually ride the bus with me and make sure I got to school like I was supposed to, and then that same person was there to escort me home.  Again to ride with me on the bus and to make sure I actually got off of the bus, and got me home again safely to my mother?  I know my mother would have liked that!  When Paul wrote to the Galatians this was actually done!  The wealthy of Paul’s day would hire servants to do just that.  They hired “guardians” to get the boys to and from school.  Some bible translators translate Paul’s original word here differently, but I think the NIV comes closest to Paul’s intent.
What was the PURPOSE of the law?  “The law WAS our GUARDIAN”, it was there to “get us to and from school safely”.  How long was its purpose valid?  “Until Christ came that we might be Justified by Faith.”  The reason for the law was not to suppress us, it was not to punish us, it was to give us guidance, and to protect us until He who could justify us had come and made it possible to be justified through faith.  Once the little boys had grown and were responsible there was no need for a guardian.
Christ provides a better means of justification, we are justified by our faith in Him.  We are made right in God’s eyes, not by adhering to a set of rules, but by having Faith in the redeeming work of the blood of Jesus.  THAT is the Gospel Paul referred to at the beginning of the letter, the gospel of Faith in Christ Jesus.  We can ALL be children of God through faith.  Look at verse 26 and 27 with me, “26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”
We have been covered by Christ, we have been buried to our old sinful nature and we have risen again to new life.  For ALL of you who were baptized into Christ. This is pretty clear, those who have done this, those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ are children of God through their faith.
Why does Paul make such a big deal of this?  He repeatedly refers to Abraham’s “Seed” and the children of Abraham’s Promise vs. the children of law.  The children of the Law were the Jews who were being kept safe by that law until Christ came.
Then Paul hit them hard.  He hit them where it hurts.  He called them out on their societal misgivings.  You see, at this time in history, it was common for people of one race to hate those of another.  It was common for free men to believe they were better than slaves, and in every class of society from the wealthy free to the poor slaves, women had few if any rights.  And this was all part of their culture.  IT was OK to have these thoughts and these feelings.  Remember Jesus’ parable of the “Good Samaritan”, Everyone respected these differences, even the Priests and the Rabbis and few people thought twice about hating someone else because they were of a different society, class, race, or gender.  It was into THIS atmosphere that Paul said in verse 28, “28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (NIV)
Is Paul saying there are no differences between races, gender, and wealth?  NO.  There are obvious differences, but even those obvious differences are no excuse to hate one antoher, but that is a different lesson… what he is saying is that in Christ Jesus we are all equal.  We are all able to receive the same Grace, the same Justification through Faith.
And lastly, Paul says this.  Verse 29, “29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” (NIV)  We have been adopted in the family of God.  An heir is one who is very closely related to the person to whom he or she is an heir.  My parents were foster parents for years and many children came through our home and my mother and father loved on every one them as if they were part of the family.   But my parents did not change their will every time a new child came into our home.  Those children, while being loved by us as if they were a part of our family, were not actually part of the family.  However, when my parents adopted our last foster child, one of the first things they did was to revise their will to add Leon as an heir, equal to myself, my sister, Tracey and my brother, Jeremy.  I did the same when I adopted my two girls.
“If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
It is always my desire when I teach that the Holy Spirit speaks through me and reaches one who is hearing what He has given me to bring to you.  If you know Jesus Christ as your personal savior.  If you know the justification he can bring, PRAISE GOD!!  You ARE an HEIR!!  But if you don’t know Him personally, if you don’t know his Grace, if you don’t know His LOVE, Please speak with me afterwards.  It is Jesus’ desire that ALL come to know His saving grace.  That every man, woman and child come to know him, and to love him, and if you need to know that love, if you need to know that forgiveness, know this… He wants YOU.  He LOVES YOU more than words could ever convey.  That is why he gave us more than his words, he gave up life for us.
Let us pray…
[Close with Prayer…]

Thursday, October 4, 2012

American Values & The Bible

 One of my assignments was to write an essay about American Values and how they relate to the bible's instruction...  Following is my essay...

While the United States may have been founded on Christian Principles and Values, it is hard to find Christian values in the things that seem to be important to Americans today.  America today is very individualistic.  There is little about today’s society that is not a reflection of a mentality of “Every man for himself” and “May the best man win”.

We have also become a very secluded society, a society where we can literally wake up in the morning, get in our car (parked in our garage of course), go to work, come home at the end of the day, pull into our garage and never once see our neighbors.  We don’t even need to get out of our cars to open the garage door anymore, a little button and an electric motor keep us from ever having to interact with those we live close to, if we so choose.

A drive through most neighborhoods with homes built in the past 30 years will confirm this.  Almost every home will have a garage (many of them a two car garage revealing another value) that prominently faces the street.  The homes will be large, but there will likely be a very small front porch if there is one at all.  We don’t sit out on our porches and interact with our neighbors there as we did in days past.  But those same homes will have large patios or decks in the back of the home, behind a fence, secluded from the neighbors, for the enjoyment of the family that lives there.

Drive through a neighborhood with homes built 30-60 years ago, and the homes will be smaller, the garage will most likely be detached and in the back of the house, if there is a garage.  The homes will have large front porches and wide welcoming steps, and tiny back yards.  Homes used to be built toward the back of a lot leaving the majority of the lot facing the street, welcoming visitors.  These neighborhoods reveal what was important to the inhabitants of those neighborhoods when they were built.

We do, generally, interact with others at work, but many people wear masks at work that hide who they really are.  We keep our work lives and our personal lives separate.  We get uncomfortable talking about personal things in the workplace.  We have become so worried about appearances that many of us don’t even know who we are, let alone who anyone else is.  We are immediately labeled by anyone who sees us by what we are wearing, how our hair is cut, what car we drive, our accent, or any number of other superficial things.

Recently, we have become so preoccupied with the value of diversity that we hold our beliefs in reserve so as to “not offend” anyone whose beliefs are different than ours.  We have fooled ourselves into believing that this is a means of accepting those who are different, by suppressing those things about us that are different.  However, in doing so we have destroyed that which made us diverse to begin with, our differences.  If diversity were a box of crayons, we who value diversity should be excited about having the big box of crayons, the one with 64 colors and a sharpener!  But instead, we have become so concerned about offending anyone with differing beliefs that we have learned to hide those things which make us diverse so as to be able to accept one another, and rather than being a box full of color, we have become a box full of gray.

How do we stack up to Scripture?  I wrestle with that question all the time from a personal perspective, how do I stack up to scripture?  It would be so much easier if the Bible instructed us to build communes and segregate ourselves from society.  If we were to live only with those who thought like we did, and acted like we did.  But scripture is pretty clear, we are to be a light in the darkness, we are to be in the world but not of it, we are called to be the salt of the earth.  Well it’s hard to be those things if we seclude ourselves in a small community.

That said, the bible also talks about communal living, of everyone giving all they have to the community and taking what they need from the communal “pot” as needs arise.  But is that instruction that is intended to be a truth than spans the ages?  Is this a universal truth of the bible like God’s love for us?  Or of his command that we “Go and preach the gospel”?  Or of his Greatest command, that we are to “Love our neighbor”?  It is these very types of questions that makes discerning the truth of the Bible so very important.

For those of you who have supported me financially, THANK YOU!  If you've been meaning to, now would a great time to do so.  I have a bill coming due in four weeks for my next class.  I also have four textbooks to purchase in the next three weeks!  If you would like to purchase a textbook for me, you can go to Amazon and see my wish list HERE.  There is one book (Living Your Strengths: Discover Your God-Given Talents and Inspire Your Community) for which I NEED a new copy.  It is noted on the right side of the wish list.  There is one that is a Kindle Book (Eugene Peterson's, The Pastor), and two others.  If there are used copies available, that is fine.

Again, Thank You all so much, your support is the only way I am able to follow God's Call.

Until His Work in Me is Complete,