Monday, April 09, 2007

Learning from NASCAR?

A new experience for me is the world of NASCAR. My son's enthusiasm has captured me and I am finding myself researching and buying items from the latest and greatest NASCAR drivers.

The last NASCAR Nextel Cup race at Martinsville (4/1/07) ended very dramatically. Two teammates fought for the checkered flag--Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon. Johnson crossed the finish line while not budging for his teammate (and co-owner) to pass him by. This end generated some tasty gossip on Gordon and Johnson's relationship, emphasizing Gordon's anger. I couldn't help but get caught up. I found a quote from ESPN.com on NASCAR driver ethics:

"If helping you doesn't hurt me, I'm happy to do it. If helping you might hinder my chances of winning, sorry pal, you're on your own."

Reading that quote made me think that this sort of thinking is very typical of competitors of all sorts, including individuals in society and church.

Now, think about this quote after Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Most people think about their spirituality in terms of the NASCAR driver. They/we think that helping others must both benefit another and myself simultaneously. Do you think about giving, sharing, helping in terms of a NASCAR driver? Jesus, and the church at its best, seeks to give and love for the sake of the other's need and benefit. If we have a cup of cold water, we should give it to the one who is thirsty. If that is our last then we have something to think about--should I love my neighbor or love myself?

I hope the racing ethics remain on the track and stay out of my church and spirituality.

Monday, October 23, 2006

merit and faith

In Galatians 2:15-21 I hear desperation. I understand the difficulty of trying to reconcile our moral life with the scandal of the cross of Christ. It seems to be a continuing temptation to show to others one’s positional standing before God—for one reason or another. However, Galatians speaks to the fact that to be righteous or just before God is beyond our ability to demonstrate. Our attempt to live like people who are thought to be upright (law observers or law workers) are empty and vain, especially if we think that will make us more acceptable before God. Our attempts to avoid sin for the sake of leading a moral life keeps us from God just as much as our flagrant sinning. In other words, Paul’s words seem to imply this as common sense, “we know that a person is not justified by works of the law” (Gal 2:16). If living a life according to a principle or life system of law cannot guarantee God’s favor for you, is it better to live an immoral life?

It would seem that Jesus’ death for sinners and security apart from earning acceptance is a license to live without care for others. But that is not the case at all—“Certainly not!” proclaims Galatians 2:17. Each individual is incapable of giving to God what is even acceptable. The cross of Christ comes truly as grace. It comes as pure mercy. God gives and accepts Christ. Our acceptance with God will never come apart from Jesus and his merits.

The life of faith begins and ends with God. God created this world and despite our misuse of it and the law he gave to teach humanity about himself and our relation to the world, God sent his son to complete the law. Jesus never stopped being God, nor was he a super-human. Christ, the God-man, was fully God and fully man pleasing God for the whole of humanity. Whoever recognizes the futility of their own merits and wants this too-good-to-be-true story to be their story—whoever wants to be found faithful to God—must believe and do nothing but trust in the incomparable merits of the savior, Jesus.

The desperation of the message of Galatians is one for faith. Elsewhere in the New Testament faith is understood as unseen. Faith is the opposite of works. Faith is the gift of God and the means by which we trust God and the truthfulness of the gospel proclamation.

Today, I hope to revive a sense of faith. With the elections coming up around the corner and the continual reminder of people’s failures, it is faith that enables belief. We don’t believe in a cause, not even a good cause. We believe in Jesus Christ and him crucified for us, and us with him for God’s glory and our ultimate good. May the Spirit of God stir faith up in us to believe God and find comfort where it CAN be found, in the gospel of Jesus.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Calvin on "the truth of the gospel"

In keeping with the tone of being shaped by the gospel, I noticed how Paul's rebuke of Peter and Barnabas and those with them was a correction over the kind of life that the gospel produces. Peter and those with them were behaving in ways that did not align with "the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14). In fact, the Greek word utilized in this section is the one we ultimately in English derive the term 'hypocrite.' I take from this that it is really a challenge to allow the gospel to define and transform our lives. Gospel transformation is not natural. And Galatians 2:11-14 reveals how even the one whom Jesus said he would build his church upon, upon his confession of the truth of who Jesus was and the purpose for his coming. This man, Peter--Cephas, was vulnerable in the same way we all are, susceptible to the temptation of fitting in at the expense of the truth of the gospel. In some ways, we all want to act in a 'seeker sensitive' kind of way. We don't want to offend. It is funny that sometimes the offense is not in the fact that we are different or believe differently, but in the way we seek to be like others--this may not only be a sin, but also condescending toward those whom we want to accept us. In either or any case, we ought to live in ways the gospel leads because it is the truth. Calvin has some great words on verse 14. I have decided to include his comment on this phrase for all of us to think about and learn from:

"The truth of the gospel is here used, by Paul, in the same sense as before, and is contrasted with those disguises by which Peter and others concealed its beauty. In such a case, the struggle which Paul had to maintain must unquestionably have been serious. They were perfectly agreed about doctrine; but since, laying doctrine out of view, Peter yielded too submissively to the Jews, he is accused of halting. There are some who apologize for Peter on another ground, because, being the apostle of the circumcision, he was bound to take a particular concern in the salvation of the Jews; while they at the same time admit that Paul did right in pleading the cause of the Gentiles. But it is foolish to defend what the Holy Spirit by the mouth of Paul has condemned. This was no affair of men, but involved the purity of the gospel, which was in danger of being contaminated by Jewish leaven"--John Calvin, Commentary on Galatians

Monday, October 16, 2006

Defined by the gospel

In Galatians 2:1-10, Paul continues his autobiography, which serves more to authenticate his own apostleship than to teach the church about their individual vocations. It is, accordingly, not a how-to section of Scripture. It doesn't help us connect the dots on our personal callings. Rather, it presents a life separated for the sake of the church to know God better, God in Christ for the world.

Paul's life reveals how the gospel shapes lives. We will not be apostles, but we will be impacted and transformed by the same gospel of Jesus Christ that Paul experienced. With that in mind, I see in the 10 verses that the message is extremely important. I feel a bias against theology a lot, which undermines what God reveals to us in Paul's life. The people who spied on Paul to see if he was teaching the "right" gospel thought his teaching and actions produced by such teaching were important. Isn't funny that critics of the faith are more mindful of what we think and teach than we are a lot of the time? Verse 5 communicates the fact that preserving the message of the gospel for the church was more important than wooing the enemies of the faith (in this situation):

"Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in--who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery--to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you" (Gal. 2:4-5,).

This message, and its defense, is what distinguished Paul from the other apostles as well as made him worthy (in their eyes) to be included as one of them. His lifestyle, described as "freedom," was a consequence, a necessary consequence, of the teaching of the gospel. To get the gospel, then, means to get free. To become free means that you are not obligated or under the authority of that which controls you. This is sort of obvious and revolutionary at the same time. If we understand the message of the gospel, we understand that God is King. Christ is the head of the church and our relation to others is one of voluntary service, a movement of love, a movement characterized by eagerness to help another because we have been helped so much. And this is why verse 10 reads the way it does, sort of matter-of-fact or what we as we might say, "duh": "they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do."

Think about the gospel. Take it in in all its fullness. For, in the message of the gospel there is freedom for you and for you to serve others. The movement of the kingdom is not one of slavery or compulsion or manipulation, but one of liberty and love. Being defined by the gospel involves understanding it first because as you understand you will be transformed to embody the theology it communicates (Romans 12:1-2).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Last Apostle

In our Christian subculture we have been trained to try and make the Bible applicable to our own lives. After I read Galatians 1:11-24, it occurred to me that to apply the words of Paul's biography to myself would minimize Paul's life, and the significance of him being an Apostle after the 12 from the Gospels.

Paul says this: "But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone" (Gal 1:15-16).

I can see how the idea of God knowing us and setting us apart before we were born relates to this passage (see Ephesians 1). But Paul is not trying to teach the church about their election here, even though he believes those who follow Christ to have been elected from eternity (Romans 8:28-30 and Ephesians 1:3-14). Rather, the Apostle is proving his authority and divine mission, quite apart from our more ordinary missionary callings to share the gospel. Paul the Apostle is proclaiming for the whole world that he received the one/same gospel preached to the 12 other apostles. In addition, he is situating himself in the company of the Old Testament prophets, who were, likewise, called for a special purpose before their birth. Think about Jeremiah or how God prophesies about the Servant of the Lord who will bring back Jacob (Jesus). Paul is thinking on the huge theological level here. And he doesn't want us to try to apply his calling to our lives. God wants us to know that there were special means of revelation and messengers who were on God's radar before there even was the idea of Paul.

And, yet, this non-applicable story is for us who believe. Paul's calling, while not a universal revelation on how we all are called to preach to the Gentiles, is part of our story on how we were called out of darkness and brought into the marvelous light of the gospel. Without Paul we would know very little about God and his love for us, sinners, redeemed and being molded by this life and world God has created and is recreating for his glory.

Once again, it is a challenge to get our attention off of ourselves and to think about God's plan and gospel, and the means by which that gospel comes to us. Maybe it was the Last Apostle, Paul, who drew attention to the rest of the Bible (think about all the quotations and illusions to the Old Testament in Paul's letters).

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

One gospel

Think about reading Galatians with me. I began reading it a couple nights ago, rather slowly, for a couple personal reasons (which I will not bore you with). So, just read Galatians with me or listen to my reflections as I seek once again to regularly post some comments--promises, promises ;-)

Two points hit me while reading Galatians 1:6-10. The first is that, according to Paul, there is only one gospel. I know there is nothing new or novel about my first observation, but it is true. If we believe in the God of the Bible, we believe that his gospel is singularly about his plan that never tires of focusing on Jesus, the prophesies of his coming, the advent of his incarnation, the scandalous life and death Christ experienced to fulfill the law for people other than himself, the resurrection, his present (and continual) reign at the Father's right hand, and the return of our savior for those whom he called to be sons and daughters from eternity. Secondly, because the gospel is one thing and not another, what it is conditions the way Paul lived. For Paul, this meant he was a slave of Christ (Gal 1:10), opposed to seeking the admiration of various people or people groups.

Now, neither of these concepts are difficult to understand. They are difficult to fully believe and live out, however. For we would not need the regular preaching of the gospel, nor the power of the Holy Spirit, which mediates between the actual historical events of Christ's life, passion, and resurrection and our present day lives. Being a servant of Christ may mean different things for various people in our world, but the gospel is one thing and challenges us to re-evaluate everything in its light.

In this sense, I invite you to think about the singularity of the gospel and how that makes you a servant of Christ, rather than something else. God's kingdom is active, but looks different because of iPods and bipartisan politics and a bunch of other things. I also ask you to meditate on the fact that the gospel is one and makes its way to us through the church. The gospel came to Paul in a supernatural way, which is one of the reasons for the letter to the Galatians. We receive this gospel through the God ordained tradition and it makes its way to us through that archaic institution, the church.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

A book review of ORTHODOXY

Reading ORTHODOXY by G. K. Chesterton is like an intellectual experience. A former professor of mine told a small group of us to think of our term papers as conversations, conversations that anticipate questions, conversations cognizant of objections; and conversations that not only understand but also engage the questions and objections in thoughtful ways. ORTHODOXY is such a discourse.

If Madonna’s world is a “material world” then Chesterton’s was an intellectual world...[READ MORE]