Archives For Bible

On October 22, 2013

Ephesians: A Gospel Mystery

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. –Ephesians 3:6

ephesians

I was reading this morning in the book of Ephesians, and something stood out to me that I’ve never noticed before.

Paul was a single man, and Paul really, really appreciates marriage. And our churches need to notice constantly both of these things.

For the longest time we’ve mis-read Paul. We’ve thought that Paul was trying to get all the churches that he planted to think that the Jewish law was a bad thing. We got this idea from Martin Luther, that the Law was a burden that was given to break the Israelites into realizing that they can’t keep all of those rules.

But that’s not true at all.

Remember that God gave the Israelites the Torah after He gave them Himself. They had just come out of centuries of slavery in Egypt, and they don’t know how to live. You don’t want to just drop off a bunch of slaves into a foreign country and let them figure out how to live on their own. That’s how we got Australia.

See Paul is a good Jewish Rabbi who knows that the law was a gift from God, so why does Paul talk so much about Jewish regulations in his letters? Because Paul is trying to create communities that transcend Jewish and Gentile labels.

He’s trying to create church.

See back in the day, one of the main indicators of a ruler’s power was His ability to create unity in diverse places. This was one of the ways that Caesar “proved” he was Lord. By being able to bring peace, or the Pax Ramona (Peace of Rome) to the world. But the way Rome brought peace was not by forcing unity at the end of a sword.

And Paul is trying to create unity at the foot of the cross.

A Unity Movement

This is what Paul’s ultimate ministry is about. Creating communities of people who have different backgrounds, genders, races, and perspectives but who all can come together to worship the God of Jesus.

And it’s interesting that Paul uses the word “Mystery” to describe this.

Go back and look at Ephesians 1:9, and then go read Paul unpack this idea in Ephesians 2:11-17. The whole goal is to reconcile very different people groups in the name of Jesus for the glory of God. And the way Paul has to do this, is by stripping these different clichés of their ways they used to separate and justify themselves.

See back in that day, people used to try to one-up each other. So people would come to church thinking that there was the “enlightened” and the “primitive-minded” or the “rich” and the “lazy” or the “poor” and the “greedy” or the “religious” and the “Spirit-Filled” or the “intelligent, thoughtful person” and the “charismatic” The single, the single again, and the married…the Jew and the Gentile.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but that was the kind of church Paul was addressing.

That’s the mystery. That somehow people could get over defining themselves over and against another group, and how they were better than someone else, and just define themselves as people who were united and loved by God.

So over and over again in Ephesians, Paul refers to this as a Mystery.

And then He gets to marriage.

And we love to focus on the part of Ephesians 5 that talks about power and submission. We’ve even created camps about who takes what position and how wrong “they” are and how right “we” are.

But that goes against the very spirit of the marriages that Paul is talking about, because it goes against the mystery of the Gospel.

Mega-Mysterion

In Ephesians 5, Paul actually calls marriage a profound mystery. In the Greek, he says this is a Mega-Mysterion. It’s something that is hard to explain, even harder to live, but easy to understand when you see it. the-sacrament-of-marriage

Because when a Christian marriage is on, when he’s giving himself fully to her, and she’s giving herself fully to him…they aren’t trying to define themselves as better than the other, or justify their own behavior, they are trying to, in spite all of their differences, reconcile together for the sake of the Gospel.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this time and time again. I’ve preached so many funerals where the husband or wife was saying goodbye to their spouse, and the whole church was moved. I’ve seen what can only be described as a tangible change in the atmosphere when the church gathers to mourn a spouse losing another spouse, and celebrate their faithfulness to one another. There is a holiness that is hard to put into words. It’s is a mystery.

Because there is something so powerful about a marriage that has gone the distance. But it’s more than some kind of Nicolas Sparks romance, according to Paul it is a glimpse of the Gospel.

In a marriage, we are forced to reconcile what previously had been separated.

And this is why I believe marriages in the American church matter for the single person, and the divorced person. Because marriages are a way God reminds his people of the kind of community He is creating. And in this community, you aren’t better than someone else because you aren’t divorced, and you aren’t better than someone else because you happened to get married. You are all being reconciled to the same God, and so we each have to make room for one another.

This is why Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians by saying this:

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.

What Paul is doing in his chains, he thinks Christian couples are doing in their marriages.

Paul, a single man, appreciates marriage as a symbol of the way to unify everyone. 

Divorced people, single people, married people, rich people, poor people, tall people and smart people. Now all people can come together because of the Gospel.

That’s the mystery

On August 8, 2011

The Art of Lament

We live in a culture where to be unhappy is a thing of treason. After all, the pursuit of happiness is literally on our charter. And after a while that stopped just being a line on some document in a museum, and started to become our lives’ mission. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for happiness. I love to celebrate, and I think the Christian faith should be pioneering the way in showing the world pure joy. But….

Continue Reading...
On May 13, 2010

Overwhelmed With Joy

So for the past few days I’ve been spending time in the Gospel of Matthew. Each time I read a Gospel I think, “no, this one is my favorite.” And it’s happening again. This is seriously some powerful stuff he’s dishing out. Matthew’s gospel is about a King and a Kingdom, it’s about an upside down world that thinks it’s right-side up, and it’s about a Jewish carpenter that says the most bizarre things that turn out to be the way things are.

Matthew is about choices.

Like the wise men at the beginning of the gospel. The dominant reality that people are being told is that Herod the Great is King. To be honest he looks the part, he’s regal, wealthy, and knows how to get things done. If you were to see Herod in a line-up of royalty from that time, he’d blend right in. But he’s not the King Matthew is wanting to tell us about. Because Matthew tells us in that the baby being born in a shed is actually the King of the Jews. And the wise men have to choose which reality they are going to choose to believe.

Flash forward about 30 years and 13 chapters, and we see this baby King all grown up. He’s teaching a series of parables about the Kingdom that his very presence is initiating. And one of them I think is interesting. Jesus says:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”

Think about being this guy. The choice here is pretty clear right? This was somewhat common in this day, Wells Fargo’s weren’t just on every corner, and people would bury their savings on their property, and then die. So this guy has the chance of a lifetime to cash in on a secret that no-one else knows about. But think about this a bit deeper, in order to do this he’s got to liquidate all his assets, break the bank, and what if it turns out to be one of those fake pearls, or someone finds it before he gets his junk in order. This guy is taking a risk. But his overwhelming response isn’t anxiety, but joy.

Which brings me back to those wise men.

The choice that they have sitting before them is  a bit more risky. Everything seems slanted toward the guy on the throne being the one who’s actually King. He looks the part, he’s actually got a crown, and he’s giving them orders. Orders that if they don’t obey could cost them everything. They have to choose, they have to take a risk, to listen to the dominant reality that most have chosen, or to go against their better instincts and trust that this little baby could be King.

And they choose well.

But there is one phrase in this little story I’d like to hone in on. Matthew tells us that when they finally get to the baby King, when the star finally stops over his little shack, “They were Overwhelmed with joy.”

Which just happens to be what the man who sold his field experienced. And here is the point Matthew is making all through his gospel. There are a lot of intelligent sounding reasons on why the stuff Jesus is saying sounds out of tune with reality. You can explain him away pretty effectively, in fact, that’s what the majority of people manage to do. But for those with ears to hear, this is an invitation to a different reality, one that will cost you everything, but be worth every cent.

Because, as the Wise Men found out, Jesus is the Pearl, and he’s worth the risk.

On February 2, 2010

Sola Scriptura

So I’ve been wrestling with the eighth chapter of Acts for the past few weeks, trying to figure out what was going on then, and what that could mean for Jesus’ followers today. The story is pretty bizarre to be honest. A guy named Phillip is swept up by the Spirit (whatever that means) and is taken to meet an Ethiopian Eunuch, a man who’s in a high political position, who’s driving a chariot back to Africa. Continue Reading…

On January 5, 2010

The Start of Our Stories

Last night on a flight to St. Louis I had a conversation with a very unique man. He was agnostic, and really, really interesting. He was the assistant Grand Marshall of Arms in D.C. And he had rubbed shoulders with the elite and powerful of this country.

When he asked me what I did for a living, the conversation turned toward the Bible. He knew the basic characters, and I guess was trying to be polite and make conversation. But then he said something that I felt needed a reply. He said he was glad that the Bible was around, it gives people something to strive for. But he could never be as good as those characters in the BIble.

So I told him that he already was.

And here’s what I mean by that: Continue Reading…

On December 31, 2009

A New Now

It’s been years since I’ve been back to the little 10 person church I grew up in. But I have no doubt about what the sermon is going to be about this weekend. There weren’t a lot of constants at my home church, you never knew who was going to be speaking from week to week, and there was always a pretty good chance it was going to be you. Every week, that is, except for the Sunday after New Year. Continue Reading…

On September 15, 2009

A Spiritual Discipline

So when I was in high school my best friend Bub and I made a pact never to watch rated R movies again. We weren’t supposed to be watching them anyway, so it really wasn’t that hard of a sacrifice, but it was one that we stuck to for years. We thought that was part of what it meant to be a Christian. When the movie “The Passion of the Christ” came out, it kind of threw us for a loop. Jesus himself was starring in a rated R movie. So what was an honest legalist to do?

Looking back on it I think we had a pretty narrow view of what following Jesus was. We defined it primarily by what we did not do. And we didn’t do it well.

It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I watched another rated R movie again (at least one that Jesus didn’t star in). And my immediate reaction was guilt. I had broken a promise. And I had probably ticked God off.

I know this probably sounds silly, movie ratings really no longer say a lot about the content of a movie. PG-13 can be worst than plenty of R movies. But I’m telling you this because in my junior year I discovered something that changed the way I thought about what I watched.

Grace.

I found that God was good, and that Jesus wasn’t just waiting on me to mess up so he could deep-fry me. I started to get a larger perspective on the purposes of God in my life and in the world, and suddenly what I watched started to seem pretty insignificant.

But I’m starting to change my mind.

For a while, I watched whatever I wanted. No restrictions. I was free after all. And if you were to call me on it (Mom) I had a well-thought out theological explanation for why you were an idiot Pharisee. But I noticed after a while that I didn’t like who I was becoming, how I was responding to people, or how I was thinking.

When I watched movies devoid of hope, I became more cynical. When I watched movies that were excessively violent, I got angry easier. When I watched movies that exploited or demeaned women, I looked at women differently.

Now we actually have a set discipline about what kind of movies we will watch (it normally has nothing to do with ratings, but content, story etc.). I know this makes me sound antique. I kind of feel like my parents even writing this. But I’m not Amish,* and what I think is acceptable is certainly going to be considered unacceptable by others. And what doesn’t work for me, maybe fine for others. There’s no hard and fast rule for this. But I’ve learned to think about this in different terms.

What if it’s not about angering a God who’s already kind of mad? But what if it’s about who God is wanting you to become?

In First Peter, Peter is talking about this strange way of relating to God that frees a person up from sweating bullets. And Peter should know. He’s had plenty of opportunities to learn. He knows now that it doesn’t matter how well you wash your hands before you eat, God isn’t concerned about the outside, but the inside. That may sound like common sense, but let me assure you it wasn’t. Religion always veers toward the externals, and black and white rules are great at keeping people in step.

There’s a time where Peter is chilling on a roof and he has a dream. God shows him in this dream a bunch of pigs and tablecloths. And tells him to eat. Now Pork chops have not caught on with Jewish people and Peter knows better, despite what some Pigs in a Blanket dream is telling him. So Peter refuses, eventually God convinces him, and Peter learns what many of us have known for years. Pork is also from God.

For Peter, grace tastes an awful lot like bacon.

But Peter also knows the dark side of freedom. So he writes to a group of people like us, and reminds us of this: “Live as free People, but do not use your freedom to cover up evil.” I think Peter knows exactly what he’s saying. He’s soaked in grace long enough to know that there are some deeper truths it has to offer.

See the subtle temptation of freedom is to think there are no consequences to your behavior. But I’m learning more and more this isn’t true.

For the past few weeks I have been in a Church History class with ACU, studying and learning from the earliest followers of Jesus. And if there is a word to describe them it’s this: different. They weren’t like everyone else, in a good way. They had learned how to be holy.

Have you ever met people like this? People who seemed to just have a different demeanor or spirit? Maybe it’s that they are patient or kind, or filled with joy. Or better yet, have you ever tried to be like those people? Just set your jaw and try to will-power better behavior? And failed?

The basic human truth about our nature is that you will become like the person you practice being. That is, the way we spend our days, the habits we develop over time, shape the core of how we act for a lifetime.

This is why I have been trying to discipline my life more lately. I have learned that the behaviors I try to control typical are just symptoms of a deeper issue. Richard Foster says this is the gift of Spiritual Disciplines. It allows you to If you battle with addictions or over-indulgence…fast habitually. If you battle with materialism, try the discipline of generosity.

The historic, Spiritual disciplines help to put the finger on the real issue.

This is not a way of transforming yourself. It’s about opening yourself up to the Spirit of God in a way that makes your habits more accessible. If the Spirit is the wind, than think of Spiritual disciplines as a way of setting up sails.

In case you are wondering this really isn’t a blog about what movies you watch or don’t watch.

It’s about laying down cheaper freedom to find a deeper version of it.

It’s about allowing God to form you into who you were always meant to be.

And that’s grace too.

*Blogging Tip: If you are going to make fun of someone on your blog, make it the Amish. They’ll never see it.

On August 4, 2009

Names

So for the past year and a half or so I have been interested in names. I guess the fascination started for me when Leslie and I wrestled through trying to decide what to name Eden. How do you give a little person a word that she or he will hear to describe them for the rest of their lives? Someone, somewhere once made the mistake of Gertrude, and we didn’t want to repeat that.

You have to worry about nicknames, what the name might rhyme with, or how it might impact their psychological development. So we steered away from the clever ideas (my apologies to my pal Brady Bunch) and settled on Eden.

This may seem trivial, but it really is a central thought in the Scriptures. After all, God’s first task to humanity is to name the world around them. The Jewish people thought of names as the essence of a person. This is why if you wanted to know the emotional state of a Hebrew woman in the Old Testament, you just had to look at what she named her children. There are kids named in the O.T. the equivalent of “I’m depressed” which has to feel a bit disappointing to the kid.

This theme is especially prominent in the book of Genesis. Almost every chapter the storyteller is telling us who is named what, and why.

But in Genesis 11, a different concern creeps in.

The builders of Babel’s tower are interested not just in their names, but in making their names great. So they build, and God does his whole Jenga thing, and their building project falls apart. In trying to make a name for themselves, they actually become more disconnected from each other.

But the real apex of this theme is in found in the story of a guy named Jacob (meaning heel-grabber or liar). When we meet Jacob, he’s doing a good job at living up to his name. His brother actually says after being betrayed by him, “is he not rightly named Jacob?” Jacob had stolen his brother blessing, he had tried to be more than he was, and found out that just made him exactly more like himself.

Just like the builders of Babel.

In Genesis 32, Jacob is alone, and so the story tells us a man wrestled with him till daybreak. As if that was a perfectly ordinary thing that happens to people when they are left alone.

But this is not your average wrestling match. Jacob finds out later that he is wrestling with God. He gets God in a headlock, like you do, and asks for a blessing.

But his wrestling partner doesn’t say what do you want? He asks “what is your name.” Jacob tells him, and then the man renames him. He calls him Israel.* But Jacob wants to know who this guy is. Who are you to give me a new name?

But the guy doesn’t answer Jacob. Not yet.

It’s a few chapters later that Jacob finds out what was really going on. God comes to Jacob again and tells him that his name is now Israel. And the very next words are “I am God Almighty.”

Jacob gets his answer, and his new name.

The implications of this story are both subtle and profound. We spend most of our lives trying to live up to who others say we are. If you know that others expect you to be somebody, chances are you will pursue that identity, if the people around you have written you off, chances are you will as well.

But Jacob asks the one question many of us fail to. Who are you to give me this name? What gives you the right, mystery WWF man, to say this about me?

The Book of Revelation has a ton of allusions to the book of Genesis, mainly because on many levels it’s a book about a fresh start, about a new Creation. And in the beginning of Revelation we’re told that in God’s reality, God’s plan is to give us each a white stone with a new name.

The end of the story of God is all of us finally know who we really are.

Because if we’re made in God’s image, maybe he’s the only one who knows really knows who we are in the first place.

*If I was Jacob, I would ask for a more normal sounding name like Steve or Gary.