Sunday, September 21, 2014

Another August "Unplugged"

This year I continued my tradition of 'unplugging' for the month of August.  This year I went about two months with no Facebook and just a little bit of email access.  It never fails that each year as I take the time away from those things, I notice other things.  Here are a few of my realizations from this year's hiatus from Facebook.

1.  Reintroducing listening to music on vinyl has become one of my favorite things to do in a very long time.

2.  Reconnecting with long-distance loved ones is never a bad idea.  In fact it's always a good idea.

3.  Disappointments will occur in life.  It's not the 'bad' that happens that's the most important thing.  It's how well you handle it that is the most important.

4.  As I read the Bible, God is usually building something good, and if something happens that ends up tearing down that good thing, for whatever reason, it's not surprising at some point that he starts rebuilding it again.

5.  My wife makes the best apple pies, strawberry rhubarb pies and apple crisps.

6.   My son is a great little hockey player.

7.  My daughter has a fantastic singing voice.

8.  Gene Simmons' attempt at a bass solo (as seen on YouTube) can't be unheard and doesn't qualify remotely as music.

(on a more serious note...)

9.  The world's problems that we see in the Middle East aren't political problems and they won't be solved with political solutions.  My Christian brothers and sisters being beheaded along with others cannot be ended at a UN summit.

10.  The nation's problems that we see on the news aren't political problems and they won't be solved with political solutions.  No government can sign a bill into law and put an end to injustice, poverty and hatred.

11.  It's been refreshing to not read people's words of name calling and vicious criticisms of their least favorite politician online. 

12.  It's been discouraging to get back online and read people's words of name calling and vicious criticisms of their least favorite politician.  Obviously the vicious name calling hasn't helped anything but the felt need to do so persists.

13.  My desires and inclinations will not always yield the positive result I'm looking for.  When they do, great.  Take it as an open door.  When they don't, great.  Take it as a closed door.

14.  All things in this life, whether good or bad, are temporary.  

So there you have it.  Some serious and some not so serious observations.  I encourage you to take the time to unplug and separate yourself from the distractions of life and breathe in some uncluttered silence.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Gospel of Jesus Christ in Paul's World

In the last installment of this blog, I delved into what the gospel is in terms of the origins of the word "gospel" in the Greek language during Roman times.  In light of what the gospel is and the intense meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I thought it was interesting to take a look at the first letter that Paul wrote that comprises part of what is now the New Testament.  The book of Galatians.

As we know, the Romans used the term "gospel" to signify the ascension of a new emperor to the throne or even the birth of an emperor to be.  The religious cult of emperor worship was alive and well and this earthly gospel of man was in direct contrast to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ.  With this as the historical backdrop, it is interesting to note what the Galatian readers of Paul's letter would have understood when he wrote the letter to them. 

The letter to the Galatians is dated somewhere between 48 and 55 AD.  History tells us that between 14 and 68 AD, there were four emperors.  They were Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius and Nero.  The living adults present at the time of Paul's letter to the Galatians literally could have heard "the gospel of man", the herald announcement of four different emperors assuming the throne in their lifetime, perhaps even more.  At least four times they heard that a king would bring peace.  At least four times they heard that their king would stay their enemies.  At least four times they were beckoned to worship the new king.

Enter the Apostle Paul as he writes to the Galatians in chapter 1, verse 1:

"Paul, an apostle - not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead - and all the brothers who are with me,.  To the churches of Galatia:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age..."

In this one short excerpt, Paul delivers a death blow to anything else that detracts from Jesus Christ being the centerpiece of the gospel.  There is nothing man-made about the gospel.  There is nothing that finds its beginning or end from the earth about the gospel.  The glorious gospel of Jesus Christ has him as its originator, deliverer and sustainer.  Reread Paul's opening line again and you'll find it all there.  It's not from man.  It is through Jesus Christ.  He was raised from the dead.  He delivers us.  He brings peace.

Enter the Judaizers.  Paul writes to the Galatians in astonishment that they have turned to what he refers to as 'another gospel'.  We may look at the Galatians with a critical eye but we should reserve our judgment.  They have been bombarded with  man's gospel.  They have been immersed in a culture of man's gospel for years and Paul even voices his concern in chapter 4 when he talks of their former enslavement to those that by nature were not gods and how they returned to observing days, months, seasons and years (all part of Roman pagan culture).  Paul does the work of converting pagans to Christ and within a few short years, people come behind him preaching another gospel, one that added to the simplistic "justified by faith" message of Paul and adding a "and by works" clause.  This news triggered a passionate, frank and in-your-face response from Paul and understandably so.

Why is this important for us today?  Like many of you who may read this, I have been a follower of Christ for several decades of my life.  During these years I've noticed that there is always something disguising itself as 'new'.  We live in a world that demands our worship.  We live in a culture that is constantly enticing us.  Not only that but there are religious enticements.  There are those that teach that faith is a force for us to control.  There are those that would have us believe that God isn't answering our prayers but he will if we write a check to their ministry.  There are those that teach that God is for us and because of that, well, if bad things happen we need to simply confess otherwise and turn the situation around.  There are those that preach that our faith is to be the object of our faith and this faith can manipulate God to change our circumstances and hosts of others that have their list of do's and don'ts in order to be a Christian. 

None of this is new.  All of this is, what Paul would say is, another gospel.  To Paul, the gospel was a was Jesus Christ.  So if anything takes away from the person of Jesus Christ, it is another gospel.  If anything is attempted to add to the work of Jesus Christ, it is another gospel.  If anyone asks of you or me anything more than, like what Abraham had, faith alone in Jesus Christ, it is just that...another gospel.

So in the walking out of your faith according to the gospel, may the words of Paul to the Galatians ring in your heart.  "For neither (outward works of flesh) count for anything, but a new creation.  And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them..."

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why We May Not In Fact Really Heard the Gospel

Christianity.  The answering of the call of Jesus to, "Follow me".  The turning away from the old and living the new.  The changing of allegiance to the kingdom of this world to the kingdom of God.  The no longer living by one's own expectations in life, but the living by the indwelling life of Christ.  These statements embody, in our lived out lives, the essence of being a Christian.

In the times of Christ, during the reign of the Roman Empire, to be affiliated with Christ and his followers was dangerous.  To be baptized and be a follower of Christ meant to take your life into your own hands for to do so was not just a statement about your religious affiliation, but a proclamation that the government, the system, the ruling authorities and even the emperor himself and all that came with them, were no longer what you were loyal to.  You were dead to all of it.

So what's the big deal?

Rome was huge.  During the time of Christ she was drunk with her own power and wealth.  Her emperors were considered gods.  Julius Cesar was the first to be deified as 'god' and then along comes Augustus.  Julius was deified after his death.  Augustus was deified while he was still alive.  One was god and the other referred to as the son of god.  The succession of Roman emperors as gods was a continued tradition as New Testament scholar N.T. Wright concludes in "Paul: In Fresh Perspective".

To add to all of this earthly claims to divinity, the very proclamation that was used for the emperor righting all the wrongs, bringing the peace to the empire and providing for its subjects was heralded throughout the land.  As Kurt Willems writes in his Pangea Blog, "Whenever the great deeds of Augustus were proclaimed, they were presented with the Greek term euangelion, which is translated, “good news” or, “gospel”. "  Now add to that what Frank Viola said in an interview with Jamal Jivanjee, "In the first-century Roman world, “gospel” was used to describe the announcement that a new emperor had taken the throne. “Heralds” would be “sent” throughout the Roman Empire to announce this “good news.” Interestingly, the Roman emperor was also called “Savior” and “Lord” and was regarded as the one who would establish “peace” in the Empire."  (

Fast forward a few years and you have John the Baptist, the disciples and the apostle Paul with countless others, in the face of the Roman Empire with the same message.....but about another king.  The herald announcement that there was a new king rang throughout the empire.  There was a new king, with new authority.  He brought a new peace and this good news was not referring to Caesar, but to Jesus Christ.  When a person was baptized in public as a follower of Jesus Christ, he was saying to everyone, I died to the old empire - I rise into a new kingdom.  I died to the old emperor - I rise to follow a new Lord.  I died to the old system of false peace and earthly prosperity - I rise to follow the Prince of Peace.  Political allegiances are dead.  Imperial ties are broken.  Kingdom loyalties are reassigned to a new one.

This, to the Roman Empire, was a declaration of war.  This was an affront to Roman rule.

There is a price tag associated with the gospel.  It's more than Four Spiritual Laws.  It's more than The Romans Road.  It's far more than saying a prayer in Sunday School.  It's more than being on the correct side of the political aisle.  It's more than your patriotism.  It's more than being a member of the right church in the right denomination.  The gospel of Jesus Christ demands, by its very nature, that all socio-political and national allegiances die at the feet of Jesus Christ.  There is no other allegiance to be had.

The gospel of Jesus Christ demands, by it's very nature, that all socio-political and national allegiances die at the feet of Jesus Christ.

We are part of a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  To cloud the gospel with celebrations of our own earthly kingdoms does injustice to the cross of Christ.  To proclaim an incomplete gospel does a disservice to those that hear it and may want to respond to it.  To associate our national interests on days of celebration with the gospel of Christ is to taint the message of its purity.  To relegate the gospel to a preacher's plea to "just pray these words" in the closing seconds of a broadcast isn't the gospel.  To preach a topical sermon on a Sunday morning and close with a 'sinners prayer' is not the gospel.

The centerpiece and implications of the gospel have not changed.  We would all be wise to examine what they are and ask ourselves, have we really heard the gospel?