Tag Archives: Paul

A Verse for Meditation

Torah ScrollFor now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 1 Corinthians 13:12

  • What is the difference between a mirror image and a face to face image? Why would the face to face image be preferable?
  • What does the author (the apostle Paul) mean when he says that he has been fully known? By whom? In what manner did this happen?
  • Read the context, 1 Corinthians 13:8-13. How does the context clarify and enhance your understanding of this verse?
  • As an adult, do you believe that you no longer think like a child? Have you put away childish ways?
  • What is Paul looking forward to in this verse? In what way is Paul’s worldview different from that of people who believe that nothing exists except what science can measure? What does any of this have to do with your daily life?
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Christians are in Conflict in the Culture and the Courts

  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:18)

Paul wrote the words above to people who lived in the capital city of the Roman Empire. Like any capital city, it had a large population of people from countries with a broad diversity of religions and cultures. The local residents considered themselves to be an elite and exquisite culture. Like many contemporary intellectuals they thought that their tolerance of diversity made their culture superior. At the time Paul wrote, the conflict between emperor worship and Christian monotheism was not yet the hot button issue it would become by the end of the century. It was possible for a Christian to live peaceably with most Romans and other cultures as long as they kept quiet.

Then, as now, Christians could survive without being threatened as long as they stayed under the cultural and legal radar. Then, as now, there were Christians who tried to live this way. Don’t make waves. Don’t rock the boat. Keep your head down.

The problem with that attitude is that it constitutes actual disobedience to the last command Christ spoke as he ascended to heaven. The Message puts it this way:Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life. Matthew 28:19a

Every Christian who actually tries to obey this command immediately encounters another problem. When any Christian speaks of his commitment to any Christian teaching, somebody is sure to recognize and point out any failure of the evangelist to live up to the teachings he claims to believe. Paul wasn’t kidding when he said that we all fall short, and those we meet in our daily comings and goings know all about our shortcomings. It makes it hard for us to stand firm on any principle. This doesn’t mean we should stop having principles, but it does mean we should be ready to deal with our own failings.

Currently, a lawsuit in New Mexico is a prime example of the way this situation can develop.

In July it was reported that Hope Christian School in Albuquerque had rejected the application of a three-year-old for its preschool program, because the child lived in a household headed by two men who live in a homosexual union. The letter of rejection said, in part, “Same gender couples are inconsistent with scriptural lifestyle and biblical teachings,” and “Home life doesn’t reflect the school’s belief of what a biblical family lifestyle is.”

The school is perfectly within its right, according to the First Amendment of the US Constitution, to express the faith principles of the administration of the school. However, the school administrators applied that same amendment to their acceptance of a grant of about $60,000 from government at some level not identified in the article, and this money has muddied the waters of the argument. Peter Simonson of the ACLU weighed in saying, “We don’t think agencies that discriminate or use religion to discriminate should be receiving our federal or government funds.”  The school almost certainly felt entitled to apply for the funds the same way any other school did, and felt simultaneously protected by the First Amendment in the expression of religious principles within the administrative operations of the school. The school believes it is in the right. Other citizens feel that this acceptance of government money completely invalidates the school’s right to act in faithful testimony to Christian teachings. The right of the school to administer a grant from government in accord with the religious principles of the school administration creates contention that is hard to separate from the school’s fundamental right to accept or reject applications from prospective students.

First Amendment or not, New Mexico’s Human Rights Act forbids “any person in any public accommodation to make a distinction, directly or indirectly, in offering or refusing to offer its services … to any person because of race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, spousal affiliation, or physical or mental handicap.”  A lawsuit filed by the two men who claim to be the legal parents of the rejected child asks for “equitable relief, including their son’s acceptance into the school, and compensatory and punitive damages”  on the foundation that the school is engaged in public accommodation according to the New Mexico law. If the school meets the legal definition, then it is prohibited by state law from engaging in the listed forms of discrimination. However, the school states that the rejection was not wanton discrimination, but rather thoughtful expression of religious principle. The defendants had not published a response as of the most recent news available at this writing, but it seems possible that the definitions used as the foundation of this state law could be restrained by the liberty protected by Constitutional law. It remains to be seen.

The comments that accompany the many articles discussing this case make it clear that the culture is quick to judge, and not necessarily on the basis of the laws. Comments indicate that in the eyes of the secular culture, the very acceptance of government money means that the school accepted government standards. Nothing in the history of such grants actually supports such an assumption, but the assumption is pervasive. Many, many commenters were outraged that the school had even applied for the grant, but once the school accepted the grant, the culture jumped to the conclusion that the government owned the school and that the school had forfeited all its rights to Christian principles. Faithful Christians operating services such as schools, hospitals and adoption agencies routinely expect to be able to apply for such grants to cover all sorts of expenses. They all expect to be protected by the First Amendment in the use of the money while working within their Christian standards. It seems likely that this grant will not actually figure in the proceedings of the lawsuit, but it also seems likely that this case and others like it will result in cultural pressure on lawmakers to change the way grants work. How lawmakers will respond to that pressure, given the protection of the First Amendment, is not predictable, but the comments indicate that this issue is unlikely to go away.

Other comments show that the culture in general has a skewed impression of what Christian teaching is. Christians cannot try to be responsible for the cultural misconceptions, but it does make it difficult to speak of Christian convictions and Christian teachings when people who have never studied Christianity or the Bible assume that they really do know what Christians believe. This state of affairs makes it incumbent on every Christian to remember what Christ said about being called to account for ourselves. Jesus said, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” (Luke 12:11-12) In other words, Christians need to be fervent in worship and prayer, nurturing the disciplines that draw them near to Christ and build the relationship with him. That relationship will bear fruit in the sort of cultural conflicts that are expressed in the comments surrounding the story of the Hope Christian School. The lawsuit is only about the school, but the comments reveal that this event is only one episode in an ongoing confrontation between the secular culture of the US and those who take Christian faith and life seriously.

Christians must be aware and attentive to news about cases like that of the Hope Christian School. It is a matter that calls for each Christian to draw near to Christ and to examine himself with the eyes of Christ. We need not fear the culture. Jesus said that the world would hate us, because it hated him first, and we can simply expect that. What we must fear is our own weakness and sinful nature that can rise up to destroy our testimony if we try to rely on our own wit and character in the fray. Each of us is always at risk of a confrontation similar to that of the school, and each of us is terribly at risk of having some Achilles heel in our lives that will make our enemies feel the way the enemies of Hope School feel when they see that the school received a government grant. We must do what Jesus taught us. We must stay close to him and trust that the Holy Spirit will teach us what to say and do. We can never be intellectually smart enough to defeat all the evil wiles of Satan, but we can trust the Holy Spirit to defeat Satan every time. The administrators of Hope Christian School need our prayers for their faithful submission to Christ in this time of trial, and while we are praying for them, we should pray for ourselves as well. The battle is fully engaged. If it is up to us, we must live peaceably, but it stops being up to us when we are asked to sell out our principles. We must stay close to the One who alone is able to defeat evil in time and eternity.

In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world! (John 16:33)

Turn Around. Open Your Eyes

When John the Baptist started preaching on the banks of the Jordan River, people got very excited. He became a real celebrity. He was a spectacle in his rough camel’s hair clothing cinched up by a leather belt. He supposedly lived on locust and honey, and some may have been hoping to see how he choked down those ugly insects. However, it was his rhetoric that got people’s attention.

John the Baptist disputing with his listeners http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=29352
John the Baptist disputing with his listeners http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=29352

“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

This is an opening line guaranteed to rivet the audience to its seats. John followed up with a call to repentance that some listeners considered insulting. If John spoke on television today, almost certainly someone would take offense. There would be an outcry that John was not sensitive to the needs and feeling of some hearers. John did not worry then, and if he were alive today he would not worry now, that anyone took offense at his words. John had a message for people that was so important that he could not be bothered to be sensitive. He wanted the people to be ready to receive Christ when Christ appeared. His call for descendants of Abraham to repent of their sins offended them, but they needed to be offended, because they were guilty of looking at the world the wrong way.

Dr. Rick Carlson, a professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, says that a better way to translate John’s call to repentance is to say that John demanded a “radical reorientation” of people. People needed to turn around 180 degrees and start seeing the world God’s way. He accused them of missing God’s mark, a high mark set for them as the chosen nation, and he said that the only way they would ever hit it was to turn completely around in their thinking and their worldview.

John’s message, startling as it was, was not new. God had been saying similar things to the people of Israel for centuries. Zephaniah spoke to people who were worried about their national security. Their world view was that God needed to do something and do it now to keep them from being crushed by more powerful nations. Zephaniah told them to stop worrying about that, because God already was their security. However, God’s worldview and their worldview were so radically different from each other that they would need to completely change their point of view in order to understand what God was doing for them. Through Zephaniah God said, “I will deal with all your oppressors,” and the Israelites thought, “Well, that take care of the Assyrians, and the Babylonians, and etcetera” because they did not understand that the greatest oppressor was Satan. Those other enemies were merely Satan’s way of assaulting them over and over. God promised to deal with Satan, and that victory would free the people from the real oppression they suffered because they thought life was not fair and they hadn’t received their share of the prizes. Zephaniah pointed ahead to the work Christ would do, just as John did.

Isaiah did the same thing. Just like John’s audience, Isaiah’s contemporaries were thirsty. They cried out like the woman at the well for fulfilling lives and the contentment that comes when people have everything they need. Through Isaiah, God promised “water from the well of salvation.” He promised the miracle of salvation for everyone with plenty for all and no shortage for anyone.

Paul, looking back at the work of Christ rather than forward, nevertheless called people to the same sort of reorientation. People need to be reminded and recalled to God’s worldview repeatedly. It is easy for us to be distracted by glamorous sights and wealthy displays and the constant message that we need and even deserve to get exactly what we want when we want it. Paul pointed people to a radical reorientation from the satanic worldview of self-worship to God’s worldview of trust in his provision. He said that the wealth others possess was not taken from anyone, and confiscating it by theft or taxation will not enrich anyone. God provides and God fulfills.

John’s startling message, right in line with his predecessors, was this:

Turn around and start seeing things God’s way. When you see things God’s way, you will realize what a mess you made of things, and you will tell him how sorry you are. Better yet, when you see things God’s way, you will start doing things God’s way.

And what would it mean to do things God’s way? John had an answer for that question:

Look here. If you see the world God’s way your actions will change. Your deeds will do fruit God is pleased with. If you aren’t bearing fruit, then you are deadwood, fit only to be thrown on the fire.

The question “What then should we do?” is answered with examples of the fruit:

Share food, clothing, shelter — whatever you have. Be honest with people. Show that you trust God, and be willing to live within his provision. Show that you trust that God has actually already provided what you need. Stop envying other people. Stop being greedy and worshiping yourselves. Worship God and see things his way. You will be happy.

Then John told them the real blessing that was coming: Christ the Lord. John made sure people knew that Christ was light years beyond his human advance man. John baptized with water that poured over people’s bodies. Christ would baptize with fire that would be the unleashing of God on the earth. John prepared his listeners for the day of Pentecost when the fire of the Holy Spirit would change them forever. Talk about radical reorientation!