Posts Tagged ‘gentile’

Many people like to talk about the “promises of God,” like the various covenants God made with his chosen people from rainbows (not destroying the earth by flood after the time of Noah) to multiplication (the many children and heirs of Abraham). But then, through King David and the prophets, the ultimate promise begin to take shape.

Ephesians 3:4, 6
In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, . . . 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.

This singular promise is about relationship to God, the creator and sovereign head of the Earth. This promise is mystical and eternal. The revelation of this mystery has been a slow unfolding.

God began the process with a small group of people in Israel. Although the initial oracle was fairly simplistic (as in only ten commandments), the message grew into a rather unwieldy collection of laws and interpretations that bogged down the initial intent: Love God: Love Others. Eventually, through hardships, exiles, and even silence, another small group of people of Israel grew hungry for truth and looked for the promised solution: the Messiah who would reopen the door to God.

Hidden within the Messiah solution was a greater mystery: everyone would have now have access to God.

There is something about the idea of “everyone” that is not always palatable. If everyone can have it or do it, there is nothing special about it anymore. And what about the bad people, won’t they abuse it? And what about the ugly people or the smelly people or the people of different color or shape or ability?

It would be like a board of directors of a bank: they have the combination codes for the vault. They are the keepers of the depository and they can decide when to open the vault and when to close it. That is, until some guy comes along and says he’s the one who made the vault in the first place. He’s changing the code to make it easier to open. Sure enough, those directors start freaking out when some real low-lifes from town start opening the vault and taking what appears to be more than their fair share. These new folks are so cavalier about the door, they don’t even bother to close it sometimes. The leave the door ajar. Good grief, anyone could get in there and take everything. The directors keep closing the door and changing the access codes. But then, along comes one of the old directors, some called him Paul and some called him Saul, he starts passing out the universal code, even to people from out of town. The most amazing thing happened, instead of a run on the bank, a lot of people didn’t believe the door could be opened, so they didn’t bother to look.

The mystery is that the vault is never empty. There is always enough in the vault.

It’s the law of plenty.

Most of us think, including me, “if I give it all away, there won’t be enough for me.” [I Kings 17:7-15]

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Back in the day, particularly for the Israelites, the Law was everything. The law was their standard, their crutch, their security, their hope. Why a curse? Because no one could follow every jot & tittle of the law, and for this reason, they participated in the rituals of sacrifice and atonement. That was the point. The Messiah was promised to be the ultimate reconciliation.

Galatians 3:10
And all who depend on the Law [who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals] are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction, for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide (live and remain) by all the precepts and commands written in the Book of the Law and to practice them.

This was the proposed road for the Israelites. For them to accept Jesus as the Messiah, they had to accept one final sacrifice as efficacious and complete. To accept the Messiah and then go back to the old way, was restoring the power of the curse.

The second leap for the Jews who accepted Jesus as the Messiah was to accredit the blessings of Abraham (once relegated to their people alone) to the Gentile believers. The exclusive club was no longer a matter of birthright, history, or ancestry.

A single act reboot the system.

As a believer, I am confessing that the work of Christ is the restoration act between me and God. Where the door was closed, it is now open. I may enter the realm of God, the divine. I may participate in holiness. I am permitted to be in relationship . . . not because of what I have done (or not done) but because of who “He” is, that is, the Christ/Messiah for the world.

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It’s one of my struggles in the church as I go through this period of change in viewpoint. I’m in process. So I edit what I say around certain people who I assume will be offended. I don’t want a confrontation, or the backing away, or the widened eyes. And yet, how else does the “conversation” begin?

Galatians 2:12
Before certain men came from James, he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group.

Actually, the key problem may be my assumptions about the “other.” Isn’t it these presumptions that keep me quiet? How can I really know what others think unless we talk about it.

But then, I hear my inner voice remind me that I’m not quite sure where I’m going with all this new information about Emergents and Missional Churches and Hipster Christianity. There is so much excitement in these frameworks as believers become more inclusive, more committed to the needs of others, more relational. A part of me enjoys confronting the “sacred cows” of the institutional church but I also don’t want to “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Peter got a taste of the “new way” when Cornelius [Acts 10] called Peter to his house just after the Lord had given Peter those three visions of the sheet coming down from heaven filled with foods that Jewish law had always prevented him from eating. He was shocked. And yet, when Cornelius’s men appeared, he understood the vision and he went to the house, entered and even ate there. But that was before the gentile explosion. It was one thing to “let in” a few gentiles here and there but Paul was starting to bring them in my hundred and thousands. Maybe it was all happening too fast. I don’t really know.

Perhaps we all suffer from these fears now. The new stuff sounds good, but what about the traditions and the old ways? Haven’t those ways always worked before? Hasn’t the church always survived?

I’m not so sure. Has the church survived or has it merely continued to splinter off into a variety of cells (denominations) because of disagreements and revelations. The proliferation of denominations got so bad at one point that people thought they could solve the problem by having “non-denominational” churches. But soon, even those groups splintered and they created churches by affiliation (Vineyard, Calvary Chapel, Community Churches) and then a single church would develop “campuses” with closed circuit video of the pastor. Big was better, Megabig was best.

But that trend is now being confronted with smaller is better and may tiny (like house churches) is best.

Who knows? What is the church? What is the Body of Christ?

There cannot be only one affiliation or denomination or cell group that has the inside track of what it means to be the Body of Christ. There is but one litmus test: Christ crucified and risen, accepted by the believer as the propitiation of sin. The rest is interpretation.

I think it’s time for me to stop worrying about what people will think and just talk to them. The conversation must trust that Christ is the glue that holds us all together. The conversation opens the doors to our hearts and minds. It doesn’t have to be about “changing” someone’s mind, just connecting.

I have written before about the “sacred other;” if we entered every conversation with this in mind, our differences of opinion would not separate us. We would be free to enjoy the many colors of Christ.

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Acts 15:11
“No! We [Peter speaking of Jewish disciples] believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they [the gentiles] are.”

Grace, grace and more grace. It is grace that does all the work. Grace = Jesus.

No human being can operate faithfully and fully within the laws of God alone. It is simply impossible. We are fallible, imperfect, careless, and prone to err. Perhaps we intend the best, but we bring far less to the table of life. We are handicapped in one way or the other. We hurt each other. We fail each other.

My daughter has told me how I am the only one she can trust, that I have been steadfast, that I am her hero. And I tell her… get ready, because I will fail you eventually, whether perceived error or truly just blowing it. I keep trying to bend her trust toward the only One who is totally reliable. It’s not me, I know.

God has poured so much grace upon me already. I am thankful for family, shelter, work, food on the table, transportation, freedom, and health.

Who are the gentiles of today? Isn’t it possible that God will pour out his grace on those unlike us… whose lives are different than our own? Who are we to decide what someone else’s faith walk will be like?

There was much damage done by many well-intentioned missionaries who entered cultures unlike their own and did everything they could to recreate those cultures. Look what the well meaning “whites” did to the Native Americans here in the United States… not just condemning their faith, but stripping Native Americans of their dress, their music, their land, and their history. Or, what of the Africans who were brought to this country? They too were forced into a new life, often under the trappings of “saving their souls” because they were categorized as barbarian or primitive.

Grace is more powerful than anyone’s culture. Grace knows how to integrate into any culture and reach the heart. It is the power of grace that transforms the human spirit. Lives are not changed at my insistence that they worship the way I do or read the text the way I do or pray the way I do.

The Jews who had accepted Christ had to a make a huge shift in thinking in order to embrace the gentiles. Can we do any less to those of other cultures, sexual orientation, or race? Let us trust Grace.

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Acts 13:21b-22a
Then they [Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.

There were no Bibles for the new Christ-followers in Asia Minor, particularly the gentile converts. There were no “new believers’ kit” and there were no pamphlets. There were no “4 Spiritual Laws” and there were no welcome packets or prayer cards. There were no mentors nearby and no “big sisters or big brothers.” There were no pastors or Jesus-believing rabbi’s.

They had each other.

They had what they could remember from the introductory teachings of Paul and Barnabas. And, if they were lucky, they might have access to a free-spirited Jew who might share with them what he (or she… maybe) knew of the Law or perhaps there was someone who had memorized portions of the psalms and would sing/speak them. Only later, did they have the letters. And still much later, they had a few visits from other believers who trusted Paul and Barnabas and were willing to teach the message of Christ to the gentile converts.

They had prayer, their first and most vital connection to their faith. They had the Holy Spirit.

Their ability to “remain true to the faith” was under girded by the Holy Spirit. And I believe the message was a simple one. They were not dissecting the written word. They had the witness of Paul, Barnabas, and the resonance of truth within.

When I first asked Christ to guide my life, I was alone. I had had the witness of one fallible man, Tom, who had tricked me into reading the New Testament. And on the night I finished reading that Gideon edition of the New Testament, I could not call the essential message a lie. And if it was not a lie, then I had to reckon with the truths.

It is the essential messages that reach the heart: God loves human beings so much that God sent his son-self as a human to teach and show people the nature of the kingdom of God. Jesus proved himself and the kingdom over and over again. He loved and he served and he died (by choice). That sacrificial act made it possible for people to commune directly with God. Jesus then arose from the dead by the power of the Spirit. And that same Spirit manifests the kingdom of God within those who believe to this day. This is how faith operates. This is why we can commune (pray) with God.

But people want to codify the faith. They write, they translate, they extrapolate, they simplify, they complicate, they erase, they add, they emphasize, they minimize, they err, they correct, they change, they rearrange, they chisel, they smooth, they broadcast, they whisper, they blog, they twitter, the IM, they sing, they proclaim, they conceal.

Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ [Luke 10:27]

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