The Gospel in Unity

The most tolerant dog in the world. Tolerance is a oft-used word in our present world. I’m not always convinced we are using the word correctly. Tolerance implies that there is an objection to something – but that objection is intentionally set aside for the sake of peace or unity.

Unfortunately, tolerance, as presented on a societal level, is more a demand for uniformity, leaving little room for intellectual dissent. People who hold deep convictions have felt pressured to compromise, and the terrible by-product is a mistaken notion that outright intolerance for people who hold different views or values is the only way to respond if one is to be faithful to one’s beliefs. That is most certainly a mistake. Tolerance is a Christian virtue – and acceptance of others in spite of differences is held up as the standard for appropriate representation of the gospel.

The church could learn a lot from that dog in the video.

This Sunday we’ll be looking at Romans 14:1-21 as we continue our study in that book. Paul will be talking directly to the divisions in the Roman church – divisions over convictions and doctrines that were very important to those who held to them.

As you read through this chapter – how would you characterize Paul’s emphasis? What does he seem to hold as a greater importance than the specific practices and beliefs that people had?

Paul stresses the idea of God’s acceptance of believers who hold their convictions before the Lord. What is the basis of God’s acceptance of us?

What are the issues that seem to cause division in the church today? How might we learn from what Paul says and apply them to our own community today?

I believe this is one of the most important chapters for us to really grasp as 21st Century American Evangelical Christians. I hope you can make it this Sunday!

The Gospel’s Advance

Well, they say one should never discuss politics nor religion in polite company. We will strain that conventional wisdom this Sunday, as we look at Romans 13 in our continued study of that book. Paul will see to it that religion and civic authority collide in no uncertain terms.

v 1-7 have been a source of consternation and sometimes abuse throughout the history of the church. Paul clearly asserts that civil governments have been appointed by God, and because of that, Christians should submit to the laws of the government. He makes it clear that human government is appointed to keep order, so that the evil of this fallen world isn’t left to run unchecked. All of this, according to Paul, has to be paid for somehow, so we should pay the taxes the government requires of us.

Obviously, this can give us pause. It would be a reasonable question to ask if this meant someone like Hitler was appointed by God…and if so, to what extent was a Christian to be in submission to that government?  We know that despots have appealed to this passage to intimidate citizens into subjection, leveraging religious fear. Can this be what Paul had in mind when he wrote this?

How do you understand Paul’s instructions? Do you believe he is saying that God approves of all leaders or that all governments represent his values and will? As we consider our own American government by the people, how do you understand Paul’s statements? Do you believe there is room for lawful dissent or peaceful protest within these instructions?

How would you summarize Paul’s overarching point in chapter 13, in light of his instructions given in chapter 12:9-21?

In what way does his following statement, to owe nothing but love for our fellow human, inform your understanding of how the gospel is advanced in this world?

Paul wraps his thoughts up by pointing out the lateness of the hour, and the fast approaching revelation of God’s healing kingdom. How can our understanding of God’s kingdom help us to better understand and respond to human governments?

This section is going to be one in which we’ll need to be careful and clear in our thinking, as we process through Paul’s words. We’ll be taking a good long look at the historical context – the rise of Nero and the shape of the world in which Paul wrote these words. It should be enlightening, challenging and encouraging! Hope to see you Sunday!

 

 

The Gospel in Action

Image result for gi joe characters

Anyone remember the old GI Joe PSA that would run at the end of the cartoon? One of the intrepid soldiers would explain to a youngster why they shouldn’t play in the street or handle spent nuclear rods or whatever…and then finish off with the pithy phrase “Now you know, and KNOWING is half the battle!” And of course – Lady Jaye or Duke was right. Half the battle – the other half is putting that knowledge into action. One without the other is useless or dangerous. Action without knowledge can lead to all sorts of misguided energy being spent – knowledge without action becomes an exercise in self-centric futility.

As Romans 12 began, Paul told us that God was in the process of renewing our minds – changing our thinking. There are things we learn and then know. But that’s only half of the thing. There must also be a practical outlet for our changed thinking.

We’ll be continuing our study in Romans this Sunday, reading 12:9-21 where Paul describes what the Gospel looks like in action.

As you read this section over, what do you see as the overarching theme? How do you reconcile the use of the command to “hate” in an instruction on love? In what ways do you think Paul means to hate evil, given the context?

Can you identify three different spheres of social involvement identified in these verses? What are the negatives, that is, what are the ways Paul tells us not to behave? In contrast, how are we to behave towards others, including those who want to be our enemies?

This is Paul’s description of how we live once our thinking has been changed by the Gospel. How easy or difficult is it for you to put the gospel into action in your own life? How can we as a church community be more proactive in putting the gospel into action in the world where we’ve been placed?

This will be both challenging and encouraging – hope to see you Sunday!

The Embodied Gospel

We are entering into the final stage of our study in the book of Romans. The last section, chapters 12-16, will focus on how the gospel effects people who are working together to form a community. These chapters are filled with practical examples of how the good news is expected to shape our interaction as the church.

This Sunday we’ll be reading ch 12:1-8.

What do you believe Paul means by his exhortation to give our bodies to God? Why do you believe he saw this as important? In what way does this connect with his metaphor of a “living sacrifice”?

Paul moves from the metaphorical to the practical in v2, explaining exactly what he believes his previous exhortation will look like. How do you interpret “don’t copy the behaviors and customs of this world” in light of what he wants to see transformed in us? What are some ways in which God can transform our thinking? How can this embody the gospel in our world?

If we keep in mind the rift between the Jewish and gentile believers which Paul has been seeking to address, it helps us to understand his apostolic command in v3. Why is a humble and honest evaluation of ourselves important in the context of not copying the patterns of this world?

The “body” theme continues as Paul expands beyond individuals to a community challenge. The gospel is embodied through cooperative ministry. What gift do you think the Holy Spirit has allocated to you, and do you find opportunities to exercise it? If you aren’t sure, what gift would you like to be able to have? Sometimes God is working through our interests. Take some time to pray about how God wants to use you to embody the gospel.

This will be a challenging as well as encouraging section to read this Sunday. Hope to see you there!

God is Still Working

One of Eastgate’s logo designs is emblazoned with the words, “A work in progress”, because that’s what we are. We haven’t arrived at what we’re aiming for, and God is still in the process of shaping and molding us into a community with purpose. That’s true of all of us who are following Christ – we’re all a work in progress. Sometimes, however, we may feel like there’s been a labor strike because nothing much seems to be happening. Progress seems to halt, we stumble back into old habits, we face setbacks. Sometimes that happens with those we love and pray for as well. It’s in those times we can be tempted to wonder if God has given up on us or those we care about.

That is what’s happening in the text we’ll be reading this Sunday as we continue our study of Romans. We’ll be reading all of chapter 11. Yes, I agree, that’s a lot of verses to cover. It’s largely a review and summary though, so we’ll be able to handle it in big chunks. Paul is wrapping up his thoughts concerning Israel’s rejection of the Messiah – and in doing so, he poses questions about God rejecting Israel.

What does he conclude about that question – did God reject Israel? In v1, what does he base his answer on – what proof does he highlight concerning Israel? Paul took comfort in something small compared to the majority. How can that comfort us when we are wondering if God has given up on our situation?

Something else that Paul does is remind himself of the story of Elijah when he was on the run from Ahab. What does v4 remind us of concerning God’s providence?

Paul then recaps his thinking through the rest of the chapter – but when using the metaphor of branches cut off of a tree and new branches grafted in, he makes a hopeful statement in v24 about the potential impermanence of Israel’s rejection of Christ. How can his hopeful statement encourage us when we feel like we have stumbled and stagnated in our own journey with God?

We will deal with all the various interpretations of vs 25-26 on Sunday.

The whole section of ch 9-11 has some very discouraging things to say…but all of it ends on such a hopeful note. It’s just a reminder of the truth Paul stated in chapter 8:28 – God is always at work, through all things, to bring about what’s best for us.

Hopefully this will encourage you as well. See you Sunday!

 

 

Good News People

“Today, the term evangelical is a loaded word in American culture, packed with a variety of contradictory meanings. The emotions it evokes in one person can be the polar opposite of how it affects someone else. What evangelical is supposed to mean—bringer of good news—is completely different from what it has come to mean for many in our society: judgmental, misogynist, bigoted, homophobic. How did this happen? How did the “good news” people come to be widely regarded as bad news?”

~Lance Ford,  Revangelical: Becoming the Good News People We’re Meant to Be. Tyndale Momentum

This Sunday we’ll be reading a very famous passage from Romans as we continue our study of that book. We’ll be reading ch 10:14-21.

Paul, still sorting through the dilemma of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah, puts forth a stair-step argument for how people actually receive Jesus as Messiah. His argument is in the form of questions again, and he starts with the desired goal of salvation (based on v13) and works backwards through the process. Before they can embrace God’s salvation, they have to believe. But in order to believe, they have to hear the offer. In order to hear, someone has to tell them the news, and so on.

There is no way around the usage here – the gospel has a message to be shared. The Good News is news. You might find the origins of the word we translate as “gospel” of interest – there is a famous inscription that reveals it’s usage outside of the church. If you read the translation, take note of how Augustus is described, and compare it to the first Christian description of Jesus.

Paul makes an assumption about who was sent to share that news. What does this tell us about our purpose as the church? He quotes Isaiah 52 which forecasts the day when Israel’s exile is over – and how beautiful even the feet of those will be who bring that good news. This clearly indicates to us, as the church, that we have some very good news to share with the people we are placed among. What is the good news, in your understanding? What does v17 indicate that the Good News is about? How can we see to it that we keep the main thing the main thing?

Hopefully this study will get us thinking and pointed in the right direction for how we, as a community of the Gospel, can bring light to the world in which we’ve been placed. I’m really excited about Sunday’s study.

 

Faith > Works

Image result for blue dress or gold dress

Do you remember the buzz a while back about how people could look at the same dress and some people saw a blue dress with black stripes, while others saw a gold dress with white stripes? I’m still amazed that anyone saw anything but a blue dress – but that’s the thing, isn’t it? It was all the same dress. How our brains processed the light and color made all the difference.

That’s similar to what Paul will be talking about in our text this Sunday, as we read Romans 10:1-13.

Paul will be talking about how Israel looked at the promise of God and saw something that had to be worked out by honoring the Old Testament law. Yet, as Paul will explain, that was seeing the promise in the wrong light. God always intended for salvation to come as His gift to human-kind, not as something we earned.

In this section, Paul provides us with the profound declaration of how salvation is bestowed on us. The message of faith that Paul preached is found in v9. How do you understand this combination of speech and belief in the inner person? How would you explain to someone unfamiliar with Christianity what it is that Paul is driving at here? What distinction, if any, do you see between faith in the heart and understanding in the intellect? How do you think someone who struggles with the tension between the two can resolve on faith without committing intellectual suicide?

Sunday is a special day – we will only have one service at 10 am – then we’ll go to St Andrews State Park to have a cook out and baptize those who wish to be. This is the very declaration of faith Paul is getting at in our text. If you haven’t been baptized and want to know more about it, you can go to this page on our website, and sign up there if you’d like to make that declaration this Sunday!

See you then!