Today I was thinking about the inclusivity of the Lord’s love. From what we see in Jesus’s ministry and the ministry of the Apostle Paul, we learn that God’s love extends beyond all social and geographical boundaries. The limitations which we may have witnessed are human boundaries, not boundaries established by God. Over and over in the Gospel accounts, we observe Jesus shattering any and all boundaries to the love of God. A main component of Paul’s ministry as recorded in Acts and the letters is the message of God’s love to those outside the Hebrew people. This understanding reminded me of the song, Big House, by Audio Adrenaline. I share it with you now in hopes that you can imagine what God intends and that you might offer an invitation to others.
Read Philippians 3:7-9
What would you say gives you your identity? Some individuals might answer this question by describing their employment. Others may choose to answer by talking about their degrees or training or certifications. Another potential response may be linked to their name and/or ancestry. Where the person lives currently or lived previously might be the answer a person gives to this question. A list of accomplishments could be the way the person responds. There are a variety of answers the question night elicit and the one chosen provides insight into what the individual determines as important.
In the letter to the Philippians, Paul speaks about what is important to him and gives us a glimpse into how he wishes to be identified. Paul states that any previous accomplishments or skills are of no value to him any longer. He instead wishes to focus on his relationship with Christ which now has the highest value in his life. He desires to be identified through his faith as connected to Christ.
Reading Paul’s words can cause us to question the man’s sanity. We know that Paul was a very accomplished and respected Pharisee. He also was known to be a Roman citizen which gives him a respected level under the Roman occupation. Since experiencing Christ and changing his direction in his belief of God, he has been a highly effective evangelist, especially to the Gentiles. Why would he say this is garbage in light of his identity in Christ? This talk does not fit the social norms of Paul’s day or of our day.
The truth which Paul discovered is that his most important identifier is found in his relationship with Christ Jesus. Being identified as a follower, believer, and joint heir with Christ was Paul’s greatest accomplishment. This is an important discovery for us as well. Being identified in and with Christ becomes the unchanging determinate of who we are as individuals. The burden of achieving is lessened because we know that in Christ we have achieved the greatest reward. Having to prove ourselves to obtain value no longer is required. Our value is now found in being a child of God, loved by God, redeemed by Christ and identified as righteous.
Since moving to our current home, I have become much more involved in the landscaping choices and maintenance. My participation is on the simpler side of these activities. My partner does the harder work in terms of planting and major pruning. I am more of a visionary and trimmer of small plants. I also assumed the responsibility of keeping plants outdoors hydrated. As I have become more active in landscaping there is much which I have learned but there is also a greater awareness of how much more I need to learn. I am clearly not at the point where I could graft any of our plants or control the pollination of any. I do have a rudimentary understanding of both however. I greatly enjoy the success which we have had with our landscaping. Now if I could just figure out how to get some of our plants to grow faster.
I share this information regarding landscaping at our house because in Paul’s letter to the Romans, he is using plant husbandry as an image when discussing Jews and Gentiles. Paul’s letter to the Romans is an apologetic in regard to Jesus for the Roman Jews primarily and the non-Jewish (Gentile) Roman believers secondarily. His intent is to prove that Jesus is the Messiah. At this point in the letter, Paul is explaining the relationships between Jewish and Gentile believers. He indicates that while there is a majority of Jews who have rejected Jesus as the Messiah, God has never rejected the Jews. The Jews who have not rejected Jesus are a remnant who God has saved by grace. The rejection which others have made opened access to the Gentiles. Through their rejection, the Gentiles have been brought into God’s fold, ingrafted to the tree of life. Paul also states that the Jews who have rejected Jesus will always be given the opportunity to rejoin God’s tree. Then he gives a warning to the Gentile believer. He warns that the Gentile believers should never consider themselves superior to the Jews who rejected Jesus. All are supported by God, the source of life.
This passage speaks to all of us about relating to one another. Whether we are considering the Christian-Jewish relationship or any relationship between Christians and non-Christians, including atheists or agnostics, we are to view others as equal branches on God’s tree. The first branch of the tree were the Hebrew people and then God chose to engraft other branches of the human race. This truth must inform and guide our words and actions as we engage in a highly diversified humanity, a humanity in which every branch is a creation of God.
My mother was one who taught her children that once you begin something you stick with it until it is completed. There might be times when I wanted to quit because it became too difficult or I did not like it for some reason but neither were reasons enough for mom. This lesson of carrying something through to completion has served me well in my personal and professional lives. The satisfaction when you finish something is very rewarding.
At the beginning of Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, we read of his gratitude for the support and sense of satisfaction which he has experienced through the people. He also tells them that he has been praying for them and the joy they bring him. His prayers include the desire for their continued growth in the Lord. In the midst of all of this, Paul declares, “that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:6)
The declaration which Paul makes to the Philippians applies to us. God is definitely not one to quit or give up. This is evidenced in the continual times God made a covenant with the Hebrew people only to have them break it and a new one have to be started. The Lord began in each of us a work which the Lord declared to be good. From the beginning of our lives, God has continued to shape and guide us toward the person we were intended to be. Each day, the Lord works with us as we learn, grow and struggle. Never will God give up on a single one of us or walk away, leaving us unfinished and incomplete.
What a true comfort to have the knowledge of God’s continued work in us. We never have to fear abandonment. We also do not have to be seen as perfect because we are the Lord’s work in progress. Our failures and mistakes are to be viewed as part of the process not as the point of ruin. God is faithful to the work begun in each of us. God is not a quitter.
Have you ever taken pictures with a manual 33mm camera? When I was in high school I was taught how to take and develop pictures using a manual 35mm camera. I was a member of the yearbook and student newspaper staffs which each needed all types of pictures taken for the publications. This became a very enjoyable assignment for me. I had to learn how and on what to focus for each shot as I turned the dial on the lense which I chose to attach to the camera. Often the subject in the center of the picture became the element which I would focus upon. The focus had to be precise or the picture was worthless. I still own my own 35mm manual camera even though I have not used it in years since now my cellular phone’s camera is easier and readily at hand.
As we read from Paul’s letter, the conversation involves who is receiving the focus. These verses are part of a discussion Paul is having in regard to how to live together as Christ followers. He is telling the readers to not be arrogant and self-centered. After these verses, Paul will lift Jesus up as an example of how to be humble and take the interests of others to heart alongside our own interests.
The trap of focusing just on one’s self is an easy one to fall into for us. There are many demands and expectations placed upon our time, energy, and money. Temptations of wanting more and better surround us. Threats of losing what we have seem to be endless as we watch the news and hear the stories of neighbors, friends and family. A person can reach the point of accepting the idea that it is a “dog eat dog world” which demands us to focus solely on our wants, needs and desires.
Paul tells us that this is not the attitude to have as a follower of Christ. We are not to place ourselves ahead of others. Our wants, needs and desires must be placed alongside the interests of others. As Jesus was willing to humble himself to the point of sacrificing all, we must be willing to do the same. A self-centered Christian is not demonstrating the way to live as Christ.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.Romans 5:6-8 (NIV)
There appears to be a pervasive altitude of entitlement in the world today. This attitude manifests itself in a common phrase such as, “I deserve (fill in the blank) because…” For a long time people lived according to the idiom, “earn your keep.” This idiom was first commonly said in the 1800s and was in reference to working for room and board which was common on farms. The understanding of earning what one received was prevalent even to the point of going too far at times. Whether one deserves or has earned something depends a lot upon perception.
Paul understands the concept of being deserving or undeserving when he writes to the Romans. As sinners, people who have not lived out God’s love, what is deserved is punishment. According to the covenant which God first established with humans, and then continuously renewed, the punishment for sin is death and full separation from God. Paul points out that humanity did not receive what was deserved because at exactly the right time Christ died for us so we may live. God’s love overpowered what was deserved and instead of death, we received life.
It is great to not receive what is entitled to us or even what we have earned through our actions. We have been given a great gift, grace, in Christ’s death and resurrection. The love of God remains present even when we do not live it in the world. Instead of waiting for us to stop breaking God’s love (sinning), God gave us the gift. Thank you God for not giving me what I deserve!
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’Acts 17:24-28 (NIV)
Many of us have had a desire to trace our ancestry. Websites such as Ancestry.com and myheritage.com have aided us in our searches for information. Now, with the advancements in DNA research, we have at-home tests which we can take then send into the company for analysis. Companies such as 23andme or Ancestry.com can provide these services for individuals. There is an increasing desire among us to know where and who we come from. As our world becomes blended more, our heritage seems to have gained importance. The stories that fill in our background help us to be more individualized.
During Paul’s time there were no ancestry websites or DNA tests to provide answers to the internal question, “Where did I come from?” Paul is in Athens, the philosophical heart of ancient Greece. He is standing on a rock formation known as the Areopagus which was the location many philosophical orators would use to promote their philosophies to others. Paul is trying to tell the learned of Athens why they should believe in God. In the midst of his speech Paul shares thoughts about being offspring of God.
Paul tells the people that God, who makes everything, has no need for anything created by humans. Instead, God gives everything, even life itself, to everyone. God has taken care of all aspects of life so that humans reach out to God. We are the offspring of God, the source of our life. Paul’s answer to the question about our origins is stated here.
The ancestral research and the DNA testing does not go back far enough. This is because our origin is not found in our human ancestors but in the spiritual one of God. Every person finds his/her beginnings in God. We are all the offspring, the children, of God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.
19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.
22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.Romans 14:13-23 (NIV)
There are decisions in life which can be difficult to make. The choices which are before us may need to be weighed by the impact upon others. On the surface we may determine that one option carries no negative influence for us personally but as we examine the choice deeper, we see there will be a negative impact on others. If we move forward with the choice, we will personally experience no consequences yet this may result in consequences for someone else. The decision creates a dilemma for us.
Paul writes about such a situation. He presents the scenario involving food. He indicates that he does not view any food as unclean. Having this opinion means that he can eat anything he chooses without having it negatively impact him. However, if someone who has an opposite view witnesses him eating perceived unclean food items and it causes the person spiritual distress then he should abstain from eating the food. Paul tells us that we are to always make choices that will be mutually edifying for ourselves and others. These choices should never cause someone else to stumble in their spiritual journey even if the choice is alright for us personally.
The best example of how this might apply to our lives has to do with alcohol. Many of us can consume an alcoholic beverage without a negative consequence. We are able to drink in moderation and responsibly. We do not drink amounts of alcohol which will impair our judgment or cause us to become ill. After consuming alcohol we do not drive until we can do so safely. There is nothing which should prevent us from choosing to drink alcohol. However, a person who has a disease and is unable to control how much alcohol is consumed, an alcoholic, cannot drink even a little. Drinking in front of such a person can lead to the alcoholic assuming it is alright for them to follow your example. The responsible person will have a conversation in advance to confirm if the alcoholic would be placed in a compromising position if you drink. A lot of this has to do with where the person is on the addiction journey. Each person is different. Just because you can, does not mean you should.
We have been given many freedoms. God has made all things possible for us. Our responsibility is to make sure in the exercise of our freedoms and God’s gifts, we do not cause anyone to stumble. If choosing to refrain from something will help build another individual up, we should choose to refrain.
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)
One of the great joys of childhood was the fun which was had with a Lego set. Adults have a mixed view of Legos. Some adults still love constructing with a set of Legos. All adult parents hate when they locate one or a few Legos on the floor with their feet, especially at night. Anyone who has enjoyed Legos knows how the various sizes and colors of Lego pieces allow one to create some amazing structures. All the pieces are important if you are going to create a recognizable structure, character, or scene. Few things can be more irritating than when one or two pieces go missing.
In the letter to the Romans, Paul speaks about the importance of each person. First he points out that one person is not more important than another. God has given each person gifts that are important to the one body to which we all belong. Every member has something to contribute which is unique and benefits the whole body. He then encourages each person to use their different gifts in ways which provide the greatest benefit to the body.
These days we tend to think more individualistic than communal unless we are in a time of crisis. This type of thinking seeks benefits for self rather than for others. Arrogance can easily be a characteristic of an individualistic thinker. This passage calls us to have an opposite perspective. We are to realize that while we each have unique gifts, God gives those to us so combined the whole body benefits. Like our Lego creation, each person is needed to create the body which God has planned. We are to bring our gifts together as a community. When we do, the result will be more amazing than anything Legos can build.
46 “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? 47 As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. 48 They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. 49 But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”Luke 6:46-49 (NIV)
In our community there seems to be an endless amount of homes being built. We live in a metropolitan community which continues to see a tremendous amount of population growth. Some of this new home construction has been very close to where we live. On my morning walks I have walked by many of these new homes and seen them at different points of the building process. The process is very similar in each build. Everything begins with a leveling of the ground, then a staking out of the perimeter of the home, followed by a more precise leveling within that perimeter. The ground is allowed to sit for a week or more so that it can settle before one final leveling. The next step in the process involves laying of pipes and other aspects of underground utilities. Once all of this is completed and a wood framework of the house isin place, a concrete slab is poured which will serve as the foundation and provide allow for the anchoring of the walls. Then the framing of the house can begin once the concrete has cured.
Jesus speaks of the importance of a foundation as part of his teaching in today’s passage from Luke. He uses this imagery to emphasize putting his words into practice. The foolishness of people who hear what Jesus teaches but does not use these teachings as the basis for their lives is like a person who builds a house on the ground without a foundation Jesus says. When the storms come, the house is destroyed because it has no anchor. The opposite is true of the person whose life foundation is the words Jesus has shared.
We have been freely given the words of Jesus as presented in the gospels and applied by Paul and the apostles. What to do with these teachings is dependent upon us. If they serve as a foundation for our lives, we then have an anchor which will help us to navigate through and withstand the turbulent times in our lives. If we vaguely recall, or not recall at all, the teachings, they will have little value to us. The storms will come, they always do, and we will be battered and tossed around until our lives collapse into splinters and rubble.
Reading the gospels and the epistles begins the building of our foundation. Listening to others as they interpret and teach these words strengthens our foundation. Interacting with the Lord through times of prayer and silence, cures our foundation. Be a wise builder by building your life upon the words of the Lord.