October 26, 2010

Milk and Meat [Part One]

I've heard the terms "milk" and "meat" quite a bit recently in conversations about Christianity, describing, generally, things that are simple and easy to digest about Christianity and things that are tougher. While I didn't disagree with the way they were used, I decided to search out and know the Biblical references in the New Testament to find out how Paul used them. I'll go through the whole chapter because the chapter ends when Paul reference Apollos and himself and boasting about men again, bringing that discussion to a close. Let's dive in, shall we?

First Corinthians Three:
1Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. 2I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. 3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? 4For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?
The first reason Paul says they are still worldly is that they are jealous and quarreling amongst themselves; that's pretty straightforward, as we can all agree those two things are not at all good. It's the next thing, though, that stands out a little more:

They claim to follow "mere men," not God. They say they follow different earthly teachers. The men listed are good men of God, yes, but Paul and Apollos are "only servants, through whom you came to believe- as the Lord has assigned each to his task." Paul continues the discussion of his and Apollos's role in the context of being God's workers.

The next shift in topic comes in verse ten:
11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. 14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.
No one can do the work Jesus did, says Paul to the Corinthians. Simple enough, but is bears reminding. Paul tells them that what they do in this world will be brought to light and shown for what it is, and if it survives the fire, they will receive their reward. If not, the believer shall still be saved, but without the reward received by the others.

This may not have blown the minds of the Corinthians, or it may have. It blows mine. We have many assumptions about heaven that aren't Biblically based... including that we'll all be equal. Do not get me wrong here: no one will be unhappy in heaven, where no light is needed because God's glory will keep it lit forever; but there will be difference in "reward" and "treasure in heaven" because of what was done on Earth.

Beyond expounding upon the nature of heaven, this is encouragement to be diligent in the work of God; of investing your resources in the Kingdom, of sharing the Word with those who need it, and of serving the church and working in the Body.

More to come. In the next post, I will talk about the rest of 1st Corinthians 3 and what else Paul is telling the Corithians about milk and meat. There is also a mention of "spiritual milk" in Hebrews 5 that I will talk about then, too. This post has gone a bit long.

Gentleness and Truth

When I talk to people about Jesus, I have done very well in being gentle and kind as we are commanded to be in several of Paul's lists: Galatians 5:22, Philipians 4:5, Colosians 3:12... the list of lists is long.

On the other hand, I have been aware for some time that the message of the Word in its wholeness is often offensive to people. It tells them that they are sinful, that God hates sin, and that they should humble themselves to admit that they are not at all the good people they imagine themselves to be and let God guide their steps.

Humility AND submission? That sucks.

Most people who only follow half the words (if any) of their respective holy books or whom live by a code of what's socially acceptable will tell you that they are "good people" because they don't kill anyone, say hateful things to people on a regular basis, and they recycle plastic bottles. Sometimes. A new standard that throws their hopes and dreams of creating their own goodness is much too large a pill to swallow, quite often.

These thoughts met, joined hands, and boiled down to the level of clarity when I heard a sermon in my hometown several Sundays ago. The pastor talked about Saul/Paul's early ministry, and one of the things he talked about was how Paul was ran out of several towns by people who wanted to kill him (Acts 9:9-25, 28-30). It should be noted that Paul "debated the Grecian Jews" in Jerusalem and "baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ." He was "speaking boldly in the name of the Lord."

While I don't believe that if you're not receiving death threats you're not doing it right (Acts 9:31), there is something to be said for his boldness with the Word. We're called to take the Word to people, and it can be harsh; granted, it is all ultimately in a context of God's love for us, but that's not often the part that first stands out to people when you share the entirety of the Gospel.

All this to say:

By all means, be gentle and respectful. And by all means, present the full Gospel without omitting the tough stuff. And please, be bold. Those of us who don't preach hate or cheap grace can certainly increase it that area.

The sermon I referenced was preached by Pastor John Kuvakas at Warrenton Bible Fellowship on October 10th, 2010, and can be found here.

October 1, 2010

Almost Worse Than Midterms

I write about waiting quite a bit, how beneficial it is.

What I want to guard against is the illusion that I'm able to walk these things out perfectly everyday and I that I never doubt or have trouble believing that good things are coming. Struggling with belief and faith are often the largest trials we go through during the times of waiting, and thus there's a very good reason that trials are called tests of our faith (James 1:3). I was lying awake last night worrying that waiting on God for certain things would take too long and that I should take things into my own hands; he reminded me about that my decision to wait was based on letting him be the one in control so that I wasn't letting my limited human judgement screw things up. When I'm crying out to God, it's often asking him why and telling him that I'm hurting a lot. He knows that already, though. It's after those times that he gives me deep peace, which I only lose when I'm focused on how impossible and illogical everything looks from my eyes, through my thoughts, in my ways...

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways," declares the LORD. "
As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."

Isaiah 55:8-9

Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will not let the righteous fall.

Psalm 55:22

Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

Years of Waiting

Do you think you've been waiting a long time?

Abram was promised was promised a son at 86 years old, and had Isaac at 99. That's 13 years of waiting on God's promise. [Genesis 15-17] Then, God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and he says yes.

Then, in Genesis 22:12:
"Do not lay a hand on the boy!" he [the Angel of the Lord] said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
After waiting for a son for decades, then waiting 13 years for a promise to be fulfilled, Isaac is the fulfillment of what Abraham has wanted for a century. Then God asks him to demonstrate how much he loves him by giving him up.

Jacob worked for 14 years for Laban just to marry the woman he wanted to marry, because he had been tricked into marrying her sister as well. He had run away from his brother, who wanted to kill him because Jacob had tricked him into giving him his birthright, and had tricked his father into blessing him instead. He stayed with Laban for 20 years before going back to his brother Esau.

When they met again, after 20 years, having left after theft, deception, and anger:
But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. [Genesis 33:4]
Jacob, over this time, had twelve sons. His favorite, born of the wife he loved, was Joseph. One day, Joseph died... or so he thought.

Jacob spent 21 years believing Joseph was dead. That's as long as I've been alive. Then, came good news; the son who was long dead to Jacob was alive! What's more than that, Joseph brought them to Egypt, the most prosperous land anywhere at that time, and they lived in comfort and completeness. TWENTY-ONE YEARS.

And then we have Joseph's side of those 21 years. Thirteen of them were spent either as a servant or in prison. He was deceitfully accused by Potiphar's wife, was put in prison, and later forgotten about for two years. There were 13 years, from age 17 to 30, where God was slowly but sure preparing him for huge things... thing that he had promised Joseph at age 17! Then it was another 8 years before he saw his family again. He waited 21 years for the promises to come to fulfillment!

David had a very similar thing happen. He was anointed king, the forgotten and youngest son out of many. He was anointed king at 30 [2 Samuel 5:3-4]. Even if he was 20 when he was the youngest son sent out to be a shepherd, that was 10 years of waiting and being exiled from the very kingdom he was supposed to rule by the father of his closest friend.

Those are just a few example from the Old Testament. I say this to challenge you to put things in perspective. This past summer was a very rough one for me, but God taught me very much; one of the blessing that it was a three-month season of tough trials that I got to see the blessing of (in growth and maturity) very soon afterward; it reassured me that God is using the much longer-term trials too.

Thus, I want to encourage you to stay faithful by holding on and not jumping the gun or giving up hope. The Greek word for enduring has a literal translation meaning "holding tightly." And some translations use "longsuffering" instead of "perseverance;" I prefer the first one. It's much more accurate.

I realize this post isn't as happy as some others have been, but I want to say that there is a promise of happiness to come even if much suffering is happening now.

Psalm 27:13-14:

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.