Temporary Residents

June 9, 2017

Peter begins his first letter by addressing it to “those temporarily residing abroad” (1 Peter 1:1, NET). He then goes on to mention the various provinces in which they are scattered. It is likely that many of these Christians had lived in these places all their lives. In what sense could they or we, for that matter, be temporary residents?

The Christian is an alien, a sojourner, or a temporary resident in that his true citizenship is in heaven. This affects the way we approach life, even though we might live in the same house all our earthly life, our values and affections will show that our destination of heaven is what is most important. If we think of ourselves as temporary residents, we will not loose sight of our goal. Our trust will not be in this world. The world in which we live is but a temporary place. The Christian must look beyond it for his true home.

The Epistle of Diognetus has an interesting section on the Christian being a sojourner. The letter is an uninspired, anonymous letter dating from the second century A.D. The writer is attempting to explain the differences of being a Christian instead of a pagan or a Jew. His thoughts make an excellent commentary on what it means to be a temporary resident:

For Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric life-style. This teaching of theirs has not been discovered by the thought and reflection of ingenious men, nor do they promote any human doctrine, as some do. But while they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are “in the flesh,” but they do not live “according to the flesh.” They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. (5:1-9)*

Keeping our eyes on the goal is not always easy. There is much in the world to distract us. The Christian life must be life of watchfulness. Reminding ourselves that we are only temporary residents and sojourners in this world may help us to keep our eyes on the goal.

*Michael William Holmes, The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations, p. 541.

Advertisements

One Day at a Time

December 31, 2016

I like the phrase at the end of Matthew chapter 6: “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Jesus is arguing against worry and excessive anxiety. In Matthew 6:34, he is not talking about moral evil, but problems or troubles that come our way each day. The modern versions are quite correct in rendering it: “Each day has enough troubles of its own” (e.g., NIV and NASB). Jesus is urging that we have a deep trust in God and handle our problems one day at a time.

Jesus argues against worry in a number of ways in this passage (Matthew 6:25-34). First, he argues from the greater to the lesser. If God has given us life and a body, will He withhold the lesser things — food and clothing — which are needed to sustain the greater gift? Second, he argues from the lesser to the greater. Jesus teaches that God provides for the birds and the lilies of the field. Since we are more valuable, won’t he provide for us as well. Third, he informs us that the pagans — those without faith — pursue the same things, but our heavenly Father knows that we have need of them. Our perspective should then be: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33).”

Francis C. Ellis tells of a businessman who drew up a worry chart to track his worries. His findings were:

  • 40% probably will never happen
  • 30% concerned that past and couldn’t be changed
  • 12% other’s criticism of him
  • 10% concern over health
  • 8% legitimate concerns changed

This aptly illustrates Jesus’ maxim: “Each day has enough troubles of its own.” We need not borrow problems from the future to ruminate on, let us live each day with trust in God.

Certainly, there are times when disasters come, and anxieties press us down, but the solution is still found in “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33, ESV). Or, as Peter encourages, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7, NIV). Only trusting in God will see us through.

One sage has remarked, “The most pleasant and useful persons are those who leave some of the problems of the universe for God to worry about.” Let us take one day at a time.


The Transforming Pattern

November 11, 2016

When children first learn to print, a pattern is placed before them of how the letters are to be formed. They practice forming the letters by copying the pattern. In the process children are transformed from not knowing their letters to knowing and printing them.

Patterns can be transformative. I believe that Christian living is to be transformative. One term that expresses this in the New Testament is sanctification. It can refer to the process of becoming holy as well as the result of becoming holy. Is there a pattern for becoming more holy? Listen to these passages that I think give us the pattern that we are to copy and learn until like the child copying letters it becomes a part of us.

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, ESV)

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:11 ESV)

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13, ESV)

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14–15, ESV)

So what is the pattern? When I hear the gospel I learn of the seriousness of my situation as separated from God, but I also learn of God’s love and Christ’s love in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Prompted by this love, I want to follow him daily. Following him daily means that I will also deny myself and die to myself daily. This self-denial means that I will consider myself dead to sin and I will be working at putting to death the deeds of the body with the help of the Holy Spirit. I will also consider myself alive to God, and I will live for Jesus’ sake. This means putting on the positive qualities that God wants me to have.

  • Because of love, I will follow Jesus daily.
  • I will deny myself, die to myself daily.
  • I will live for God and live for Jesus daily.
  • I will rely on the help of the Holy Spirit in this process of sanctification.

When we do this, life will never be the same. This is a transforming pattern.


Jars of Clay

October 28, 2016

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay…” (2 Corinthians 4:7a) Paul describes himself as an unassuming clay jar. It is an image of humility and weakness. Jars of clay were cheap, useful, and breakable. What was important to the users of clay jars was the contents, the treasure inside.

The point of the image is not to say that Christians are unimportant. Even within this paragraph, Paul notes that it is “so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11, ESV). And Paul is working towards the statements that although our outward self is wasting away, “our inner self is being renewed day by day.” Even though our mortal body can be compared to a tent which can be pulled down, we await our heavenly dwelling.

Paul’s point is seen in his purpose statement: “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7b, ESV). The Corinthians seem to have a problem with pride (see 1 Cor. 4:6, 4:18-19, 5:2, 8:1). They are way too convinced of their own wisdom, strength and honor (1 Cor. 4:10). It sometimes even causes them to complain about Paul: “his bodily presence is week, and his speech of no account” (2 Cor. 10:10, ESV).

Paul is chipping away at this Corinthian pride all through 1 and 2 Corinthians.

  • God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 1 Cor 1:27
  • Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord. 1 Cor 1:31
  • “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.. 2 Cor. 10:17-18
  • If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 2 Cor. 11:30
  • Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 2 Cor. 12:9

Calling himself a jar of clay with a treasure inside, Paul can admit his weakness and reliance on the power of God. He can take afflicted, perplexed, struck down, and carrying in the body the death of Christ and use the power of God to face these difficulties. It is with God’s help that he is not crushed, not driven to despair, not forsaken, not destroyed, and manifesting the life of Jesus in our bodies. These contrasts (4:8-11) are instructive.

“The light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” is in us. What a treasure! Yet, we must acknowledge we are but jars of clay. When we admit our weaknesses, we find that God can use the weak things of this world to show his power. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).


“Ghandi and Christianity”

October 22, 2016

Richard Attenborough directed the film Ghandi which won eight Oscars in 1983 and launched the career of Ben Kingsley. It is a powerful film which tells the story of Mohandas Ghandi who through his nonviolent civil disobedience broke Britain’s colonial rule of India. Ghandi admired Jesus Christ and was especially fond of the Sermon on the Mount. Yet, Ghandi lived his life as a Hindu and never became a Christian. At the time of the movie, Philip Yancey wrote “Ghandi and Christianity” which pointed out that part of Ghandi’s reluctance was due to the kind of lives he saw among those who professed Christ.1

Inconsistencies. As a law student in Britain, Ghandi became exposed to the Bible and to those who professed to be Christians. After many Sunday sermons, he complained of uninspiring sermons and a congregation who “appeared rather to be worldly-minded, people going to church for recreation and in conformity to custom.”

Prejudice. Attenborough’s movie tells of Ghandi’s experience in South Africa. He was among supposedly Christian people, but he found discrimination. He was thrown off trains and excluded from hotels and restaurants, because as he put it, he was considered “a coloured man.” E. Stanley Jones is quoted by Yancey as saying, “Racialism has many sins to bear, but perhaps its worst sin was the obscuring of Christ in an hour when one of the greatest souls born of a woman was making his decisions.”

Reflecting Christ. Ghandi’s bad experiences only serve to underscore the importance of Paul’s words: “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3, ESV). Paul is using the image of a letter of recommendation. A letter of recommendation introduces and commends someone by telling of his or her character and qualifications. Paul tells the Corinthians that they are “Christ’s letter.” They are a letter of recommendation for Jesus Christ. Their lives are introducing others to Jesus. Their lives are speaking volumes about who Jesus is.

Christians should live lives “worthy of their calling.” We should conduct ourselves so that we are an accurate letter of Christ for the world to read even though we are not perfect. We may be the only “letter” that some may see, and we may be the “letter” that influences their decision. Let us be conscious of our function as letters of recommendation. Ghandi’s life reminds me that this has at times been done poorly. Let us rise to the task and reflect Christ in our lives.

1Christianity Today (April 8, 1983):16.


Are You Connected?

September 16, 2016

Psychiatrist, Dr Edward M. Hallowell, in his book Connect, argues that we all need connectedness to live more fulfilling and healthier lives. Connectedness is more than just human contact. It is to feel a part of something larger than yourself. It’s feeling close to another person or group. It’s feeling welcomed and understood.

To connect to other people is not just emotionally desirable—it affects us physically. He cites the Alameda County Study by Dr. Berkman. She and her team surveyed people between the ages of 30 to 69 to determine how they were connected or not connected. The group was followed over a period of nine years. Isolated people were found to be three times more likely to die in that nine-year period than those with stronger social ties. The statistical advantage of living longer was evidenced in every age group. Even those with poor health at the beginning of the study or whose life style posed greater health risks lived longer if they had strong social ties.

Being connected gives meaning in life. It provides emotional resources in times of crisis and the physical benefits noted in the Alameda County Study. Yet modern life often frustrates these important relationships. Hallowell comments: “But many things get in the way of people reaping these benefits, stumbling blocks like too many daily obligations, or shyness, or time, or fear.”

This research shouldn’t surprise the reader of the Bible. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone,” which resulted in the creation of woman and the family. Through history, God has also desired a people to worship and serve Him—the families of the patriarchs, the assembly of Israel, and now the church of Christ. Hallowell certainly argues that connectedness can be found in many different ways, and he is primarily dealing with emotional and physical health benefits. But it is obvious that the church provides this connectedness with its emotional and physical benefits, plus a spiritual benefit.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19–25, ESV)

The stumbling blocks to connectedness in general can also be stumbling blocks to connectedness in the assembly—“too many daily obligations, or shyness, or time, or fear.” For emotional, physical, and spiritual health, we need one another. Are you connected?


Do the Book of Revelation

February 1, 2016

People like to speculate about the Book of Revelation. It has suffered much at the hands of its readers. If you are interested in the symbols of Revelation, I recommend Stafford North’s Unlocking Revelation: Seven Simple Keys. But there are a number of ways to get a handle on Revelation’s message. I think if you grasp the seven letters to the churches of Asia Minor in Revelation 2-3, you have a pretty good idea what the book is about. Revelation contains seven beatitudes (1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7, and 22:14). If you understand these beatitudes, I think you have a pretty good idea of the message of the book. But there is even another way.

The sixth beatitude in Revelation reads: “Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book” (Revelation 22:7, ESV). This beatitude says the book is about doing. Revelation contains 96 commands, but most of those have to do with the dramatic action of the visions. If we narrow the list down to those commands that have application to all Christians, the list is shorter.

  • Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. 2:5
  • Do not fear what you are about to suffer. 2:10
  • Be faithful unto death…. 2:10
    Therefore, repent. 2:16
  • Only hold fast what you have until I come. 2:25
  • Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die… 3:2
  • Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. 3:3
  • Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 3:11
  • … so be zealous and repent. 3:19
  • And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.” 14:7
  • Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, for God has given judgment for you against her!” 18:20
  • And from the throne came a voice saying, “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.” 19:5
  • Worship God. 19:10, 22:9 (with the implication worship God only)
  • Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. 22:11

Read Revelation and pay particular attention to the commands. If you practice these commands, I think you understand the message of Revelation. Jesus and John want us to do the Book of Revelation.