Thursday, September 04, 2008

Are you trying to out-god God?

Acts 15
It wasn't long before some Jews showed up from Judea insisting that everyone be circumcised: "If you're not circumcised in the Mosaic fashion, you can't be saved." Paul and Barnabas were up on their feet at once in fierce protest. The church decided to resolve the matter by sending Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to put it before the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem.

After they were sent off and on their way, they told everyone they met as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria about the breakthrough to the non-Jewish outsiders. Everyone who heard the news cheered—it was terrific news!

When they got to Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were graciously received by the whole church, including the apostles and leaders. They reported on their recent journey and how God had used them to open things up to the outsiders. Some Pharisees stood up to say their piece. They had become believers, but continued to hold to the hard party line of the Pharisees. "You have to circumcise the pagan converts," they said. "You must make them keep the Law of Moses."

The apostles and leaders called a special meeting to consider the matter. The arguments went on and on, back and forth, getting more and more heated. Then Peter took the floor: "Friends, you well know that from early on God made it quite plain that he wanted the pagans to hear the Message of this good news and embrace it—and not in any secondhand or roundabout way, but firsthand, straight from my mouth. And God, who can't be fooled by any pretense on our part but always knows a person's thoughts, gave them the Holy Spirit exactly as he gave him to us. He treated the outsiders exactly as he treated us, beginning at the very center of who they were and working from that center outward, cleaning up their lives as they trusted and believed him.

"So why are you now trying to out-god God, loading these new believers down with rules that crushed our ancestors and crushed us, too? Don't we believe that we are saved because the Master Jesus amazingly and out of sheer generosity moved to save us just as he did those from beyond our nation? So what are we arguing about?"

There was dead silence. No one said a word. With the room quiet, Barnabas and Paul reported matter-of-factly on the miracles and wonders God had done among the other nations through their ministry. The silence deepened; you could hear a pin drop.

James broke the silence. "Friends, listen. Simeon has told us the story of how God at the very outset made sure that racial outsiders were included. This is in perfect agreement with the words of the prophets...God said it and now he's doing it. It's no afterthought; he's always known he would do this. So here is my decision: We're not going to unnecessarily burden non-Jewish people who turn to the Master. We'll write them a letter and tell them, 'Be careful to not get involved in activities connected with idols, to guard the morality of sex and marriage, to not serve food offensive to Jewish Christians—blood, for instance.' This is basic wisdom from Moses, preached and honored for centuries now in city after city as we have met and kept the Sabbath."

Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas (nicknamed Barsabbas) and Silas—they both carried considerable weight in the church—and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with this letter:

From the apostles and leaders, your friends, to our friends in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Hello! We heard that some men from our church went to you and said things that confused and upset you. Mind you, they had no authority from us; we didn't send them. We have agreed unanimously to pick representatives and send them to you with our good friends Barnabas and Paul. We picked men we knew you could trust, Judas and Silas—they've looked death in the face time and again for the sake of our Master Jesus Christ. We've sent them to confirm in a face-to-face meeting with you what we've written. It seemed to the Holy Spirit and to us that you should not be saddled with any crushing burden, but be responsible only for these bare necessities: Be careful not to get involved in activities connected with idols; avoid serving food offensive to Jewish Christians (blood, for instance); and guard the morality of sex and marriage. These guidelines are sufficient to keep relations congenial between us. And God be with you!
God isn't mad at you- He's mad about you! Seems like a fitting quote since there is a whole lot of people getting mad in Acts 15.

We usually get mad when someone infringes upon our beliefs and our rights. Even as Christ followers we quite often act like we have an Evangelical Bill of Rights, giving us the--

Right to eat whatever I want
Right to drink whatever I want
Right to dress however I want
Right to spend whatever I make however I want
Right to choose my career

In reality, we give all of this up to God when we enter the Kingdom. And our entrance is all about simply accepting God's grace. Nothing else is added. Otherwise we aren't trusting in God's grace after all. We need a "Declaration of in-dependence on God."

That's why Paul got so bent out of shape by the circumcision thing. The Israelites were quite fond of the act, even naming a place, 'The Hill of Foreskins'! (Joshua 5:3)

Now it doesn't matter if its circumcision, dancing, smoking or any number of other activities we often want to add to clean people up to show that they're worthy of God's grace- once you do that it it isn't God's grace anymore!

One of the basic principles of grace is that it is 100% pure. One drop of legalism added to grace will pollute the entire batch. No matter how good the law or the person adding it might be it always comes back to haunt the one who adds the legalism. We can never add one law without adding THE LAW.

Sin boldly...but believe more bolder still. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. Martin Luther

There is no right way. There is no best. There is no perfect. It's not a competition. Not when it comes to faith. Not when we're talking about our relationship with the divine. In the end, it's about grace; it's about something you don't do. It just is. Cathleen Falsani, A Field Guide For Grace

John 15:5
"Apart from Me you can do nothing..."

In our denial we say it the other way, 'Jesus, apart from ME you can do nothing.'

We believe that we can out-god God!!

So we become Grace Police and Grace Monitors. Here’s how we do it: We get in, God forgives us and we’re in and then we say, 'Okay, look, Jesus is a busy guy. God’s a busy god, so we’ll help him. And we’ll make sure that anybody else that gets in, we’ll just kind of clean out all the riffraff before they get to him.' That's exactly what was happening here in Acts 15 that we see expanded upon in Galatians.

When we still hold on to how things were, our arms aren't free to embrace today. Rob Bell

The early Christ followers were getting a new identity, and living a new reality- the FULL dependence on the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit in order for a new activity to occupy their lives: to reconcile others to God and each other.

Let The Outsiders In!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Blessings to you my dear!

11:40 PM  

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