Thursday, September 27, 2018

2 vs 10

 
 
As Believers we know that we are supposed to obey God’s commands and take the Bible as his Word. Still, it can be difficult understanding how some of the Bible applies to us given how different our world is from the one in which the Bible was written. However, when we read the Bible, we see that even in Jesus’ time, some had that same problem. God in his wisdom, through the Bible, has provided answers whose relevance does not fade with time. Consider the question, which was posed to Jesus about which commandments we should follow.
 
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:34-40
 
Jesus tells us the Law can be fulfilled in the two commandments he provided, which suggests that if we follow those two, we can fulfill all the others. Is that really true? The 10 Commandments brought down to the people by Moses are perhaps the most famous commandments from the Bible, and they are important enough that many believe them to be the inspiration for our current legal system. The 10 Commandments as listed in Exodus 20:2-17 are paraphrased below:
 
 
  1. You shall have no other gods before God.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below for the purpose of worship.
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy meaning you can work on six days of every week, but one should be kept for rest just as God did.
  5. Honor your father and your mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your fellow people.
  10. You shall not covet that which belongs to your fellow people.
 
What can we learn from comparing these two sets of commandments? Right away, we see that both are arranged similarly in that the first of Jesus’ commandments and the first four of the Mosaic Commandments define how we should relate to God. Jesus’ commandment is vague in a sense. It tells us only that we should love God, but what does it mean to love God, a being capable of creating the universe and everything in it from nothing? The first two Mosaic Commandments pertain to the practices in the past of worshipping false gods and objects fashioned into gods. From this we can infer that part of loving God with everything we have means acknowledging him as the Supreme Being and treating him as such. According to the 10 Commandments, loving God also means respecting his name and what it means to call on that name and him by extension. Lastly, we are to honor the Sabbath. We can look at this as a commemoration of God’s great work. He spent a week creating everything, and moved from creating to sustaining. He changed his activity. We might say he took time to relax and reflect on his creation. If we love God, the least we can do is dedicate a day every week to reflect on him and everything he’s done for us starting with the Creation and up to the present.
 
Jesus’ second commandment and the last six of the Mosaic Commandments relate to how we treat each other. Again, Jesus kept it general and directed us to love each other. The 10 give us an idea of what it means to love our fellow man. We are to respect our parents and forebears. They, through the process God created, brought our physical beings into this world. If nothing else, our parents deserve to be honored for that. How can we truly show the proper reverence to our Spiritual Father, who we can’t see, if we cannot do that for our physical parents who are down here with us? The 10 also tell us that loving each other means respecting everyone’s right to live. God gave us our lives. We have no right to unlawfully take those gifts. The next of the 10 relates to our spouses, those that we have professed our love for and commitment to in front of God. Loving that person means remaining faithful and true to them. The eighth and tenth Mosaic commandments both relate to respecting that which belongs to other people. We should not take from others nor should we obsess over or envy that which is not our own. Loving others means understanding that God has blessed others according to his will and their own efforts. We have no right to take those things from them, nor do we have the right to look at those things and feel like they should be ours. The Bible directs us not to be overly concerned with worldly treasures(Colossians 3:2), but these commandments direct us to respect that whatever worldly treasures a person has belongs to that person as long as God wills it. The ninth commandment has often been simplified to “You shall not lie.” While the Bible does tell us not to lie(Colossians 3:9), this commandment is more specific than that. It tells us that we should not accuse people of wrongdoing that we know they did not commit. Loving other people means knowing that their reputations are important, and such false accusations can greatly hurt those reputations and in turn those people. God knows all, but we humans do not. False accusations can lead to the downfall of others as it relates to placement in our society. Love does not destroy in that way.
 
It’s easy to see from this comparison that the two do in fact encapsulate the ten. It should also be obvious that despite the two being more succinctly stated than the ten, they are far more difficult to fulfill. While the ten provide a good foundation for proper behavior, they are limited in a way that the two are not. Loving God and the rest of humanity cannot be broken down to so simple a list. 1 Corinthians 13 gives a good assessment of what love is and what love will do. Verses 4-7 in particular are pertinent to this discussion:
  
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
 
Love is more than a set of restrictions. Loving God with your whole being doesn’t just mean refraining from worshipping trinkets ahead of him. It means putting him above everything including family, work, and ourselves. Loving your fellow people as you love yourself doesn’t just mean refraining from killing or taking from them. If we love ourselves, then loving our fellow people means caring and doing for them to the same degree that we would do for ourselves. Yes, Jesus’ two commandments may be the simpler set, but he did not make things easier for us by simplifying the commandments. There is no checklist of rules that we can mark off to be sure we are obeying Jesus, and to be honest, for us alone, those two commandments are impossible to follow. We need God’s help. We have to pray for his guidance and rely on the Holy Spirit that resides within each of us. With God’s backing and Jesus’ teaching, two or ten won’t matter. We’ll be in-line with God’s will, and ultimately guiding us to that end is the only reason commandments exist in the first place.
 
 
Chris Lawyer
Image Courtesy of www.catholictothemax.com
 
 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Can You Relate?



Nothing in life happens in isolation. Things happen in context or in relation to their environment. With this in mind, let us consider what is carried within the word relationship. A relationship is a connection between people, places, and/or things that can be either physical, emotional, psychological, or a combination of these three elements. Furthermore, relationships with other people and the world around us is what composes our realities. These relationships provide us with a sense of self, which can be understood as the element of a person that thinks thus establishing the desires, feelings, and aspirations through which one perceives his or her environment. We also learn how to respond emotionally and psychologically to certain situations/circumstances that we are exposed to through our relationships with and within our environments. It is possible to have varying relationships with our environment depending on how we perceive and experience it.

For example, if we feel a part of our environment we feel as if we belong to it and that the environment enriches us in some way. The environment can also provide individual and cultural meaning. Based on these environmental experiences we can also develop relationships with things within the environment such as compulsive behaviors, addictions, and materialism. Along with these relationships with our environments we also have relationships with other people, and all of these relationships seem to follow patterns.

Carmen Lynch, M.F.CC, provides us with labels to help describe the various kinds of connections that are possible, which she identifies as five key dominant patterns of relationship: survival relationships (we feel like we can’t go on without the relationship), validation relationships, scripted relationships, acceptance relationships, and individuation-assertion relationships (a relationship where needs and growth processes are respected) (Patterns of Relationships). In thinking of relationships in these particular ways, one can see how pivotal having a relationship with God, the creator of all things, is.
Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. - 1 Timothy 6:6-10

Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. - 1 Timothy 6:17-19
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Therefore, put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them. But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. - Colossians 3:1-17


References

Lynch, C. (2016). Patterns of Relationships. Retrieved from https://www.sonoma.edu/users/d/daniels/lynch.html 

Darnell Sheffield
Image Courtesy of darrylburling.com

Thursday, September 6, 2018

What Makes a True Christian



 
What is a Christian?  It seems like a simple question, but when you do a little research into the number of Christian groups operating in today’s world, you’ll realize the answer is not so simple.  Most people know that Catholicism was the first major international standard for Christianity after the fourth century and remained so until the great schism of 1054. The  Protestant Reformation emerged in the 16th century. It wasn't long after that, Protestantism led to denominational rifts among Believers.  Now, it is hard to say how many different sects of Christianity exist.  Some conservative estimates claim that around 40 true denominations of Christianity exist.  Other less conservative estimates suggest that more than 40,000 different belief systems exist under the umbrella of Christianity.  Some of the differences are as simple as which day should be considered the Sabbath (Saturday vs Sunday).  Other differences are more significant.  For example, most Christian sects believe in the Divine Trinity where God consists of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  However, nontrinitarian sects, such as the Church of Latter Day Saints exist.  Some would argue that belief in the Trinity is fundamental to Christianity and, it is certainly Biblically supported, but that doesn’t stop the Mormons and other Latter Day Saints groups from claiming to be Christians.

So who are the true Christians?  “Christian” is a label.  It wasn’t even a term early Christians chose for themselves.  It was a name thrust upon them.  Ref (Acts 11:26).  We Believers may not always agree on every detail associated with our Faith, but the Bible, without a doubt, sets a foundation for anyone who would follow Christ.  Here are three principles that may define that foundation.

Christians believe that Jesus is divine, had a supernatural birth, died, and was resurrected.

For a Christian, believing in Jesus doesn’t simply mean acknowledging his existence.  Muslims also believe in and honor Jesus.  Even many non-believers admit a man named Jesus (or Yeshua to be accurate) existed and is the subject on which Christianity is based.  For Christians, Jesus was not just a regular man.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning. 3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. - John 1:1-5

From the opening of the Gospel of John, we know that Jesus is God. We may not all fully understand the nature of the Trinity, but we certainly understand that Jesus has a relationship with the Father that is divine and different from any other being. That relationship carried through to his birth and life as a man. Furthermore, he died as a human, but he rose, and that is perhaps one of the most important aspects of his story for Christians. 1 Corinthians 15:17 says:
And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.

His death and resurrection are what allow us to have a relationship with God that was previously impossible. Any belief in Christ that does not acknowledge his resurrection would miss the point of much of the New Testament and could not be seen as Biblically sound.

Christians believe that Salvation cannot be earned but is given to us if we believe on Jesus and his work.

John 3:16 is perhaps the most well-known scripture from the Bible. Even many non-believers have heard it.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
 
It’s clear, belief in Jesus and what he did for us is what saves us. Some belief systems will push the idea that there is something more required of us and that we must somehow earn salvation through our works. While it is true that the Bible suggests faith without action is empty (James 2:14-24), salvation is not something we can earn (Ephesians 2:8-9). It is something given to us by God.
1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. 2And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. - Romans 5:1-2

Faith in the savior is what saves. If we sincerely confess our belief in Jesus Christ and believe that God raised him from the dead, we have salvation and it’s not something we can lose (Romans 10:9-10). Someone can claim to be a Christian, but if they don’t have this understanding and faith, they cannot please God.

Christians believe that love is the key to obeying God.

Believers should strive towards lives without sin, but committing sin does not disqualify one from being a follower of Christ. As discussed before, following laws is not what saves us. If someone is truly saved i.e. a Believer sealed by God’s Holy Spirit, the natural inclination should be to turn away from sin and to follow God’s Law. Jesus said:
If you love me, keep my commands. - John 14:15

So which laws should we follow? Luckily for us, Jesus also addressed that question:
37Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38This is the first and greatest commandment. 39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” - Matthew 22:37-40
Love is the cornerstone for those alive in Christ. It is how we show our obedience to God. Many may claim to follow Christ, but if exercising love for God and mankind is not central to their beliefs and practices then they are not being obedient to His will.

Of course following these three points won’t eliminate all disagreement, but they do provide a common ground on which everyone who follows Christ should be able to build. We should spend less time quibbling over differences in nonessential beliefs and allowing those differences to divide us. Ultimately, God is who decides whether someone has truly met his requirements. Let us simply focus on doing our best to obey His will. 


Chris Lawyer and Pastor Everette Pope
Image Courtesy of www.themonestary.org