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From the Front Porch: A God of my own Choosing

August 28, 2011 3 comments

Apostle Paul. Byzantine mosaic at the cathedra...

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Surrendering our will to God’s sovereignty is perhaps, the hardest thing to do for people of faith. Indeed, there are times when I want to do my thing, reach for the stars, “go for the gusto” or “just do it”, as our society encourages, unhindered by my faith in God. And there are times when I wish that God would look beyond my skewed perceptions and behaviors simply because he loves me as his child and expects that I am fully human”. That’s rationalistic enough, isn’t it?

This morning, I reflected on a book written long ago by J. B. Phillips titled, Your God is Too Small. Phillips had keen insight into the human condition and wrote that we put God in a box of our own perceptions and ideas as though we could control Him as well as the outcomes we have chosen for our lives. Times have changed perhaps, but the one constant is that our human nature and condition do not change. We still want our God in a box. We still want a God of our own choosing.

The Corinthian Church dealt with similar issues. They knew who God was by their cultural standards and so made broad allowances for their behavior.  The problem, writes the Apostle Paul, was that they could drum up all the philosophical reasons about God without really knowing God at all (1 Cor 15).  The same applies to us.

If we imagine that God thinks the way we do and that he tolerates us because he knows we are earthly and therefore, fallible and human, we can excuse a multitude of even inappropriate behaviors. But this is a cultural conception of God, not the God of the Bible. For there, we do not read about a god of our own choosing that we can take for granted, but a God who chose us to become more like His Son, Jesus. That is the glory of the resurrection — that we would become like Him. The more we know God with our hearts, the more we become like Jesus, who is the “fullness” or “mirror image” of God

Without this heart-knowledge of God — without knowing that with every step we take, we are always walking in God’s sight — all we could hope for is to live as happily as possible until we die. There would be no hope beyond the confines of this world. If this is the case,would there really be any point for faith in God at all? The Apostle Paul put it this way: “If with merely human hopes I fought with wild animals at Ephesus, what would I have gained by it? If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die'” (1 Corinthians 15:32).

The more I think about it, the more I realize that believing in a God who I create in my mind is absolutely nothing compared to believing in a God who chose me to become more like him. I don’t want a God who merely tolerates me for my ineptitude in living out the Christian faith or excuses my sinfulness because I’m “merely human”, but a God who loves me even when I fail to live the life of faith perfectly. I’ll stick with the God of the Bible.

From the Front Porch: The Importance of “Community”.

August 10, 2011 Leave a comment

Robert R. Livingston

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Synopsis: No matter how much we like to believe that we are self-made individuals, the truth is that we are successful, not because of how smart or clever we are, but because we had a community of family, friends and acquaintances who believed in our dream and desired to support our efforts. If the recession has taught us anything about our common life as a people, it is that we need each others’ gifts and abilities in order to succeed. Perhaps it’s time that the myth of “rugged individualism” gave way to reality of community.

America is a land of "rugged individualism".  We make our way through life, chart our own destiny, continually pushing on to bigger and better opportunities and rewards.  In the Social Sciences, we give this attitude of self-sufficiency a name:  "express individualism".  Fact or fiction, our reliance on our ability to get ahead in life by becoming anything or anyone we want to be has permeated American society since the Founding.

However, is the American spirit of “rugged individualism” fact or fiction? Are we really as self-sufficient as we believe or is the whole idea of making things happen on our own merely a myth that we, as a nation, have owned as part of our founding story?

In his book, “The Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell reviews the “rags-to-riches” (success) stories of athletes, music groups such as The Beatles and entrepreneurs like Bill Gates. What he found is that successful people have more behind them than native ability and a sense of genius.  Among other sociological factors, Gladwell discovered that their success was based largely on being at the right place at the right time and having a community of supporters help pave the way for their success.  In other words, success depends not only on how clever or smart we are, but on a community of people who believe that our ideas can help change the world.

In the Bible, the priest Ezra had the difficult task of uniting Jews returning from exile. But, no matter how effective a leader he was, he could not accomplish this task without the support of the entire community (Ezra 10). The Apostle Paul faced similar difficulties in Corinth. He could not unify the Church until the community members recognized that they were not merely individuals seeking to gratify personal desires but members of a Body (i.e., a “community”) that was meant to glorify God (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Similarly, it took the entire community of states gathering at Philadelphia to reach a unanimous agreement that the community that was to become the United States was vastly more important than the personal interests of a few who opposed the forming of the Constitution.  Indeed, even though Washington was dubbed the “father of our Country” in the American Revolution and later, Madison heralded as “the father of the Constitution”, neither could have achieved greatness without the unity and support of a community of people.

We do not live, move and have our being in a vacuum. We cannot live or succeed apart from a community.  No matter how much we like to believe that we are self-made individuals, the truth is that we are successful, not because of how smart or clever we are, but because we had a community of family, friends and acquaintances who believed in our dream and desired to support our efforts. If the recession has taught us anything about our common life as a people, it is that we need each others’ gifts and abilities in order to succeed. Perhaps it’s time that the myth of “rugged individualism” gave way to reality of community.

From the Front Porch: Strength in Weakness

August 5, 2011 4 comments

Raphael's "School of Athens"

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Our culture places much emphasis on strength and power. The powerful and the strong control society. Those who have power command authority, respect and admiration from others.

Those of us who don’t have this type of power seek to be self-sufficient, which is another form of power that is highly regarded in an individualistic society. But what happens when troubles come and we feel that we have no strength or power to meet the challenge? What do we tell others who are experiencing periods of unemployment or underemployment in a troubled economy or difficulties in their most significant relationships?

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthians, stated that “I came to you in weaknesss…with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that our faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Co 2:4-5).

Now Paul was no dummy.  Steeped in Hebrew and Greek philosophy, Paul could argue with the best philosophers of his day. That was no small thing for a people like the Corinthians who prided themselves on the wisdom of the ancient Greek philosophers. Instead, he chose to show them the power of God’s love.

Now the power of God’s love makes absolutely no sense to philosophers. Who in the world would die to save others?  A truly powerful god wouldn’t need to do that. He would simply exert power over others. That’s what the Greeks thought. But, Paul argued, that is not how God rules over His Kingdom. Indeed, God is powerful in us when we are at our weakest point — when we give up our ability to make sense of things and trust in Him to lead us.

It is often at those moments in our lives that represent crossroads — when we are struggling to make sense of things — when God’s power is revealed most clearly in our lives.  Those moments of struggle and confusion are God’s opportunity to make us strong in Him and give us the perseverance and insight into our difficulties that will see us through to their resolution. Trusting in a greater power – the power of  God in us – is so much better than trying to break through the uncertainty on our own.

Surely, there is much to be said for human power and self-sufficiency, especially in a culture that lauds them both.  But in God’s economy, there is far more power in us when we are ready to rely on Him as our strength. Tap into that power in your life today.

From the Front Porch: Peacemakers

July 31, 2011 1 comment

We live in a world of constant strife and upheaval. Strife is not something limited to  fighting in foreign countries or Congressional leaders fighting with each other over our national debt crisis. Strife also occurs with colleagues and supervisors in our jobs, social circles and even in our most important, significant relationships. So, in a world steeped in strife, what does it take to find true, lasting peace these days?

We  can find genuine, lasting peace when we are other-person oriented, take time to listen to each other and make personal sacrifices that seek the others’ best interests and not our  own.  For example, I’m a classroom teacher at both high school and university levels.  Even though these two groups of people are vastly different, there is one thing they have in common — the need to learn. One of the defining principles in education is that teachers become other-person oriented, sacrificing self-interest for the best interests of each student.  This is also an excellent principle to apply to all of our interpersonal communication.

Listen, ask clarifying questions, seek to understand the other person’s point of view before expressing your own, respond appropriately, and look for win-win solutions. These are the things that make for peace.  Today, be a peacemaker. Do the things that make for peace.

From the Front Porch: Loving the Unlovely

July 30, 2011 2 comments

The Apostle Paul summed up all the commandments in one rule:  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Romans 13:9, NIV).  Of course, Paul is quoting the words of Jesus who put it this way: “do to others what you would  have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12, NIV). This means that we are to treat others with the same amount of respect and dignity that we want others to give us. That’s tough to do  with the road-raging maniac on the highway; the churlish boss who bullies us around the office; the person at the gym who hogs the weight machine, taking long breaks between sets while we wait;  the impertinent, rude sales clerk, and many others. Loving people who are unlovely is, at best, a difficult thing to do. But loving them as we love ourselves is nearly impossible.

However,  as we understand the strength and presence of God‘s love in us, loving others — even the unlovely — becomes possible. Loving others, even as difficult as they are, requires acknowledging that at times, we too are unlovely. Yet God loves us so much that He was willing to lay down his life for us. With this changed perspective, now is a good time to love — even the unlovely.

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