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Love is the Fulfilling of the Law—The Role of the Last Five 

Love is the Fulfilling of the Law—The Role of the Last Five 

Commandments in the Christian Life

In our lectionary readings for last week, the first week of Advent, one of the texts we read was Romans 13:8–14.  This is a special text for a couple of reasons: First as in all of Paul’s letters, they are broken into two major parts, (1) a Gospel section expounding the wonderful truths about our redemption in Christ, and (2) a moral section outlining and admonishing how Christians are to now live in light of this salvation. 

Early Christian Catechesis

This text is part of this important second section which begins in chapter 12:1 with the famous words, “I appeal to you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Secondly, these verses, in particular, especially 13:8–10 give us a glimpse of the earliest Christian catechesis. What is “catechesis?” The term comes from Greek and means to train or instruct. Before Christians were baptized, they were first instructed in the commandments of God. This was true of both Judaism at the time of Christ and Christianity. In fact, the practice of pre-baptismal catechesis was taken over by the earliest Jewish Christians from the traditional Judaism they had been reared in. 

The “Ten Words”

At the heart of this training lay the Decalogue (meaning “Ten Words”)—the Ten Commandments. What is interesting about this is that Jews and Christians of this time usually only focused on the last five commandments. This is precisely what Paul does here. This was customary for some reason, and we.see it elsewhere in the New Testament. Jesus’s teaching in Matthew chapter 5 of the Sermon on the Mount is set up the same way, so is the book of James 2:11. The earliest existing Christian catechism from the first century known as the Didache (or Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles through the Twelve Apostles) is structured the same way. Take in a quick read:

Rom. 13:8  Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Early Christian Meetings

In the latter part of the first century A.D. a Roman Bureaucrat named Pliny the Younger writes a letter to Emperor Trajan. In it, he tells of his attempt to find out what these Christians are doing in their secret meetings where they supposedly eat some man’s “flesh and blood.” After torturing two young Christian women (presumably to death!) he concluded that these Christian meetings are of an innocuous nature. Notably, they included a recommitment of an oath to follow what sounds like these final parts of the Ten Commandments. Essentially, the catechumen committed to being a “covenant law-keeper” swearing a “sacramentum”

The “Cliff-Notes” to the Law

The Ten Commandments are in fact a summary of the Law of God. They were used in ancient Israel and Judaism as a sort of “Cliff-notes to the law. Easily memorized, they served as a quick reference on how to act in the many moral decisions of life. In Matthew Chapter 5, Jesus’ sermon on the mount actually gives an example of the dynamic kind of thinking God expects his people to use in approaching these commandments. God is concerned with his people reading to capture the “spirit of the law.”

Matt. 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And ha second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

When we come to the so-called “summary of the law”—the Two Great Commandments, what we are really dealing with is a summary of a summary!

Why The Focus on the Last Half of the Ten Commandments?

So why focus do many New Testament writers focus on the last five? Well as a pious nation, idolatry, idol-making, etc. were quite out of style. Breaking the first five commandments were socially intolerable. It was in relation to one’s neighbor where hypocrisy was most likely to reveal itself. As reform movements like Christianity and the Essenes upped the bar, the emphasis was put on how one treats his or her neighbor. John puts this best:

1John 4:20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. 

For the Apostolic writers, love of neighbor became precisely HOW a person showed his true love for God. This is why Paul refers to the summary of the law, to also summarize the last five of the Ten Commandments: He writes: “the one who loves another has fulfilled the law…” and “and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom. 13:8 & 9–10).

The Love of Jesus Christ is the Fulfilling of the Law

As we celebrate this Advent and Holiday season and look to 2020, let us keep this in mind. Jesus came as the fulfilling of the law—the sinless for the sinful. Jesus came as a man, to save all men because of the Law’s demand. Apart from Jesus, we cannot fulfill the law. 

Jesus was embodied in human flesh, the divine donning flesh to save those in the flesh. Through his work, he has given us his Holy Spirit, by which we cry “Abba—Father!” (Rom. 8:14 & Gal. 4:6) Now that Spirit indwells our flesh so that we might incarnate the Gospel before the eyes of the world. 

As we do so, ever imperfectly, let us always bear in mind to love, because the one who loves his neighbor fulfills the law!

 

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Mere Immortals | Your Weight in Heavenly Treasure

Mere Immortals | Your Weight in Heavenly Treasure

Of all the good and beautiful things that we regularly take for granted, foremost among them is each other. It has been said, “familiarity breeds contempt.” This could not be more true than with closest relationships.

How often do we snap sharply at those close to us, and afford social graces to strangers? How impatient are we with one another in general? This all flows from a general contempt of others.

What is contempt?

Contempt is a minimizing, a degradation or devaluation of another human being. It is to treat them with less dignity than they deserve—less dignity than who they really are.

Contempt looks judgingly down its nose at another person, and most often, in a way that makes the person judging feel better about themselves. 

The Weakness of our Strengths

Whether we realize it or not, we pass judgment, and yes, therefore pass contempt upon other people based upon our own strengths. We never judge others by what we do poorly, but by what we feel we do better. The areas where we are weak and less than excellent are precisely the character traits we downplay—the things we shrug off as unimportant. We instinctively create in our head a pecking order of character traits that, ironically enough, have all our best character traits at the top, and our weaknesses as the bottom. 

This, of course, sets us up to have contempt for others who have precisely the opposite strengths. A naturally organized or detail-oriented person can be naturally predisposed to pass judgment on those who are not similarly gifted. Oh and vice-versa.

Mere Immortals

C.S. Lewis wisely quipped that there is no person that we face or interact with, who is not a glorious and immortal being. God did not make us for contempt, but for glory. 

Genesis chapter 2 tells us that humankind was created in the image of God. We were created by, in, and for the ultimate glory of God. The glory of God is on us; the glory of God is in us, and the glory of God is our ultimate destiny. When we make light of a person, we make light of a glorious, eternal, and immortal being; more seriously, we ultimately make light of God himself. Glory is God’s destiny for us—if we in fact choose that! But any way you want to slice it, all humans were made for that end.

Immortal Dignity

We need to understand what human dignity truly is. Perhaps the growing social and political awareness of human dignity is one of the gifts of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. This, of course, stems from the conversation on “human rights.” For all her warts, the human’s “inalienable rights” is very much the child of this country, the United States of America. When we speak of human rights, we speak of human dignity, the right to be treated according to some moral standard for no other reason than the simple fact that she, he, or we are human.

Our dignity, however, is inseparable from our connection with God, from being created in his image. Humanity is much more than just this person, or that person. Humanity extends to the whole race, and all that involves its dignified treatment. So environment, justice, rights, and all things that either promote or threaten human flourishing, are the subject matter of human dignity.

The grand hiccup in all human rights discussion is the failure to see that the honor of human dignity must extend far beyond the self-aware adolescent or adult. Human dignity extends to the very potential to create more humans in the image of God. It is immoral to pump chemicals into the water supply that could cause birth defects ultimately thwarting human flourishing, it is equally immoral to pump saline solution into a womb for convenience. The violation of human dignity in the womb is the grand hypocrisy that not even the worst religion can outdo.

Heavenly Treasure

We are, and yes, you are a heavenly treasure. God made you and I for more—so much more than we normally see or hear. As we struggle through this mundane, sometimes sweaty, and often quite unglamorous life, we must ever bear in mind that we were made for more. And that is what the Gospel of Christ promises to weak human beings—a grand future and a grand eternity. Of this Gospel, which means “Good News,” the Apostle Paul says this:

2Cor. 4:7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.

Yes, we now live in humble, “earthen vessels” as the King James version reads. But we were made for glory. This is precisely what the Gospel is putting back at the center—the love of God, and the power of God. The Gospel is then most manifest, not in the power to judge, but in the power to have grace, patience, and enduring encouragement with one another. That is how a people of heavenly treasure are to be.

 

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!

Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!

“And in the same region, there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’”  (Luke 2:8-14)

For many of us, especially children, one anticipation of Christmas is the airing of Christmas specials. On December 9, 1965, CBS debuted a Peanuts Christmas special created by Charles Schulz. A Charlie Brown Christmas received high ratings and was a big success. It has been a Christmas classic ever since.

In the special, Charlie Brown is feeling depressed because he does not know the true meaning of Christmas. If you recall, Charlie Brown’s best friend Linus recites Luke 2:8-14 in their Christmas play to help him understand. I didn’t realize it in 1965, but now I see it. Linus is discipling!

I muse over this Peanuts special because it would not be produced in this day and age. To produce a comic strip or cartoon that would seriously quote Luke’s Gospel and air on secular television would be unheard of. The commercialism of Christmas, political correctness and the current moral revolution have taken “Christ” out of Christmas.

It is nice to know, in the hectic season of Christmas, that A Charlie Brown Christmas is still a mainstay; Charlie Brown, Linus and the Peanuts gang can cut through the noise of the secular culture with Luke’s true meaning of Christmas.

May we all at The Church of the Apostles be like Linus and pronounce the true meaning of Christmas to our friends.

The Lord’s Peace be with You,
Deacon Doug Stomberg

 

ABOUT ADVENT

About Advent

The four weeks of Advent present Collects that point to the second coming of Jesus:

Advent #1 – Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent #2 – Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent #3 – Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Advent #4 – Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, now and for ever. Amen. So, what are we to do in response to this message concerning the second coming of Jesus Christ? Well, let’s examine each collect for the answers.

Advent #1 – We need “to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life.” Notice the collect says “now in the time of this mortal life.” Not tomorrow, not when it feels right, now, today. Why? So “we may rise to life immortal through him.”

Advent #2 – We need God to “Give us grace to heed their warnings (prophets) and forsake our sins”. Why? So “that we may greet [him] with joy.” Can we joyfully greet Our Lord and Savior while living in sin?

Advent #3 – We need the Lord to let his “bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us.” Why? “Because we are sorely hindered by our sins.”

Advent #4 – We need Our Lord to “purify our conscience.” Why? So Jesus “may find in us a mansion prepared for himself.” A mansion, not a one room shack. A mansion, because that’s how much we love him.

Advent Greetings,
Bill Sexton, Archdeacon

 

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AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY

AND WE HAVE SEEN HIS GLORY

John chapter 1:1–14 could be viewed as the “un-Christmas” text. There is no talk of wise men traveling from the east, no shepherds in the field keeping their flocks by night, and no angelic host setting the Palestinian sky on fire with heavenly glory. It lacks even a single mention of Mary or her Virgin birth, her husband Joseph, and certainly no mention of the packed-out inn and the Christ-child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Yes, John chapter 1 lacks all the nostalgia we typically associate with the Christmas Story, but it is nevertheless no less about the birth of Jesus. But verse 14 holds a special place in the story of Jesus’ birth.

John 1:14   And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
How little it says about Jesus’ infant moments when first robed in flesh is almost mystifying. It says nothing at all. But it does tell us so much about the Baby born in Bethlehem. We can assume John’s silence on the birth narrative is for good reason. Sometimes what we don’t say is as important as what we do; truly less is more!

The God-man from God
Jesus, the man whose life John will tell us about in the remaining twenty chapters of his Gospel is the God-man—“hail incarnate deity!” God stepped into our time and our space enrobed in human flesh.
He became one of us, to save all of us.

Here is John’s point—God has come! God has come like us, and God has come for us! For a wayward race, God came and did something totally unexpected—He revealed his glory in sinless flesh to redeem us who are suffering from sin in the flesh.

Show Us The Father
As Jesus is wrapping up his earthly ministry and preparing for his crucifixion Philip says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”  To this Jesus replies: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:8–9)

It has been said that it is important to always identify the question behind the question. What is the question behind Philip’s question? “Lord, show us the Father’s Glory?” It is a good question, but Philip, like ourselves, he misses the point. The Father has already revealed his glory… “and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”  What an encouraging thing.

Full of Grace and Truth
This year, let this be our prayer—that we might see the Father’s glory. But let us be reminded that the glory of the Father is only seen with the eyes of faith. The glory of our loving heavenly Father is Jesus, full of grace and truth.

Bishop Todd

 

+ The Gospel is not hard to understand, but living the way Jesus called us to live presents an entirely different challenge.

Why the Gospel is Simple – Not Easy

WHY THE GOSPEL IS SIMPLE—NOT EASY

The simplicity of the Gospel message can be summed up in the two great commandments.  The first comes from Deuteronomy 6:5 “and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” Jesus then says (Matt. 22:37–39) that the second is like unto it, “you shall love your neighbor as yourself…” (Lev. 19:18).

As simple as these words are, they at the same time present what is gruelingly so difficult about Christianity. We might call this the “death to self” of “taking up one’s cross.” The Gospel is simple, but it is also very difficult.

Why?

Well as C.S. Lewis pointed out in multiple places, the problem with the world is not technology and it is not religion either. To this we can even add, it is not the environment or a host of social ills. These things are bad but are yet only symptomatic. They are not the root cause. As Lewis said, the problem is us!  Christianity holds to the idea of original sin—an indwelling and pervasive sentence to do wrong. 

To the self-respecting modern mind, this sounds somewhere between negative and outdated. But pull the reigns for a moment and give it a second look. 

The Path of Self-Centeredness

What if I reexplain that in this way: Mankind has an indwelling, pervasive, and unrelenting tendency to put self first. Now it does not sound so far from the mark. The entire world, every nation, and every economy turns on a simple marketing principle: WIIFM.

That’s the acronym for “What’s in it for me.” All marketers, if they know what they are doing, drive sales on this principle. The business that does not put the needs and wants of their client first, will shortly cease to be a business. 

And why do Marketers drive their campaigns with this? They know it is human nature—human nature to put self first, before others. 

Self-service—The Root of Sin

Self-service, self-centeredness, selfishness, or by whatever name you call it, lies behind every evil act, every hurtful word, and every worldly injustice. Be it grade school bullying or ethnic cleansing, someone’s desire to seize property at the cost of another’s life, advance a career at another’s expense, or belittle another for a momentary sense of superiority on a playground, is an act of selfishness. 

As they often say, ‘the difference between men and boys is the price of their toys’ (an appropriately self-centered view of males), so the difference between playground bullying and ethnic cleansing is only the unchecked adult capacity to wield far more destructive power. Any way you cut it, it is the cruel and inhumane treatment of a human.

The Radical Ethic of Jesus

The Gospel turns the flaccid “do-gooder” altruism on its head. Paul says in Philippians 2:3–4: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others.” Many of us conceive of doing nice things here and there for this or that person. When we do these things, they make us feel good, but that is as far as they extend. The problem is that good works do not, in fact, make us good. If we do them for that reason, and so other people think we are good, Jesus considers that sin a too. 

Why? Because it is self-serving. Jesus said of the religious elite of his day, “Thus when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matt. 6:2)

People often ask me if you are a good person, will you go to heaven? The problem with the question is its assumption—that someone can truly be “good.” The position of Christianity is that there has only been one person who was truly “good”—Jesus Christ. This is because he is the only person who ever lived who was authentically and completely good. By that I mean, his goodness” was in fact “airtight”; There was no single moment in his entire early life that he ever did something out of selfish ambitions, no moment he served himself above another or above his Heavenly Father. Only that makes one good and worthy of the Kingdom of God.

The Way of The Truly Good Man

Let’s look back at Philippians 2. It paints a picture of the truly good man—Jesus. He is the example to follow. 

Philippians 2:5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,2 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,3 being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Notice the key words here? “Emptied himself,” taking on the form of a “servant,” he “humbled himself,” and becoming “obedient.” These are the words any self-respecting person despises. We do not want to be anyone’s servant, obey anyone, or humble ourselves. But this is precisely the cost of the kingdom. It is called ‘death to self.’

The Most Wounded Do the Most Wounding

So what is wrong with the world? As Lewis said, it is us—humankind. The self-centered impulse in all of us is what leads even the kindest person, in the right circumstances to do what even surprises her. Granted some people do far more evil in the world than others. But we should consider that it typically those who have experienced the brunt of evil perpetuate the most evil. The vast majority of sex offenders were victims first.

Stopping the Cycle

The Gospel is about stopping the cycle. It is not a magic pill or wonder drug that suddenly rids the human heart of all self-centeredness. The Gospel invites us into the Kingdom of God. In so doing it calls us to be a part of a new community who are practicing peace and justice as a way of life. As Christians living in the world, we are not yet free of sin; we are broken sinners learning to be free, and that takes time. But with growing humility, we can be free. 

 

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What is Your Story? How Your Story Interprets Your Reality

The story you live by will, to a large degree, determines your future. It is critical for interpreting our world, our lives, and our future. We do not often think about it this way, but we subtly live this way in principle.

How the Past Can Determine Our Future

It is hard to not be affected by our past. Sometimes its scars run deep. The way people often make us feel grows into a toxic identity—a negative approach to how we our selves. If we have been hurt, failed, been abused, violated, alienated, this can lay an awfully heavy burden on our sense of self-worth. Through our past, we often come to define ourselves by how people have made us feel.

We have a tendency to define ourselves by how our inner person views the world because of what we have experienced. This does not mean you cannot escape your past. You can. What it does mean though is we must be careful to not let our feelings, especially those impressed on us by others define us. The past can determine our future, but only if we let it.

An Objective Gospel

The Gospel story is also history. It took place in time and space. It is something that is objective, not subjective. The Gospel is outside of us. Regardless of how we are feeling at any given moment, the gospel comes to us sure and steadfast. The story of Jesus doesn’t leak or move.

What this means is that this story provides a stable interpretive paradigm through which to reinterpret, reshape, and renew our lives.

The Structure of Interpretive Paradigms

Thomas Khun, in his provocative book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, made a rather controversial proposition. He subjected the so-called “objectivity” of science to the rigors of philosophical consideration.

In documenting the history of science, Kuhn pointed out how science goes through phases of interpretive paradigms. These “paradigms” are basically “narratives” or so-called “metanarratives”—stories used to filter and interpret the data.

The problem with these paradigms is that at some point if they are not corrected, they begin failing to be useful, namely because they can no longer make good sense of all the data. This is what leads to the “scientific revolution.” Once so much data amasses that no longer fits the paradigm, it forces a reevaluation or paradigm shift. The old narrative is discarded and a new one is born.

The key point here is that Kuhn demonstrates the impossibility of the human race to interpret reality apart from a story that explains what we experience. And even the scientific community, that often prides itself on its objectivity finds itself quite unable to operate apart from a “story paradigm.”

The Gospel Interprets Reality

The Gospel is the interpretive paradigm God has given us to interpret our reality. Who we are, where we are in the universe, our purpose, and destiny are all meant to be explained in the story of the crucified man resurrected and enthroned. This story is about liberation, freedom, healing, and triumph over the darkness.

As we are steeped in God’s story, a new identity arises from the cinders of our fragile and broken lives. We might call this the resurrection of our identity both through Christ and in Christ.

At the heart of the Gospel is the infinite value of mankind. From the beginning of the story at creation, till the end, man is created in the image of God—created with dignity, purpose, and a royal destiny. From the moment mankind first opened is eyes, he was on a journey, a journey for God, to God, and with God.

In the New Testament, that place has a name—glory. The lectionary reading the 22nd week of Pentecost includes 2 Thessalonians:

2Th. 2:13–14   But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this, he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes—“that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. God has determined that the end for mankind is glory, a glory only found in a renewed relationship to God as savior.

Putting the Power Source at the Center

The Gospel puts the center back into the puzzle of our wayward lives. Over the last three decades, with the advances in technology and space telescopes, our knowledge of the universe has grown exponentially. One major discovery is the verified proof of black holes. Something quite ironic since they are invisible!  That begs the question, how do you prove something invisible is actually there. Well, that is not uncommon. Air and wind are also invisible, but we can document the effects of the wind without question.

As astronomers studied various galaxies, almost forty of them, they kept their eyes on the odd and unexplainable orbits of stars near the galactic centers. Stars and space objects in orbit normally orbit things with gravity. But there were all these objects orbiting nothing—or so it seemed. That was until it was proposed that the theory of a black hole was in fact not theory at all. These astronomers reevaluated these orbits by theorizing what they would call a “supermassive” black hole at the center of almost all the galaxies. When they did this, all these odd orbits were explained.

Though invisible, they found there to be a supermassive black hole at the center of almost all of the galaxies in question. At the center of our Milky Way Galaxy lies the Supermassive Sagittarius A-Star (Sgr A*). The center story of all these unexplainable orbits was reentered. That is precisely what the Gospel does with our lives. Though often seeming quite invisible, the Gospel is there, and when we begin to embrace it, it makes sense of our world in a way no other story can.

The Story Continues

Through the death, burial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ “took place” in Judea some two thousand years ago, the story yet continues. Jesus was not just resurrected. He ascended to the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1Pet. 3:22) It is there your story continues. Jesus had an earthly ministry to obtain a cosmic ministry to us.

The Story not only continues in heaven, it continues in his people. If you have entrusted your story to Him, it continues in you right now. Whatever your pain, suffering, brokenness, or alienation, through the power of God’s Spirit, Jesus’ resurrection triumph is now yours and that story reshaping us for grace and goodness.

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CHRISTMAS ADOPTION

The season of Advent is just around the corner! It begins on December 1st and ends on December 24th.  Advent is a time where we prepare our hearts for the coming of Jesus Christ; a celebration of his birth, and a longing for his return.

Church of The Apostles will be supporting
Be The Change/Project Hand Up and
the Apparent Project during the Advent Season.

There is exciting news at Be The Change.  They have finally found a new home.  They have been searching for over a year as they had greatly outgrown their space at their existing location in Artic.  They expect to be moving soon into their new location at the bottom of Factory Street.  It is a historic building, located on the river, with an inscription on the front: Artic Mill, 1910; previously known to us younger folks as an antique and estate store.  They hope to increase their capacity in quantity of food items and the number of people they serve.  They especially appreciate that they are located on the bus route, which will make it easier for those with transportation challenges.

After speaking with Coreen, director and founder of BTC/PHU, as to how could we be a blessing to them this Christmas, she offered that there is a great need for toiletries and new socks for people of all ages – child to adult.  I assured her that we would be most humbled to play a small part in brightening someone’s Christmas.

Our other Christmas offering that we usually support at this time of year is the Apparent Project.  The mission of the Apparent Project is to make the needs of Haiti known, to offer opportunities for Haitians to be able to provide for themselves and their families, empowering them to rise out of poverty and to avoid relinquishing their children to orphanages. Their desire is: “To inspire adoration of our loving Father, GOD, with the hope that one day He will be Apparent to all.” They provide childcare, early education and emergency assistance for their employees and families.  They also provide English and computer classes to promote employee’s advancement opportunities.

One way we have assisted the Haitians in the past was to provide sustainable living opportunities through the sale of necklaces and Christmas ornaments that they make.  This year, we’ve decided that we’d like to continue to support their independence, but we will do it through financial donations.  We will be putting up paper ornaments at the Cross in the Narthex for anyone who would like to make a donation toward this opportunity.

Deacon Deb Adams

“Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:9-10)

 

Your Story & Your Scars?  The Scars of God and His Healing Story

No matter how dull or uninteresting we might think ourselves to be, we all have a story. That story also says a lot about us and is rich with triumph and tragedy.

For better or for worse, we live through it. With it secretly playing in the background of our consciousness, it unfolds in the caverns of our psyche like a movie soundtrack.

Like all stories, content is critical. The story told determines plot and themes affecting our decisions and how our personal story unfolds. Not unlike an author, who casts characters, we continuously cast and recast ourselves in the image of the narrative that we believe about ourselves. As the author makes decisions for the characters that will affect the ultimate outcome in the story, so do we based upon what we already believe about ourselves.

It is by this story through which we typically interpret our sense of reality. How you see yourself, the shadow you cast, is often who you grow into, for better or worse.

Your Story and Your Scars

I have said before that where there is a story, there are scars. Scars can run deep and have the power to define or redefine us. Folks that have suffered immense tragedy, abuse, violence, and so on often become defined by that story. Through no fault of their own, that story of abuse or alienation becomes our own. This can have a tyrannical power steering us into a downward spiral to a diminishing sense of self.

Our self-worth, how we view ourselves, suffers when it is defined by anything less than God and his Gospel. This is in itself, idolatry. A life story other than the Gospel of Christ is a False Gospel.

To have any other narrative through which we get our self worth other than the unshakable love and character of God is a fragile place to be. Our self-worth suffers all the more when what defines is not only NOT God, but also something negatively committed against us. That story can be nothing less than a demonic false god.

Without the Gospel as the center, our scars then become an anti-story giving birth to more chaos. Instead of weaving the tatters of life into a tapestry of grace, they can further diffuse, dissipate, and make our life story seem more senseless and purposeless.

The Gospel — A Better Story

In the Cosmos, gravity gives unity, consistency, and predictability to all things celestial. It is gravity shared in our solar system that establishes times, seasons, days, months, and years. Outside our solar system is a host of random floating space debris. Few of us know it, but Astronomers and Astrophysicists know that the immense gravity of Jupiter continually sweeps our solar system of earth ending events by sucking massive celestial menaces into the tractor beam of its gravitational pull.

The Gospel story is not unlike Jupiter. It slurps-up the seemingly random, and pointless scars of our present life into the orbit God’s cosmic love story. Our scars are no longer random junk that makes us likewise feel like junk. We have purpose; we are here for a purpose. Like gravity, the Gospel brings order and symmetry out of the chaos.

When we see ourselves as disconnected tissue deposits slogging through life’s suffering only to disappear from history’s horizon just to make room for others, it is hard to make sense of pain. It is harder to see that we are here for a purpose—that we have dignity, and that we are made in the image of God.

Those horrible scars do not have to define you. Through the Gospel, the scarred God comes and offers us his hand to the renewal of us, and of all things.

The God of Scars and the Scars of God

In the upper room, after the resurrection, Jesus came to meet his disciples. They were scarred men, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. The Bible ironically never paints a “saintly” picture of the saints. They were fallen men, and yet Jesus comes to stand among them and stand with them.

Even after the resurrection, the disciples did not encounter a sterile and saccharin Jesus, all washed-up with no backstory. He was a savior with scars. Thomas protested: “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Jesus neither rejects nor shames him. Jesus stands before Thomas saying:

“Put your finger here, and see my hands, and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”

For Thomas, the scars became sacramental; touching the scars in Jesus’ hands and side is the path of faith. Jesus condescends with his own flesh and scars to heal the rot of disbelief in Thomas’ affected soul. By his scars, Thomas’ doubts are healed.

Thomas responds with new faith. Rising from the dead of disbelief, Thomas cries: “My Lord and my God!” In his confession, Thomas is in Christ, he is the body of Christ, and he shares in the glory of Christ. Jesus’ scars are now Thomas’. Through the resurrection of the dead, God’s scars became your scars and they are the very food of life for us.

Proud of the Scars

One thing that may be unique to boys over girls is their absurd tendency to brag of their scars. Only a group of young men can bring “one-upmanship” to new heights of absurdity as they compare scars. “Oh you think that’s bad, you should hear how I got this one…”

With the right story, we often eventually become proud of our scars. The Gospel renews the center. Like the Sun, it reorders the solar system of our personal narrative and relocates us in the universal story of God. Now our wounds have new meaning in the light of Jesus’. So the next time we are comparing scars, we can now say, “Oh you think that’s good, wait till you hear what Jesus did for me!”

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LIFE TOGETHER

At our last Council Meeting, Superintendent Todd lead the Devotion Time by presenting a portion of a book entitled Community – Life Together. Here is a portion of what was shared at the meeting:

“ The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer. Longingly, the imprisoned apostle Paul calls his “dearly beloved son in the faith,” Timothy, to come to him in prison in the last days of his life; he would see him again and have him near. Paul has not forgotten the tears Timothy shed when last they parted (II Tim. 1:4). Remembering the congregation in Thessalonica, Paul prays “night and day …… exceedingly that we might see your face” (I Thess. 3:10). The aged John knows that his joy will not be full until he can come to his own people and speak face to face instead of writing with ink (II John 12).

“Man was created a body, the Son of God appeared on earth in the body, he was raised in the body, in the Sacrament the believer receives the Lord Christ in the body, and the resurrection of the dead will bring about the perfected fellowship of God’s spiritual-physical creatures. The believer, therefore, lauds the Creator, the Redeemer, God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for the bodily presence of a brother. The prisoner, the sick person, the Christian in exile sees in the companionship of a fellow Christian a physical sign of the gracious presence of the triune God. Visitor and visited in loneliness recognize in each other the Christ who is present in the body; they receive each other’s benedictions as the benediction of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Submitted by Bill Sexton, Archdeacon

 

P.S. “Oh the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person; having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but to pour them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, knowing that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away.”

(George Eliot)

 

REACHING OUT WITHOUT COMPROMISE

In the early Third Century A.D., Constantine became the emperor of Rome. Claiming to have seen a vision of the cross in a dream, he emblazoned the shields of his legions with the sign of the cross. After his decisive victory, he consequently attributed this victory to Christ and eventually made Christianity the official Roman state religion. 

Constantine gave much to the Church, most notably the Council of Nicaea which in turn gave us the Nicene Creed. Peace & safety poured through empire for the Christian masses. From the fourth century A.D. on, and up until the last century (20th) the western Church existed in a very safe bubble called ‘Christendom.’ Christianity simply enjoyed a privileged status in western civilization. 

In the last hundred years, this privileged status has eroded. The world grows more and more like the world into which the apostolic Church was birthed. The Greco-Roman world was both secular, but spiritual. Every day our world becomes more like that one. Ask any folks today if they are religious, and the majority will answer, “no I am not a religious person, but I do consider myself spiritual.” 

This effectively works out to:: Religion = bad; Spiritual = good.

ADAPTATION OR ORTHODOXY

In this climate, the Church has not known what to do. One of the key responses has been adaptation. 

What do I mean by “adaptation”? That is a technical social-scientific term meaning when a group “adapts” its message to be more palatable to the ears of those who may disagree. 

This has been the path that most mainstream Protestant denominations have taken. Chilled by the potential blowback of maintaining the prickly thorns inherent to the historic Gospel, Protestantism began to file down the sharp corners of orthodox doctrine. The Protestant Episcopal Church here in the US of which Church of the Apostles was formerly a member, is a prime example of ‘adaptation’ in action.

THE PROBLEM WITH ADAPTATION

The problem with adaptation is simply a  matter of degree. When you begin to compromise on one small thing, it may seem innocuous enough at first. But this undermines the authority of Scripture as a source of truth. In time, all doctrines become up for debate.

Many of Scripture’s ideas seem out of date, antiquated, and perhaps simply out of touch. But at the heart of them is wisdom—the wisdom of God that alone understands his creature, mankind. 

The more one adapts the message, the more this historic message is chipped away at. If we cannot trust the Word of God on this point or two, why should we trust it on this one too? And so it goes.

THE LOSS OF IDENTITY

Adaptation ultimately blazes a direct path to a loss of identity. People are shaped in community by the belief system of the social group. This is a universal principle. People normally learn their values in a primal community called the family. If a young person moves away from this system, it comes from two fundamental reasons: (1) they were accepted into another community (peers, school, college teachers, etc) that presented an alternative, and (2) that their family’s values had self-contradictory elements that demanded questioning. 

As a belief system is adapted, it over time ceases to have the identity it once had. In fact, the inevitable outcome of adaptation is for it to eventually become what it is adapting too. Any group that surrenders its founding principles also surrenders itself. 

This reminds me of a conversation I once had in a Starbucks with a young Ivy League Math professor. In our chat, after indicating to me that she was “spiritual” and not “religious,” I asked her that if she were to look for a church, what would she be attracted to? She thought for a minute and said, probably the Unitarian Universalist Church. But then she paused and made a great concession admitting that however was really contradictory because the Unitarians don’t really believe anything! Well put! The  Unitarians do not believe anything because they adapted their entire belief system to popular sentiment during the age of Romanticism.

THE CHRISTIAN DISCIPLINE OF LOVE

The question that remains is this: How do we as orthodox, bible-believing Christians, reach out with a Gospel that has edges on it? How to we bring a Gospel to the world that is often offensive and unwelcome to the warm and empty platitudes of pop-spirituality?

We reach out with an expression of Jesus’ message and ethic in action!

First, anyone can say love your neighbor. But Jesus told us to love our enemies. This remains a radical message, still today. Jesus calls us to love those who hate us, those who reject us, and those who abuse us. 

Second, we apply this ethic in the context of christian community. One of the great things lost during Christendom was authentic Christian community. The Church always lives between two poles, according to Roberta Hestenes, the institutional and the relational. When she gets too institutional she becomes stale, rigid, and cold—like a fireplace with no fire. This is how the medieval Church of Christendom became a mere peddler of services rather than a purveyor of grace!

On the other hand, when the Church abandons reasonable institutional structures, she becomes like a raging fire out of control that knows no boundaries. 

The beauty of Christian community is that it is not only where the Gospel of Jesus is most beautifully defended, it is also the place where almost all evangelistic work is accomplished. People are not converted to the Church—they are converted within the Church. 

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What is a Bishop?

If you did not grow up in church, you may have wondered what precisely is a bishop. In movies, they are usually the bad guy—typically an ostentatious and craven villain using the church to enrich himself. Maybe to you, a bishop is just a chess piece or a guy in a pointy hat. Rarely are they portrayed as the compassionate man like the Bishop in Le Miserables who has mercy on the fallen Jean Valjean. Either way, there is a lot of confusion surrounding what a bishop is and what he does.

Are Bishops in the Bible?

For Bible-believing Christians, those who count it as God’s reliable source of moral and spiritual truth, this is the fundamental question: Are Bishops in the Bible? The answer to that question is a simple YES.  Yes, they are. But the picture is not entirely clear and so we need to do a little homework to get our bearings. 

We find bishops in the New Testament, and we find authorities like them throughout the entire swathe of God’s revelation in history. Moses and the High priests of Israel officiated in a bishop type role—both examples that early Christianity drew from. Let’s consider some texts. 

First and foremost, Jesus himself is identified as the Bishop par exellelence’, which all Church leaders should emulate: 

1Pet. 2:25For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.” (KJV) 

Moreover, Jesus being our great high priest, this text shows that the concept of a chief shepherd and overseer of people’s souls was a familiar idea to Jews of the first century A.D.

The word “bishop” is translated from the Greek word “episkopos” which means “overseer,” “superintendent,” or “bishop.” Most Protestant Bibles translate the word simply as “overseer” to avoid the connotations of the high-episcopacy found especially in the Roman Church.

Second, in the Pastoral Epistles, those three letters (1 & 2 Timothy & Titus) addressed to the young overseers Timothy and Titus, we encounter this title used for leaders within the Church. Here are two examples:

1 Tim. 3:1   “The saying is sure: If anyone aspires to the office of bishop (episkopos), he desires a noble task.  2 Now a bishop (episcopos) must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher…” (RSV)

Titus 1:7   “For a bishop (episcopos), as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain…” (RSV)

Behind the Greek term episkopos lay the Hebrew term mebaqer, meaning the same—overseer or president. This role is even found in the Essene Jewish community at Qumran, from which we discovered the Dead Sea Scrolls. The idea of the community overseer is then by no means new or an innovation by the New Testament Church. The idea of an “overseer” or “bishop” comes from Judaism.

Second Temple Period Jews Doing What Jews Would Do.

The local synagogue, as it became a regular part of Jewish life in Palestine, required a structure and polity to organize it? Where would Jews naturally look for guidance in structuring their local worship community? Isn’t it probable they would look to the structure they were already familiar with? Wouldn’t they naturally look to their primary place of worship—the Temple? This is precisely what they did. The entire Old Testament priestly system was adopted as a general rule of thumb. 

High priest = Overseer/President of the Elders

Priests = Elders/Presbyters

Levites = Assitants/Deacons

Jewish Christians, being the Jews they were, did not, therefore, invent a new system of leadership but continued with the synagogue polity they already knew, the very same polity originally modeled after the Temple administration. Moreover, the idea of meeting in the larger homes of wealthy patrons was no Christian invention either. The majority of synagogue meeting houses (like the “upper room” Acts 1:13) were in the homes of wealthy patrons. Archaeologists uncovered both a synagogue and an early Christian church dating around 4th century A.D. in the Syrian city of Dura Europas. Both were converted from regular common homes.

The leadership structures of the synagogue provided a dynamic and elastic model for the Church. This allowed both structure on the one hand, and elasticity for Christianity to become a movement on the other.

Development of a Title

Eventually, all Christians called only the president—Bishop (“episcopos”); they continued calling presbyters the same but also called them “priests” as well; they referred to the assistants as either “deacons” or even “Levites” interestingly enough. 

During the final gasps of the Roman Empire, civil order in the various provinces began to break down. Some of the only substantial leadership people could look to were the bishops of local Churches. Out of these exigencies, the lines between church and state began to blur laying the foundation for the large administrative diocesan system of Medieval Christianity. This was not all a bad thing, but it certainly had longterm consequences for the health and wellness of the church.

For the Full Article see: http://toddjmurphy.com/what-are-bishops-are-they-in-the-bible/

In upcoming posts, we will develop this role and the others within the Church more fully. 

 

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The Beauty in Credulity

I had the fine privilege of obtaining my graduate education at one of the great bastions of Neo-Evangelicalism, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I cannot say enough good about Trinity, its faculty, and it’s legacy. There I studied Hebrew Bible and theology amidst a distinguished faculty and in an environment of stalwart commitment to the Christian Scriptures. This has served as a boon to my study and preaching ever since. 

Neo-Evangelicalism, if you have not heard of it, was lead by some remarkable men, like R. Fuller, Harold Ockenga, Gleason Archer, and of course Carl F. H. Henry, among others. These men gave themselves to the highest standards in scholarship and launched a movement of cultural engagement. 

One aspect of the Neo-Evangelical mindset though, that I think may have been a shortcoming was the quest for legitimation, especially in the eyes of those who do not call themselves Christian. Neo Evangelicalism, part reaction to both the doubts of Modernism and the pugnaciousness of Fundamentalism, sought to create a dialogue with those within the critical study of religion, humanities, and above all the sciences. They founded great schools like Gorden-Conwell and Trinity who have influenced several generations of evangelical clergy and scholars. Yet after almost a hundred years, those aspirations remain largely unfulfilled. 

Why is this? 

I believe there is a fundamental reason for this—one that is fundamentally biblical in essence. 

The persisting lack of credibility with the unbelieving masses at large is almost hardwired into the Gospel itself. It seems that the credibility associated with the Gospel, to some degree or another, depends on the narrative that one is operating with in the first place. The Apostles Paul himself says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1Cor. 1:18) This is to say, that without the eyes of faith, the Gospel story typically appears quite silly to the disinterested onlooker.

The Gospel is NOT foolishness. In fact, for Paul, it is the very wisdom of God. Stripping away the dance of social airs, the Gospel leads us to raw human authenticity. At the foot of the cross, nothing exists but the naked human before a God in unrestrained purity.

This idea that to understand the Gospel requires faith is not new. For the great Church Father St. Augustine, and especially Anselm of Canterbury, the Gospel is in fact unintelligible apart from the eyes of faith. Anselm put it something like this in his Proslogion

“I do not understand in order to believe. I rather, therefore, believe in order to understand.”

To the critic, this sounds, at first blush, absurd. In reality, it is really closer to how all of life works. You do not first receive the fruit of your labor so you can convince yourself it is worth your while to pursue it. Rather you first believe that learning the skill will produce fruit. Then you work to gain the skill, execute it and then reap the harvest. So with the Gospel: We believe in order to learn the ways of Jesus and reap a Kingdom.

This is Anselm’s point. I do not understand the Gospel first in order that I might believe it. This only exists in a laboratory, and really not there either. What does a scientist first do? He always creates first a hypothesis—a premise to believe!!!—and then conducts his investigation based upon his faith that the hypothesis is worth investigating.

Paul makes the same proposition, namely that the things of faith require the eyes of faith to see them. He writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians: (1Cor. 2:14) “The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” He must believe in order to understand. If he requires proof first, that very posture will cause him to miss those things.

Paul knew well the belittling glare of the wise against the childlike claims of the Gospel. Miracles, the resurrection of the dead, the end of the age, and a coming kingdom—things that any self-respecting modern man of the world man finds beneath him. This we know well. Yet God will bring this also to an end. (1Cor. 3:19) “For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,”

To modern man, such credulity is no virtue. Nevertheless, the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God. It is simply because God’s values are not man’s. What is foolishness to worldly minds is virtuous to God. 

Jesus Calls his followers back to their childhood in order to find him. He does not call us to the academic struggle, to the apologetic fight, or a bookish life of proofs. The Gospel is not a call to sophistication but a call to childlikeness. For this reason, Jesus draws a child up upon his lap and says to his disciples:

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 18:3)

This is beauty to God. What God seeks is a humble and contrite heart like that of a small child; he seeks the childlike and guileless. If you look up the term credulity in a dictionary, you will find these terms listed among its definitions. Other uncomplimentary definitions include gullibleness,, naiveness, blind faith, over-trustfulness, lack of sophistication, and so on. And yet all these to one degree or another describe someone who precisely the kind of person Jesus calls us to become to enter the kingdom. 

God seeks the beauty of mind and heart, and it is the least coveted among all human characteristics that God finds beautiful and attractive—a childlike willingness to simply believe him at his word.

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IF THE LORD WILLS, WE WILL DO THIS OR THAT…

In the 4th chapter of the epistle of James, disciples of the Lord Jesus are warned against making future plans without humbly regarding the brevity and frailty of our lives and the limits of our wisdom and knowledge.  Simply put, though we do not and cannot know all that our future holds, in Christ, we do know who holds our future, and in Him, we can put our trust.  James, therefore, urges us when making future plans to trust God fully, desiring above all His glory and purpose and so to prayerfully say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jas 4:15).

Helen and I have been living this biblical principle through all the years of our life together, and we attest that the Lord is always faithful to make His will known to those who prayerfully seek Him, clearly directing us for His glory and our good.  We are now again trusting God to lead us according to His will, as we prayerfully prepare to move to the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this”.

Twice before we have lived in Minnesota – when I attended Seminary from 1977-1980, and when I served as Conference Minister of the CCCC from 2003-2011.  Now our oldest son Carl lives there, as does our youngest son Jonathan with his wife Jackie, and their two sons Archer and Theo.  Being near children and grandchildren would be a blessing to us and also to them.

My local oncologist has reminded me that the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota offers the best care available anywhere for fighting Multiple Myeloma.  Because I have thus far not responded to chemotherapy as expected, such expertise could be very helpful to me.  I would also have access to the care available at the highly-rated VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.

Helen and I have therefore listed our home for sale.  We are making preparations to move with James 4:15 in mind, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this.”  For this to happen we must have a buyer soon, and I must be physically well enough to make the move.  Because Stem Cell Transplant (SCT) is still the treatment goal for me, and because it is recommended as soon as I become medically eligible, this could very well alter our plans, as I would then not be well enough to move and I would be required to remain wherever I am for at least a year.

Would you please pray with us about this matter, asking God to accomplish for us His perfect will and in His perfect time?  Helen and I love you all in the Lord, and we thank you from the depths of our hearts for your sincere love for us and for your prayers and support.  We so love the fact that in Jesus Christ we are forever family.  We often thank God for Church of the Apostles, praying for the leaders and for every person who is part of this wonderful family.  Our loving God has us all in His grip, and we know He will never let us go.

In our every decision and in every way, may Jesus Christ be praised!

In Christ’s great love,
Pastor Steve Gammon
Bishop Emeritus

 

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Taking a Stand for Truth

 

One thing that characterized the earliest Church was its unwavering stance on moral issues. These issues always drew a sharp line in the sand between the saved and the unsaved, between the Christian and the Pagan, between the Church and the rest of the Roman world. 

The Church’s Catechesis was imbued with detailed lists of moral expectations. These are rooted in deep reflection on Holy Scripture. Things unique to even Greco-Roman moral depravity were specifically named: pedophilia, exposure of infants (usually girls) to the elements, and abortion. A reading of the earliest Christian baptismal catechisms are eye-opening. (See Didache 1.1–6.4; See also the Epistle of Barnabas 18–21) These expectations served as a test, a line of demarcation testing the hearts and minds of Christians. This required the Church to apply Church discipline, at times rigorously. And this is precisely what gives the Church its teeth—its prophetic role in the world.

Adaptation and the Loss of Christian Witness

What is adaptation? Well, it is very much what it sounds like. In the realm of preaching the Gospel, adaptation is the adaptation of the message to the wants, desires, or preferences of the audience. Mainline Protestantism has been doing this for well over a century here in the US. 

The problem with adaptation is that when a church or religious group does this, they lose their identity. Like we noted above of the early Church’s moral stand, this was what made her conspicuous and even at times controversial in the world. It is not an easy position. But without an identity founded on the bedrock of God’s truth, the Holy Scriptures, Christian identity died.  

Besides this, the world does not respect it. Deep down, those who are not Christians may not always like what the Church stands for, but they have to respect its stand for it. When the Church reformats Christianity to look like what it originally stood against, it is hard to respect it.

Serving God by Serving the World

The Church’s posture is “whosoever will.” We will not chase, coerce, nor should we ever hurt or shame those who live outside the Church or God’s moral standards. We are all the same; both redeemed and unredeemed are ultimately sinners in need of grace.  

Nevertheless, those who reject the Gospel and God’s moral standards do so to their own peril. For eternal life is for those as Paul says, “who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;” (Rom. 2:7) The job of the Church is to lovingly and non-judgmentally share the hope of God’s love and bring healing to those outside of the Church. We share God’s love and grace to broken people just like ourselves. The beautiful people outside the Church are not our opponents or enemies; they are our ministry and calling—those we are called to love and serve with humility and grace.