Thursday, March 18, 2010

Paul's Trip to Arabia

Galatians 1:15-17 15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
Why does Paul go immediately to Arabia? Well part of Paul's argument is to show that his gospel did not come from men. He shows that he was not taught anything by the apostles in Jerusalem. They neither commissioned him nor instructed him in any way.

One option that has often ruled the day is that Paul went into Arabia to meditate on the gospel and think through the implications of what he learned. The argument goes that it is similar to Elijah's retreat to the mountain.

However, this is most likely not the reason that Paul went to Arabia. He most likely went to Arabia right away to begin his gospel preaching ministry. Notice that not only does God's revelation give Paul the content of the gospel, it also gives Paul the missionary commission directly from God. "to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles."

It is most likely that Paul interpreted his call in light of Isaiah 43.
Isaiah 42:1-11 1 "Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. 2 "He will not cry out or raise His voice, Nor make His voice heard in the street. 3 "A bruised reed He will not break And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. 4 "He will not be disheartened or crushed Until He has established justice in the earth; And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law." 5 Thus says God the LORD, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it And spirit to those who walk in it, 6 "I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, 7 To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison. 8 "I am the LORD, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images. 9 "Behold, the former things have come to pass, Now I declare new things; Before they spring forth I proclaim them to you." 10 Sing to the LORD a new song, Sing His praise from the end of the earth! You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it. You islands, and those who dwell on them. 11 Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voices, The settlements where Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing aloud, Let them shout for joy from the tops of the mountains.
I do believe that the Servant Song is directly a prophecy of Christ. Paul certainly shows a Christotelic hermeneutic. But his interpretation is often very ecclesiotelic. It is not unreasonable to see Paul interpreting his call in light of this Servant Song. Part of the reason may be the background and understanding of the term "apostle" which comes from sheliach. They were authorized messengers who bore the very authority of the one for whom they represented. While we cannot be sure that Paul took a Christ-centered interpretation, it would not be a far stretch to argue for his fulfillment of this commission as one of the Messiah's sheliach.

It is most likely that Paul goes to Arabia precisely because of Isaiah 42:11 "Let the wilderness and its cities lift up their voices, The settlements where Kedar inhabits. Let the inhabitants of Sela sing aloud, Let them shout for joy from the tops of the mountains. "

Seyoon Kim goes into detail in his work Paul and the New Perspective: Second Thoughts on the Origin of Paul's Gospel.
קֵדָר refers to a North-Arabic tribe, and in Isa 60:7 it is identified with Nebaioth, the oldest son of Ishmael, form whom, according to Josephus (Ant. 1.220-221), the Nabataeans took their name. סֶלַע(“Rock”) was the old name of Petra of the Hellenistic-Roman period. In fact, LXX renders סֶלַע Πέτρα in Isa. 42:11. So, for Paul both קֵדָר and סֶלַע would have referred to Arabia, the Nabataean kingdom, whose leading city was Petra during his time….Thus, Paul’s first missionary attempt in “Arabia” immediately after his apostolic commission (Gal. 1:15-17) seems to indicate that he indeed interpreted his call to an apostleship to the gentiles on the Damascus road in light of Isa. 42.” Paul and the New Perspective, 103-104.

So Kim concludes:
While confirming the view that Paul went to Arabia indeed to preach the gospel, which is the most natural interpretation of Paul’s statement in Gal 1:15-17, this new discovery of Isa 42:11 as the basis for Paul’s choice of Arabia as his first mission field also makes us bid farewell to both the psychologically comfortable theories that Paul went to Arabia for meditation and that he turned to gentile mission years later upon failing with his Jewish mission.” –Paul and the New Perspective, 104.
Thus Paul seems to go to Arabia to immediately begin his ministry.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Leadership, Criticism and Peacemaking

This week my sermon was on Matthew 5:9: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." Here's a thought I made that I'd like to unpack here: how does a leader handle criticism with a peacemaking spirit. Obviously it is more than just leaders who need this skill but I think if leaders can master it in the church, the rest will follow.

Handle criticism peaceably. It’s funny, some of the blog I read talk by younger pastors will talk about the vision of the church. They will say things like, if you are leading you’ll always have someone opposing you. The better posts try to encourage pastor—and I’ve thought to myself ‘I am so thankful for the love I feel here’ [at my church]. But a few of them tend to see criticism as a badge of honor—and so you’ve got to set your heart like flint. “You’re even more in the right because your being criticized. Your vision is from God because there are critics.”
Now some balance this out with careful thought, but it surprises me how rarely the leadership bloggers even raise the question: "Could me critic be right?" In fact, criticism is rarely 100% right or 100% wrong. Criticism is often not an entirely zero sum: to the degree that I am in the right, my critique is in the wrong. In the same way, there is almost never a critic whose motives are entirely evil or ungodly. They may be immature and they may be handling pent up frustrations in manners that are wrong, ineffective or both. Yet, you job is ultimately to work towards making peace and to live at peace with critics as much as it depends on you. So do you handle it, diffuse it, or do you by stubbornly and pridefully holding your ground pour fuel on the fire.

So before any questions of: is this critic right, we should be listen. James 1:19 "This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;"
It is true: there are always false sheep or immature brethren who are misled or distracted.
However: we need to listen to our critics. We need to seek peace, even when they do not want peace. We do not automatically become more resolute in our ways because of criticism. Some criticism will force us to take a principle stand: “I can’t do this.” But in most criticism there is some motive, some reason, that if you can get to the bottom of it, you can agree with it.
My mentor always told me that usually at the heart of every criticism is some core that if you can agree with it, no matter how misguided their current expression. Granted, there are some in the church who are unwilling to submit to leadership. There is always someone in the pew who thinks they can do things better than this leader or that leader. But most criticism comes from a legitimate concern somewhere at the bottom of it. Your job is to assume the best intentions before jumping to conclusions.

We need to try to root out where there is legitimate concern and identify it. Maybe we do have a principle we cannot compromise, but we can acknowledge we poorly executed our principle. Don't compromise where you can't. But be care: the church is not about "your vision." "Your vision" no matter how God given and passionate you are about it--most time we are taking about faithful application of non-negotiable.

Let me give an example: let's say you decide that it is best for your church to get rid of Sunday school and begin small groups. The unchanging value should be: are we best teaching the Word of God and growing disciples? But a member might accuse you of not "caring about training up the children." You are convinced that your way will accomplish more. But how do you handle their criticism?

Do you assume you are right? You are the leader and God has guided you? You are not Moses and they are not the son of Korah. (1) Maybe you have to better explain how a new model [which is negotiable] can better serve the function. You can affirm that not training children an abandoning them would indeed be wrong. You've found the core where you can identify. (2) Maybe it is not the time for change. You cannot always push ahead with a stubborn 'let the chips fall where they may'. Your job is not only to lead but patiently shepherd too. This why Scripture instructs:
2 Timothy 2:24-25 24 The Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
Do we have this sort of attitude with critics or do we wear them like a badge of honor: the more right I am, the more I critics I will have. Criticism always affects the pastor/leader. But just because it tears at us emotionally doesn't mean we have done our best to handle it peaceably or that we have truly tried to listen to our critics heart and find out where they are coming from.
Making peace with a critic entails hearing their concern, identifying where you can. Acknowledging where they may be right. Acknowledge where you may be wrong, or where you may have poorly applied your principles without compromising your principles.

Dan Doriani writes, “Guessing other people’s motives is a prime way to subvert our peace, especially since, by some perverse impulse, we tend to make the most negative, self-damaging guesses. Instead, let us remember that if we have peace with God, we can free ourselves of worry about lesser things.” Sermon on the Mount, 34.
There are times when a leader cannot keep the peace because the actions are outside of his control. So for example, you cannot comprise God's Word or subvert the gospel for the sake of peace. But most times criticisms are about why or how we are doing something. We are not infallible either--we may be operating with the right motives but going about it the wrong way or not making our goals and vision clear. Indeed, we may not be acting as Biblically as we first assumed. Remember Reheboam made the mistake of surrounding himself by 'yes' men and to his detriment ignored the advice of those who disagreed from his position. He could have made easy peace with the people and lead them successful but he stubbornly refused.

Living at peace means we are very careful about jumping to conclusions about a persons motives. Most times critics in the church, no matter how immature we might find them, somewhere down in their heart there is some element of motive that is good. We need to assume the best of motives until we are absolutely certain their are ungodly motives. This means as long as there is reasonable doubt we are obligated to take it. Since I cannot read the heart, rare are the circumstance where I can impugn nothing but ungodly motives.
I’ve been in situations where I’m between two conflicting opinions and some will say something like “They want to do this because”… and then they make some sort of negative statement about motives. You see it in politics if you listen to some commentators the Democrats want to reform health care because they are in league with the Nazis and they are secretly communists. –I would venture that the large majority have good intentions. Some may have some misguided views of trumping up their own power; but it is hardly a conspiracy. They same is true about what most liberal say about the Tea Party movement.

As Christian, we need to stand above this and live peaceably. Living peaceably does not mean we do not exercise our convictions. It does not mean we do not stand our principles. A church doesn’t give up the gospel so we can live at peace with wickedness. But our battles are spiritual and must be fought with love for the truth combined with love for the person.
So when you have a critic is your goal real peacemaking, or do you consider this a test of your metal? We are not to set our heart like flint and assume our validity just because we have a critic. Many of our Biblical heroes in the Bible like David, Nehemiah, Jesus and Paul had their critics and their ungodliness was exposed. Yet inside the church, the presence of a critic against you does not automatically set you in the right as a leader. Even if you are in the right--is your goal to press ahead or to win your brother/sister through making peace?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jesus Hates Klingons

So apparently this video is going viral. I don't know what offends part of me is offended more, my Christian sensibilities or my Trekkie sensibilities. This goes beyond Christian Kitsch... and what is up with the Klingon playing Rock, while the Christian plays pop... I'm not even gonna go there.

So I guess Klingons are the one group we shouldn't evangelism...since you know, Jesus hates them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Galatians & Eschatology

You cannot really understand the book of Galatians without understanding Biblical eschatology. You cannot understand the role of the Law in the Christian life without understanding inaugurated eschatology. Here's a handout on the introduction to inaugurated eschatology.

Inaugurated Eschatology

Hopefully, we'll have some posts to follow. But for now you can check out a little more on inaugurated eschatology.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Galatians in Christianity Today

Here's a little parody that is good for a laugh. What if Christianity Today had published the book of Galatians? You can only imagine the letters to the editor--and someone did. Here's a few of my favorites:

Dear Editor:

How arrogant of Mr. Apostle to think he has the right to judge these people and label them accursed. Isn’t that God’s job? Regardless of this circumcision issue, these Galatians believe in Jesus just as much as he does, and it is very Pharisaical to condemn them just because they differ on such a secondary issue. Personally, I don’t want a sharp instrument anywhere near my zipper, but that doesn’t give me the right to judge how someone else follows Christ. Can’t we just focus on our common commitment to Christ and furthering His kingdom, instead of tearing down fellow believers over petty doctrinal matters?

Ed Bilgeway; Tonganoxie, KS


To the Editors:

Paul Apostle says that he hopes the Galatian teachers will cut off their own privates? What kind of Christian attitude is that? Shame on him!

Martha Bobbitt; Boulder, CO


Kind Editors:

I happen to be a member of First Christian Church of Galatia, and I take issue with Mr. Apostle’s article. How can he criticize a ministry that has been so blessed by God? Our church has baptized many new members and has made huge in-roads in the Jewish community with our pragmatic view on circumcision. Such a “seeker-sensitive” approach has given the Jews the respect they deserve for being God’s chosen people for thousands of years. In addition, every Gentile in our midst has felt honored to engage in the many edifying rituals of the Hebrew heritage, including circumcision, without losing their passion for Jesus. My advice to Mr. Apostle is to stick to spreading the gospel message of Christ’s unconditional love, and quit criticizing what God is clearly blessing in other churches.

Miriam “Betty” Ben-Hur; Galatia, Turkey

Read the rest.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Star Trek Calvinism

Is there a link between Star Trek lovers and Calvinists? Carl Trueman seems to think so, commenting on a boogeyman list about how to spot Calvinists:
Todd Pruitt just brought this to my attention. The list fails to mention two other tell tale signs -- suspects will also cast no reflection in the mirror, and exhibit a strange preference for the earlier, Shatner-dominated series of Star Trek.
It seems Calvinist only prefer TOS, though. Does that make TNG neo-orthodox and Voyager "emergent"? The new movie must be "ancient-future."

Rumor has it the next T4G will be held right next door to the Trek convention and they will be giving away copies of the Twilight series.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Discrimination in the Church

"Circumcision is no longer a hot topic for the church, but the deeper issue here is still relevant. Paul regarded circumcision as a synecdoche for the entire law (see Phil. 3:2-9); it represented law-keeping in general. Thus the apostle was fighting for something fundamental to Christianity at all times and in all places: What does it take to become a first-class member of God's family? Is it simply a matter of faith in Christ, or is there something else, too?

The answer is that there are no second-class Christians. How could there be? Every Christian is saved exactly the same way: by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, there can be no discrimination in the church. The church cannot exclude people from salvation on the basis of race, gender, class, age, or anything else. The church cannot even discriminate on the basis of relative righteousness. Christians have a way of ranking sins. If someone is struggling with pride and lust, that's okay. Who isn't? But someone who is battling with depression, or whose marriage is falling apart or who is tempted to commit homosexual sins, or who is addicted to drugs had better keep quiet. Otherwise people will know that he or she does not really belong in the church.

This seems to be the way some Christians think, but it is not the way God thinks. Christians have different gifts, of course. We have different backgrounds. We have different cultures, in some cases. We have different ministries and callings, so there is order in the church. We have different trials and temptations. But there is no difference in our standing before God. And if there is no difference in our standing before God, there should be no differences in our standing with one another." --Phil Ryken, Galatians, p.44

Our Hope

"The old hymn by Edward Mote (1797-1874) claims that 'our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.' But our hope is also built on nothing more than Jesus' blood and righteousness." --Phil Ryken, Galatians Commentary, p.46.
This is the issue in Galatians. Jesus plus. Paul trenchant response shows us that Jesus plus is not Jesus at all. The gospel+ is no gospel.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...