For every Christian, Jesus is THE example, leader and fulfiller of our faith. We continually gain inspiration from his perfect example and unselfish sacrifice. When we think about a less than perfect Christian example, most of us go to the Apostle Peter or the Apostle Paul. Both these men showed us how to achieve spiritual victory through imperfection. They both had failures, regrets and doubts, and yet they were faithful. These challenges endear them to our hearts. They give us courage to work through our own imperfect experiences. Knowing this, it can be hard to believe there are many who see the Apostle Paul as an interloper, one who hijacked the gospel message. These accusations begin with disregarding the authenticity of his apostleship. Matthias, the replacement for the traitor Judas, was appointed as the 12th Apostle long before Paul’s conversion.
(See Part I of this topic.) In many ways, the Apostle Paul was like a magnet. Over the last 2,000 years, his preaching, teaching and writing have attracted countless millions to seek out what being a Christian really means. He was a leader in every sense of the word. He lived his faith to Jesus Christ without reservation, and Christians throughout the age have been inspired by his example. This same Apostle Paul was also a magnet for trouble. His ministry way back then drew incredible conflict and persecution - it even led to his death. Today the same controversy surrounds his legacy. While so many of us cling to his example and teaching, others are repelled by him and label him as a self-contradicting, hypocritical deceiver. Who is right? Was Paul a teacher of truth or contradiction?
The Apostle Paul is a Christian icon. He essentially wrote half of the New Testament as he carried the gospel far and wide. He suffered dramatically for his faith, was challenged regularly by those in authority and even stood up to the Apostle Peter when it was needed. When you read his words, you cannot help but see his love for God and undying devotion to Jesus. With all of the good he did, there are many who 2,000 years later claim he was a self-absorbed, self-contradictory man. They make lists of the things he said and wrote and seem to relish in his apparent instability. Did the Apostle Paul contradict himself? Did he say different things to different people just to gain their favor? The only way to find out is to examine the accusations one at a time!
The Christian belief in being “born again” can be at the very least confusing. Does it mean you get to restart your life, kind of like a do-over? Is it beginning a brand new life lived in a brand new context? Does being born again mean you are the same person with the same issues, or are you somebody different? Is it living a new spiritual life in place of our present physical life? Does being born again actually mean what we think it means? To figure this out, we need to not only have a clear understanding of context, we also need to have a good sense of some specific Greek words and how they are used.
We know every Christian wants to go to heaven. The real question is, does every Christian know what is required to get there? Last week we began to talk about the several important elements God has put in place. These define not only His plan in general, but they clearly show us what the Christian call is all about. We found some very legal pieces to the puzzle, as well as some very practical pieces. It all boils down to two things: First, there IS a well-defined path to heaven. Second, for the rest of the world not going to heaven, there also IS a path to salvation. Its destination is earthly, but with many similarities to the heavenly path. Now let’s put all of these pieces in perspective!
So, what does the road to heaven actually look like? If you look across the wide spectrum of Christian beliefs you will find far more variety in the answer than you might have thought. You would expect all of the answers to include believing in Jesus - and that's a good start. However, the Bible gives us several other qualifiers for being on the road to heaven, and this is where the confusion begins. The fact is, going to heaven is NOT merely about what one believes. As a matter of fact, being on this journey is not something we can just one day decide to do! Heaven IS possible, but what steps must be taken?
Life is often measured by time. Our society is hyperfocused on immediate gratification, which means we don’t want to have to wait. We don’t want to have any interval pass before we get what we want. We have scheduled events, appointments, work hours, lunch breaks and periods for sleep. All of these things are time-driven. We celebrate birthdays, holidays and vacations - all of which are driven by the calendar – a tool for measuring time. With such a complete dependency on the clock, what would make us think God’s plan for humanity is any different? How often do we hear people complain that if God exists and is all powerful, why doesn’t He….? Let’s look at time, seasons and ages and what parts they play in God’s master plan!
Yup! It’s another New Year and that means another opportunity to start some things that are new, different and good for us! It also means we consider stopping (or at least reducing) those things in life that aren’t so good for us. It all sounds so easy, except for one little detail that can be expressed in one little word: habits. Breaking old and establishing new habits is one of the hardest challenges most individuals face. This is difficult because, by definition, making and breaking habits is making and breaking instinctive behavior. The first thing we need to do is to know what to change and why. While this is an important beginning, the next step is to know how to change, and that is where our work and focus actually begins.
When we talk about the “spirit” of something, we are trying to describe what that something was intended to look like or result in. Let’s take the spirit of a law. Whatever that law may be interpreted as meaning, or however it might be applied, needs to be checked against what the law was actually intended to allow. It is far too easy to have a personal agenda and take the words of that law, rationalizing them into fitting what we want them to mean. This is an unfortunate result of selfish thinking. The same is true with Christmas. The lights, the movies, the decorations, gifts, fanfare and food all tend to take away from the simplicity of the true spirit of Christmas. So, what is the true intention of the Christmas holiday, and how do we pay our highest respect to it?
To live is to decide. No matter who you are and what environment you live in, you will most likely be pressed with making an untold number of decisions. These will directly influence how your life will unfold. This can be a scary thought because no one wants to make bad decisions! Yet, most of us don’t seriously put in the time and effort to be sure our decisions are good. How can this be? Much has to do with the way our minds work, social pressure and our desire for comfort. As Christians, we need to be keenly aware of these challenges, because our decisions are supposed to always be in line with God’s will and Jesus’ footsteps. How must we think and what must we do in order to keep our decisions in line with all that would bring glory to God?