Thursday, February 19, 2015

 

A Repeat: "The Absence of God, He is Here!"

I was reading through my blog today, and I came across a post that still resonates with me on so many levels.  I posted it once as "A Sobering Reality" and then again as "The Absence of God."  I post it yet again today as a reminder to us all:  God is not silent, God is here.  We may not always see or hear him, but he has not forsaken us.  I hope this blesses you.



Today I met with a couple of my students, and inevitably the conversation turned to God.  Being a seminary professor, that is certainly an occupational hazard!  What was not expected is how both conversations seemed to focus on God's "absence" during hard times.  We know (theologically, at least) that God never leaves us.  He is "omnipresent."  We also understand Jesus' words when he says, "Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  We take that to mean that God never really forsakes us.

Yet in our moments of trial, in times of despair, we tend to live a lot more in Psalm 22 ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") than in Psalm 23 ("The Lord is my shepherd, I will not want.").  That little reality caused me to think of Psalm 139 and God's continuing and never failing presence.  Here is what the Psalm says (in part):


    CSB Psalm 139:1-12 For the choir director. A Davidic psalm. "LORD, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I stand up; You understand my thoughts from far away. You observe my travels and my rest; You are aware of all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You know all about it, LORD. You have encircled me; You have placed Your hand on me. This extraordinary knowledge is beyond me. It is lofty; I am unable to reach it. Where can I go to escape Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?  If I go up to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, You are there. If I live at the eastern horizon or settle at the western limits, even there Your hand will lead me; Your right hand will hold on to me. If I say, 'Surely the darkness will hide me, and the light around me will become night'-- even the darkness is not dark to You. The night shines like the day; darkness and light are alike to You."


Those of us who claim to be Christians (or even Jews and Muslims, for that matter) typically claim that God is everywhere always. That is, he is right with us even when we don’t think he is, and worse (perhaps), when we hope that he is not. He is there. I think Francis Schaeffer wrote a book entitled The God who is There. At any rate, Psalm 139 reminded me of all the times in my life when God was present (like he always is), even when I tried to overlook that reality.  I can't shake the reality that he is present.  He is here.  He is in this place.  I may overlook him, but there he is nonetheless. 

Sometimes I notice God there on the fringe of my experience (kind of hanging around like a brother who wants to be involved in everything you do).  Sometimes I respond with a sense of comfort (Oh good, he is there!). Other times I respond with fear (Oh no, did he see that!). Other times I am complacent (Oh, it’s just you, huh?). Still some times I am overwhelmed (Thank God you’re here!). I think of the Jews wandering in the wilderness and camped at Mt. Sinai. God showed up on the mountain, and they begged Moses to make it stop! “Don’t let God speak directly to us again, we can’t take it!” The acknowledgement of God’s presence frightened them, maybe it made them a bit uncomfortable. Maybe we respond to God in the same way.  We know he is there, but we wish he'd "tone it down" a bit.  We wish he wouldn't "make so much noise" in our lives.  We wish he'd kind of fade into the background just a bit.  We want God to be silent on occasions. 

When we reach that point, however, we find ourselves desperate nonetheless.  We try to turn on white noise to drown out the sound of God's voice or we paint with vivid colors in an effort to keep him from showing up in our portrait so clearly.  Yet as we try to silence him, we begin to fish for "God substitutes" to give us some kind of comfort.  We look for something (anything?) to give us the comfort of God's presence.  Annie Dillard addresses this problem when she says:
 

    “It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree.

    “What have we been doing all these centuries but trying to call God back to the mountain, or, failing that, raise a peep out of anything that isn’t us? What is the difference between a cathedral and a physics lab? Are they not both saying: ‘Hello?’ We spy on whales and on interstellar radio objects; we starve ourselves and pray till we’re blue.” From Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard
Our fear of God’s omnipresence causes us to turn off a switch in our minds and hearts that helps us to ignore this fascinating (and sometimes frightening) reality. We pretend he isn’t there. We even ignore his obvious appearances. We ignore the God of all, then we say that we didn’t know he was there.

As A. W. Tozer notes:
    “. . . If God is present at every point in space, if we cannot go where he is not, cannot even conceive of a place where he is not, why then has not that Presence become the one universally celebrated fact of the world? The patriarch Jacob, ‘in waste howling wilderness,’ gave the answer to that question. He saw a vision of God and cried out in wonder. ‘Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.’ Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside of the circle of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and it is ours. People do not know if God is here. What a difference it would make if they knew.” From The Pursuit of God by A. W. Tozer
 
We “know it not” because we don’t like the reality that God’s omnipresence makes us face. That reality is this—when we fail and sin, he is there. When we succeed, he is there. When we need him, he is there. When we think we don’t need him, he is there. Even when we don’t want him to be, he is there. God's omnipresence reminds us that we can neither take all the glory for our "good" acts nor can we avoid the blame for the selfish acts. We can't get away with anything. There is no place to hide. He is there! He is always there!

One of my pet peeves is to hear a preacher talking about Jesus’ cry (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me”) from the cross and say something like, “At that point, God turned his back on Jesus because he became sin for us.” Think of the ramifications of that idea—God, the omnipresent One, turning his back on his only unique Son. God, the merciful, overlooking the sacrifice his own Son Jesus is offering.

Can you imagine it? God, forsaking his Son! It sounds ridiculous because it is. God did not “turn his back on Jesus” (look in the text of the Gospels, it does not say any such thing). No, God was watching the brutal fact of it all with tears in his eyes. He did not forsake Jesus, and he does not forsake humanity. He endures when we pretend he is absent, but he is there. He loves Jesus . . . even when Jesus became sin for us, God lovingly watched his Son. God lovingly watches us as well.

He is there, and he loves us. He watches, waits, endures, and hopes. He wants us to acknowledge his presence, to catch a glimpse of him and smile. He is there, and he wants us to notice and to know it. He has not forsaken us. He is there, why not admit it and embrace it? Why not exult in the sheer joy and enormity of it? He is always there.

Scary, ain’t it?

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, January 30, 2015

 

Sad Anniversary, I hope we never forget--The Holocaust

Recently we remembered a sad page in the history of humanity, we recalled the liberation of prison camps and the people in them from the nightmare of Nazi oppression and thuggery. Annually I try to remind myself of the depth of depravity to which humanity can slip, even humanity that justifies its inhumanity and brutality by science. The Nazis showed the dark beastial side of humanity, the side we all have to some degree (although most of us will never admit it). The Nazis were more than thugs or brutes or even barbarians, they were humans that (in C. S. Lewis' words from The Abolition of Man) were humans without magnanimity, "men without chests." Here are Lewis' own words about such people:

"They are not distinguished from other men by any unusual skill in finding truth nor any virginal ardour to pursue her. Indeed, it would be strange if they were: a perservering devotion to truth, a nice of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of sentiment . . . It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so." (C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, p. 25).

These oppressors, these people were not less human than the rest of us, they just acted as people without that emotion that makes our "better angels" show up instead of the "brutes" in each of us. They became the "elites" who judged other races in humanity as mere brutish nature to be studied. They were Social Darwinists who wanted to keep their race pure, and who ultimately participated in that which Lewis deems "the abolition of man." They were people like us. In many ways we hate to admit, they were us. As one survivor records the event of his liberation:

"The full record of the pseudo-medical experimentations came to light. Prisoners had been used as laboratory animals, without the humane restrictions placed on vivisection. Hannah Arendt suggested that `the camp was itself a vast laboratory in which the Nazis proved that there is no limit to human depravity.' For it was remembered that these experiments were not planned or conducted by identifiable psychopaths. They were performed or supervised by professional scientists, trained in what had been once considered peerless universities and medical schools. Reverend Franklin Littell called them `technically competent barbarians.' Indeed the procedures had the full approval and cooperation of Berlin's Institute of Hygiene." (Sachar, Abram L. The Redemption of the Unwanted. New York: St. Martin's/Marek, 1983, pp. 8-10)

Let us remember with sadness the number of innocents lost and the reality of our own potentially brutish nature. Let us not forget that without grace, we are all irredeemably lost. Could Dachau or Auschwitz (or the others) happen again? Only if humans let it, only if we deny once again our own humanity and treat our fellow humans as mere animals. Yes, it can happen again. Let's pray that it doesn't. Let's make sure it doesn't.

This topic is heavy and sad. I don't apologize for that, but I do want to put the weight down now. Thanks for reading.

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Tuesday, December 23, 2014

 

No Reputation: The "Gift" of Christmas

A couple of years ago I posted this little meditation on Christmas, and as I read through it today I realized that I needed to hear it again.  It is easy in our society today to be a bit too full of ourselves, to think a bit more highly of ourselves than we ought,  . . . but I am quickly coming to the conclusion that that is not the Spirit of Christmas, and it certainly was NOT the Spirit of Christ.  Bear with me, if you will, while I contemplate what it means to have no reputation as a follower of Christ.  

Philippians 2:5-9 NASU

"Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

This passage may not usually be associated with Christmas, but for some reason that is how it comes to me this year. Look closely at the passage above, then read the quote from The Jesus Style by Gayle D. Erwin below.

“Christ Jesus . . . made himself nothing.

 “He made himself nothing, he emptied himself—-the great kenosis. He made himself no reputation, no image.

 “I can recall my father shaking his head and repeating over and over to himself, ‘If only I knew what this meant. There is something powerful here. If I only understood it.’ Maybe that is why this Scripture has glued itself to my mind and equally disturbs me. Reputation is so important to me. I want to be seen with the right people, remembered in the right light, advertised with my name spelled right, live in the right neighborhood, drive the right kind of car, wear the right kind of clothing. But Jesus made himself of no reputation.”

Christmas in America means lots of things to lots of different people.

For some it becomes a political event that pits “the true meaning of Christmas” against the bias against religion. For others Christmas is just another time to visit families and to pretend to get along with each other. For others Christmas is a season that involves incredible profits (or expenses) and lots of activities. This year some may see Christmas as a bleak season filled with bad news and the dread of a new year. For still others Christmas is simply a winter break, a time to regroup for a new year.

I know I’ve left a large group out! There are those who see Christmas as the celebration of the birth of the world’s Savior and as the Incarnation of God. I want to twist the prism a bit and look at Christmas from a different angle.

Almost all of the views above look at Christmas from the perspective of what humans gain from the season. I wonder if we can look at the season as something we can offer to others, a gift of sorts. I wonder, can we make a gift of Christmas? Can we this year find a way to give the "spirit" of Christmas to those around us?

Hear me out . . .

This passage from Philippians reminds me that Christmas for Jesus wasn’t about what he would gain.  In fact, he lost just about everything! He left the comfort of his Father’s place, he became a tottering, dribbling little baby, he had to learn to talk, to walk, to eat, he left his riches behind for the starkness of a manger, and ultimately he would even become sin and even die for humanity.  Remember, dead and sin were two things he had never experienced before. 

As Paul says, he made himself of no reputation.

Imagine what Christmas would be like this year if those of us who follow Jesus would do as Paul admonishes here and have this approach to the season. Imagine if we actually attempted to have the same attitude towards others that Jesus has towards us! What would Christmas look like if we didn’t care about what we got out of it but became more concerned about what we could give to others? How would our world change if we laid down our lives . . . our reputations . . . our desires in order to bless others this Christmas? What if we even went further and did it anonymously, with no expectation of reward or recognition?

Ronald Reagan is credited with the saying “There is no telling what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit.” We don’t like that approach though, do we? We kick against it! I mean, we deserve to be recognized, don’t we?

You came up with the idea that made the company money, shouldn’t you be rewarded? Maybe you found a problem and fixed it, and that fix saved someone’s job. Shouldn’t you be shown gratitude? Maybe you did some kindness for someone you knew couldn’t pay you back, shouldn’t you get credit for that? You gave that money to charity, shouldn't someone say "thank you"? You gave of your time to that charitable organization, shouldn't there be some "benefit" in it for you?

Don’t we all think that we should be center stage, center of the world, the most important person in the world? How many times have you heard “I quit going to that church because MY needs weren’t being met”?

No reputation.

Let that sink in.

NO Reputation!

No fame, no credit, no automatic acceptance, no celebrities, and no place where who you know or what you know earns you admittance or recognition.  That requires true humility!

Jesus made himself of no reputation; he humbled himself. The very God of the universe became nobody. He emptied himself, he became a servant. As Isaiah said, he was not handsome or attractive in such a way as to draw attention to himself. He lived to give attention only to God. Jesus was truly humble.  He had "no reputation."   

Ouch!

We love our awards, the acceptance of others, the glamor of being “somebody,” or the wonderful happiness of fame, don’t we? We like to be recognized, remembered, acknowledged, accepted, and celebrated.

“Don’t neglect me” of "It's all about me" could be the slogans of many in our society.

The motto of Christ followers should be “No reputation.” God chooses such people to further his agenda. Will we be involved, or do we like our perks too much?

In Job 1, Satan appears in God's court. God acknowledges the good job done by Job, and asks Satan if he has noticed what a righteous person Job has become. Satan's response is a tough challenge: "Does Job fear God for nothing?"

Think about what the evil one is implying here. He is asking, "Will a human serve God with no expectation of something in return?"

Will humans serve God for nothing?

That hurts, doesn't it? Even the mere thought of it as a possibility smarts a bit. Surely the mighty God of the universe wouldn't expect me to show him respect and serve his purposes without expectation of payment for services rendered, right?

Can we humble ourselves to the point where we realize that God owes us nothing? Quite literally, we have done nothing to merit a reward. Even our service is a response to his continued mercy.

Will we, like Christ, humble ourselves to the point of no reputation? Are we willing to be "nobodies" in God's service, among his people, even among those who ought to "recognize" us?

What would Christmas look like this year if we (all of us) decided to give with no expectation of return? What if we humbled ourselves and expected no acknowledgment? What if we chose to serve anonymously and to bless others without receiving a blessing in return? What would happen?

What can you do this Christmas season that will bless others and garnish no reputation for you? Who can you serve that can't repay you? This year let's commit ourselves to serving, giving, and loving as Christ did. Let's look for opportunities to bless others in a way that does not give us recognition.  Instead of asking for things for ourselves, let's give to the needs of others. Instead of expecting gifts, let's give our lives away in blessing others.

How would that change Christmas in your neighborhood?

Thanks for reading!

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Friday, December 12, 2014

 

My Annual Christmas Post--the Mystery of Christmas

Hey y'all:

Since I started this blog about 10 years ago, I have posted a piece I wrote around Christmas 2003. It kind of sums up for me what is the "Mystery of Christmas" as I meditated on the Incarnation and its implications for humanity (and perhaps for God as well!). The very idea of God becoming "one of us among us" (Immanuel) still fascinates and overwhelms me. God, the creator of all things, humbled himself, became of no reputation, and entered his own creation so as to renew and to redeem us (and, ultimately, to do these things for all of creation as well). God, the Creator of all things, became flesh so that he might be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. The God who never knew death would die for us. The God who never knew sin would become sin for us. What amazing love! Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! As you celebrate the first advent of our Lord Jesus Christ, I hope you enjoy this rerun. Feel free to make comments if you'd like.
A little over 2000 years ago, a tiny child was born in some pretty bleak conditions. Oh, he wasn’t the only one born in a bad state. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the lucky ones. He and his mother actually survived childbirth and thrived. Still, this story is unique and amazing on several levels.

First, this child would literally change the way time is reckoned in the world. His life and abilities would so impress generations of others that a brand new movement would be created, one that would radically change the very face of the earth (sometimes for good, sometimes not). His name would become recognized among the names of the greatest of humans, yet he never forgot his humble beginnings or lost a sense of who he was.

The second thing about this child is tied to the first in that this baby, this helpless lad full of spittle and mush, was born as the very Son of God. When Mary held his little head to her breast, he drank human milk. Yet, he was (and is) the God of the universe. Can you picture this simply ridiculous yet somehow poetic scene? God, who calls the stars by name, pressed to the human breast for sustenance. Humble yet awesome, is how some folks would no doubt recall this child.

A little over 2000 years ago, God proposed that the only remedy for the human condition of sin would be if he humbled himself, stepped out of eternity and into human flesh, and suckled at Mary’s breast in preparation for the greatest, most impressive conversion of all. God, in Mary’s arms, toddling around Joseph’s home, learning to talk, learning to walk, tasting and touching things with human hands! As the Psalmist says in Psalm 139, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for us, we cannot contain it!”

God knew that the only way to redeem us was if he did it himself. Haven’t you ever had that thought? You know, the one where you say, “If I want something done right, I’ll just have to do it myself?” Imagine God having that thought about bringing us to proper relationship with him. Imagine again that the only way he knew he could do that is if he came to earth as a baby. Think of it—-how vulnerable the almighty God was at that moment, how paradoxical that the God of all creation had to learn to walk! And why did he put himself in this situation? Out of his divine sense of justice and righteousness, out of his inexpressible love for each of us he acted in this manner.

God humbled himself.  In a sense, he took on our insanity so that we may be sane. He became flesh so that we might walk in his Spirit. He became sin that we might be righteous. He became poor so that we might be rich. He who had the reputation of Creator became a humble servant with no reputation. He became a toddling, dribbling, helpless babe so that we could become mature humans in the image of the almighty Son of God. What wondrous love! What humility and service! How then can anything he asks of us be too difficult?

Lord, in this Christmas season, remind us of your sacrifice and love so that we might be a light shining in darkness to others. Teach us to live a life of humble service like your Son did on our behalf so many years ago. As we celebrate the babe in the manger, may the glory he revealed in his life shine through us towards others that they may know God. May the grace of God and the peace of Christ rule in our families and our lives.

Thanks for reading!

Merry Christmas!  May you know the blessings of the God who humbled himself and served! 

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

 

Some thoughts today . . . Community, Truth, Humility.

The following are things I'm finding in my Twitter feed today, and I wanted to share them here:

We speak of truth and lovely things, but transparency and honesty can sometimes be messy. It is fine, though, God doesn't mind messy.

If Jesus is truth, then why are we so quick to lie to each other as Christians? Are we really that concerned with how we "look" to others?

Too often I compare myself to others whose situation is no better--without Christ, they are also nothing. Jesus is the Model to imitate.

Church should be community, and community is sometimes messy. Unity only comes when we humble ourselves and serve others.

Unity is not uniformity. My brother/sister may look quite different, but our unity is based on what Jesus has done and the example he set.

Come to grips then with this truth--you are not God, but you need God. The only way God fills your need is by Jesus, his Incarnate Word.

If you find a substitute to fill your void, you will always have "less-than-God." This idol will always fail. It cannot do anything less.

God became one of us to reach us. He served humbly, what more can he ask of us? To love one another calls for humble service. It is enough.

Thanks for reading! 

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Thursday, October 09, 2014

 

Responsible Christian Freedom: August 10 Sermon

http://www.gospelcc.org/sermons/2424/

About a month ago I was asked to preach on 1 Corinthians 10 at my church, Gospel Community Church.  Our pastor, Andrew, has been doing a series on 1 Corinthians called "Healthy Christian, Healthy Church."  The link above will take you to the audio for this sermon (while there you can search for the rest of the series if you'd like).  Below are my notes for the sermon.  I hope they are a blessing to you! 


Responsible Christian Freedom (or, With Great Freedom comes Great Responsibility)
1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1

Intro: The culture of the USA loves the idea of "freedom."  We've even kind of made an idol out of the idea.  Technically speaking though, freedom is neither good nor evil, it really depends on what we do with it.  Using freedom responsibly is a good thing, while abusing freedom for selfish ends can be bad.  The book of 1 Corinthians has a few things to say about freedom.  Here is an overview of some of them:  Our passage today has some similarities with chapter 6 (same basic quote in v. 12 as found in this chapter) where Paul talks about lawsuits, freedom, and sexuality.  The overall idea of chapter 6 is to avoid joining the things of God with the things of the world.  Then chapter 7 speaks of a godly approach to marriage by discussing the freedom to marry or not to marry.  Chapter 8 covers Christian freedom in the context of meats sacrificed to idols (As Pastor Andrew stated: “With great freedom comes great responsibility”).  In chapter 9, Paul addresses the “rights” or “freedoms” of an apostle (here Paul also mentions his example of laying down his “rights” to serve others—Paul built relational bridges and minimized walls for the sake of the gospel).  The first part of chapter 10 then is a warning against spiritual complacency and compromise (Remember last week?  Complacency + Compromise = Consequences). Some quotes from Pastor Andrew on this section include the following:  1) “A healthy Christian is a cautious Christian”; 2) “Seemingly innocent decisions may have a devastating impact.” In the last part of chapter 10, Paul addresses the issue of how to live out our Christian freedom in a responsible manner. He returns to the idea of “With great freedom comes great responsibility" in this section.  

Coming off the heels of a discussion concerning the Lord’s Supper/Communion in contrast to the ritual eating of meat sacrificed to idols in the pagan temples, Paul uses the idea of “meat sacrificed to idols” to round out his discussion of Christian freedom. Just as eating in a pagan temple involves a “communion” or “agreement” with demons, so eating the Lord’s Supper (bread and wine) involves a “communion” or “agreement” with the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. In other words, there is a corporate and public aspect of faith as well as some communal implications of behavior in a public setting. Now, in the last section of ch. 10, Paul returns to the idea of being careful about how our behavior affects others. He does this in the context of a private meal or in the context of table fellowship at home.  (Read 1 Corinthians 10:33-11:1)

Turning to the “private” or “personal” relationships we all have, Paul outlines for us four principles of living out the idea that “With Great Freedom comes Great Responsibility.”

Principle 1 (10:23-24): Christian freedom has exceptionsChristian freedom cannot be selfish. Everything is permissible BUT: Paul seems to be quoting the Corinthians here. Some of the “mature” Christians had an idea that due to the freedom gained in Christ, they are pretty much allowed to do anything! Note that Paul is not disagreeing with them, but the exceptions he offers are important. Everything is NOT helpful, and everything does NOT build others up.  So in evaluating whether or not to engage in an activity or use an item, we should ask ourselves, “Will this create a lifetime of unity with God and His people? Is this the kind of thing that would be a good foundation to build on, or will this bring brokenness, disunity, disappointment, and disqualification from the race of faith?” We must live as though the good of others is more important than our own (cf. Phil 2; 2 Cor. 5). Jesus is a great example.  Becoming a poor Jewish boy, getting roughed up by Roman soldiers, and then hung on a cross was not what we would consider a pleasant experience!  But Jesus' life was not centered around making himself feel good (with meeting "his needs"), rather he suffered because he wanted to bring well-being to others. He did this by taking what we deserved for our sin and instead of judgment offering fellowship with God through his own sacrifice.

So, Paul reminds us that "With great freedom comes great responsibility!" We cannot expect to live the life of Christian freedom if we continue to live selfishly. When we place confidence in self, we are bound to fall. When we place confidence in Christ, we have a chance to stand and be free. Selfishness and arrogance lead to death, humility and service lead to life. Paul calls us to be free in seeking the good of the other person over our own selfishness

Principle 2 (10:25-27): Be relational, reach out to others with the same grace God has shown us. Accept others as they are, and let God make the change. In this section Paul essentially says that if you find yourself in a social setting with unbelievers, eat and enjoy whatever they put before you. No interrogation is needed, just eat what they offer and thank God for the good food. The principle is this: When dealing with unbelievers, don’t try to fix them. Don’t put up walls to the relationship, but build a relational bridge that allows the opportunity to tell them the gospel. Live the love of Christ and it will be easier to share it (cf. 2 Cor 5—love invigorates us—it gives life and the power to love others, it makes us representatives or ambassadors for God). 

Remember, "With great freedom comes great responsibility." We cannot expect to draw non-Christians to God if we don’t know any. We must be relational, we must serve them as Christ served us. Paul calls us to be free in seeking to share the grace of God with those who do not know him yet.

Principle 3 (10:28-30): We are free, but we must put others first. We are free, but we should NOT be selfish (see principle 1). Be careful that your liberty doesn’t become a trap or an offense.  Be discerning in your relationships with others. Remember, it may be permissible, but that doesn’t mean it is helpful or edifying. After telling the Corinthians that they can eat whatever an unbeliever places before them (“Everything is permissible”), Paul now offers an exception (“But not everything is helpful or builds up”).  The context here may refer to both believers and unbelievers, but the point is the same. Accept people as they are without interrogation. If they offer information, work with it and act with discretion (“A healthy Christian is a cautious Christian”). 

If someone invites you for a meal, don’t ask where the meat came from. If they tell you, “This meat is dedicated to a god other than Jesus,” then politely refuse to eat it. If they volunteer this information, then there is an issue. Be careful, don’t let your liberty become a trap or become an offense. Christian freedom requires us to make wise choices based on the situation in which we find ourselves or based on the needs of those around us.  As stated earlier, we must look out for the good of others.  Avoid living carelessly or flaunting your liberty (e.g., alcohol) without regards for how it may affect others. You can do the right thing and still cause hurt. Being “right” is not the issue, being “righteous” is. To be “righteous” means to act like Jesus. 

"With great freedom comes great responsibility!" If we are made free in Christ then we have much more to consider than our personal happiness, fulfillment, or freedom. Just because we have a right to do something that does not mean that we should do it. Sometimes the greatest freedom is expressed by not exercising it (cf. Phil 2:5-11). We are free to serve, but to serve requires us to put our personal “freedoms” or “expectations” aside so as to meet the needs of others. To lay down your life for a friend is a good thing, to be willing to do it for an enemy is a “God” thing (Ephesians 4). We are free, but we must put others first

Principle 4 (10:31-11:1): Live so that others can know God through you. That kind of freedom brings glory to God. 

What does it mean to do all things for God’s “glory”? “Glory” in the Bible has beauty and danger. God's glory can bless you, but it can also wreck your life.  “Glory” is honor. 

In creation, Adam and Eve were clothed with God’s glory (Psalm 2), but when they sinned they exchanged that glory for leaves and ultimately for animal skins (cf. Romans 1). Remember Moses and the burning bush, cleft of the rock, and his experience “glory”? The Jews (freshly rescued from Egypt) saw that glory on Mt. Sinai when God gave Moses the Law. It was frightening, weighty, overwhelming. They didn’t want to get too close. 

Oswald Chambers:  "We have a tendency to look for wonder in our experience, and we mistake heroic actions for real heroes.  It's one thing to go through a crisis grandly, yet quite another to go through every day glorifying God when there is no witness, no limelight, and no one paying even the remotest attention to us. . . . The true test of a saint's life is not success but faithfulness on the human level of life. We tend to set up success in Christian work as our purpose, but our purpose should be to display the glory of God in human life, to live a life 'hidden with Christ in God' in our everyday human conditions (Colossians 3:3). Our human relationships are the very conditions in which the ideal life of God should be exhibited. . . . Beware of posing as a profound person--God became a baby."

When Solomon built a temple for God, God's glory showed up and was so heavy that the people couldn’t even move to worship. They were overwhelmed. In Ezekiel, this “glory” of God is seen leaving the temple. In John’s Gospel, the “glory” of God is revealed in Jesus’ life but more specifically in his death and resurrection. John 12:22ff refers to an event when Gentiles came looking for Jesus. Jesus says, “Now is the hour for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He then predicts his own death and resurrection and the fruit of those events. He also encourages his followers to participate in God’s glory by laying down their lives to be like him.  

Jesus’ humility is God’s greatest glory (Phil 2). If we want to glorify God in all we do, then we must learn to walk in humility as Christ walked in humility. If we intend to bring people to salvation, we cannot get them there by pride or arrogance. We will always be judged by others, so we ought to avoid unnecessary offenses that would cause them to judge us unfavorably.  The offense of the cross is enough, we shouldn’t compound it by having bad breath.  Col 3:17 “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” 

“Become un-spectacular/give no offense/do not cause anyone to stumble” (v.32) The word picture is of someone trying to get a look at God, but they can’t see God because you keep stepping in front of their line of sight so that it is blocked by your presence.  Sometimes we need to get out of the way. The path of humility is the path of life. The love of Christ obligates us (and ought to compel us) to be humble servants to bring God’s life to others (2 Cor 5).  Paul says that his goal is to see people “saved,” or to see them brought into a proper relationship with God through Jesus. He further invites them to imitate his life as he imitates Jesus’ life. 

Can we say the same thing as Paul? Are we living so that others can know God through us? Would we want others to imitate us?  Again, Paul reminds us that in order to do this we must put the needs of others first, and there is no greater need than salvation. "With great freedom comes great responsibility!" We are free to live humbly. We are free to seek the salvation of others. Not only are we free, we are obligated to do so.
 
So, what do we do with these principles?  Recognize that people DO pay attention to your life and example. Whether or not you know it, they are watching you to see if you live what you believe. The stakes are high. People will believe what they see way before they will believe what we say. 

First then, make an effort this week to notice people. Notice the people who seem overwhelmed, angry, distant, sad, or those who look wounded. You can’t serve them if you can’t see them. Pay attention. Listen. Love. Serve. 

Second, work on serving others. Be considerate. Put others before yourself. Hold the door for someone.  Help someone unload their car. Let someone go ahead of you in line.  Be considerate of the person behind you in a line, or the person waiting for your parking space, or the person walking behind you. Treat those who wait on your table with respect, tip them well. Listen carefully to the person who is sharing their story. Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice. Maybe there is an act of kindness you’ve been putting off. Just do it. Serve those who simply cannot pay you back! Be willing to be inconvenienced so that someone else can be served! 

Third, ask God to make you alert to the needs of others. Develop the habit of asking, “How might this decision or action have an impact on others?”

Fourth, be bold in living out and talking about your salvation. Don’t be shy. Your story of what God has done matters. God saved you, and he may use your story to bring life to someone else. Be bold! 
Christ has set us free to be his representatives, his ambassadors. Christ has set us free from the chains of sin. He has set us free to enjoy his life to the fullest.  He has set us free to represent Him in a sinful and lonely world.  We must make sure that we are using our freedom for good rather than evil.
"With great freedom comes great responsibility!" 

Live free, serve others, be imitators of Christ.  

Live your Christian freedom responsibly! 

Thanks for reading!  

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