Image

I’m frequently asked how a Christ-follower can grow toward maturity without the law (rules)?  It happened again this week.  I love the question – most of the time.  Some of the time I don’t love it – times when the question is a set-up or even an attack instead of a genuine effort to understand how to be more like Jesus.

I do appreciate people who really want to grow in likeness to Christ.   I also understand people who get pretty passionate over their position.  I can be one of those passionate persons:)

I read again this week, Acts 15, which  records a debate between some pretty passionate people over the same topic.  In the early days of Christianity almost all Christians had been Jews. In Antioch, though, a lot of Gentiles (non Jews) had come to faith in Christ.  These new converts knew nothing about the laws of Judaism which really bothered the leadership. “Don’t non-Jews have to become Jews to follow the Jewish Messiah?” “Sure. Let’s give ‘em a list.”

One thing on the list was especially troublesome – especially to the men – surgery. Yep, circumcision.  “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  The list didn’t stop there.  The new converts were required to submit to the entire law!! This ticked off Paul and Barnabas, whom the Bible says were in “sharp dispute and debate” (Acts 15:2).  They couldn’t come to an agreement so they took it up with the big boys in Jerusalem – James and Peter.

The “passionate” debate continued.  Paul and Barnabas presented their view (grace) and their opponents countered with “No! The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).  I love Peter’s reply: “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?”   In other words, “Come on guys!  Get real.  How many of you keep all the law?  No hands? I didn’t think so.  So why are we making Gentiles keep it?” Peter concludes with a clear statement of his position: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11).

Game over, right?  Not yet.  It’s James’ turn.   “Peter’s right, guys. It is my judgment that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:14-19).   I wish James would have stopped there, but he doesn’t. “Let’s just make them do 4 things – 1. Eat no food sacrificed to idols, 2. stay away from sexual sin, 3. no eating animals that were strangled, 4. no eating bloody meat.  Really, James?  What are you saying?

Some commentators say that James was offering a compromise between the two groups.  His decision wasn’t so much theological as it was relational.  I like that view.  Others say that James was a legalist and really messed this one up.  Maybe so.   Or, there is the view that the stipulations still apply today!  I hope not.   I like my steak rare.

So, how does all this apply to maturing in our spiritual life.  How can we grow in Christ and help others grow?  Paul, one of the passionate debaters in the Acts 15 event makes the following contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18:
Old covenant – New covenant
Of the letter – of the Spirit
Etched in stone – written in our hearts
Kills – gives life
Brings condemnation – brings righteousness

Can we agree that the goal of spiritual growth is likeness to Christ?  Then what method is going to get us there?  Following rules or depending on the Spirit?

Paul concludes his thoughts in 2 Corinthians 3 with this  affirmation: “And the Lord, who is the Spirit, makes us more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18).  I think I’ve got the answer for me.

Advertisements

Don’t Know Much About History

Image

Happy Columbus Day. It’s not a big holiday.  There are no Columbus Day parties, unless you’re a school kid.  Any day that school is out is a party.  Some people take advantage of some Columbus Day sales, but that’s about it.

Some people didn’t realize it was Columbus Day until they went out to their mailbox and found it empty. “What’s up?” “Where’s the mail?” “Oh yeah, it’s Columbus Day.”

I grew up in a time when Columbus was seen as a hero.  Do you remember this line from a poem, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  How cute.

And then I was taught by Christian leaders who described in glowing terms Columbus’ commitment to Christ and sense of mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people who were “living in darkness and the shadow of death” (A quote from Columbus’ journal).

Columbus’ writings, though, show another side to the guy who got a holiday named after him.  Alongside claims that he is doing his work for God’s glory, he writes in his journal on October 12, 1492, the first day he encountered the native people of the Americas, that “they should be good servants…I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highness.”  Columbus promises, in a report to the Court in Madrid, “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask.”  He even gives God credit for his “success”: “Thus an eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”  When a large percentage of the Indians died in transit, Columbus wrote, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

In the prologue of his journal, Columbus writes, “Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the  holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma (Islam) and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristobal Colon, to the said parts of India…with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith…Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships…your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India…”

Columbus was familiar with persecution and murder before arriving in the New World.  The day before Columbus left Spain, all of the Jews in Spain were required to leave.  During the time that Columbus was preparing for his voyage, an estimated 30,000 Spanish Jews were burned at the stake for their failure to convert to Christianity.  That’s some strategy for evangelism.

The list of gruesome acts attributed to Columbus against the island natives go on and on – rape, torture, sex-trade – things that just don’t jive with “spreading the Gospel” or “bearing the light of Christ” (the meaning of the name “Christopher”), and things that just didn’t make it into Little Johnny’s history books.

I realize I’m treading on sacred ground for some.  It is not my intent to disrespect or cast dispersion on someone who has been revered by so many.  It is my intent to face honestly any evidence uncovered by historians.  The title of the post applies to me.  I don’t know much about history or many of the other areas of study mentioned in the song from which that line is taken.  But I don’t want my preconceived ideas to prevent me from facing whatever truth is revealed.  For some  historians’ perspective, check out these links:

http://www.history.com/topics/columbus-controversy

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/07/books.spain

Reading Columbus’ own words from his own journal,  and seeing the evidence uncovered by historians, what do we do with this?

1. Remember the line, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2. Some say Columbus was just a product of his time and culture.  Does that excuse behavior that goes against the character of Jesus?   What am I doing that may characterize me as a “product of my culture” but that contradicts the character of Jesus?

3. How do I see people?  Columbus obviously didn’t see the islanders through the eyes of Jesus.  How about me?  Through whose I eyes do I see people?

4.  In some way, Columbus’ journeys played a part in the founding of the United States – the freest country on earth.  That’s a good thing.   I’m glad to be an American.  I’m also a Christian – living in the kingdom of Christ.   I have to make sure my values and behaviors are determined not by my citizenship in America but by my citizenship in His Kingdom.

Happy Day.