“Us” and “Them”

Luke’s genealogy of the Christ starts with Jesus, son of Joseph, and works its way all the way back to Adam. It ends with these words: “…son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.”

In what sense was Adam the “son of God?” I do not know all of the ways in which that question cab be appropriately answered, but I know one thing: our children tend to resemble us, and Adam resembled God. Scripture says that when God made Adam He said “let us make Adam in our image,” or “in our likeness,” or, in some sense, “to look like US.”

Of course in Hebrew, Adam literally means “mankind,” and this is no coincidence. Just as Adam is a child of God, and thus “looks like” God, so all of mankind are children of God, who look like Him.

Plenty of other scriptures reaffirm this. Paul said of his prayer life: “I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” So in some sense, not only are we His children who resemble Him, but we also have His name, just as it is customary even to this day for a person’s children to bear their name. In His sermon on Mars Hill Paul proclaimed that God “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth… for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’”

Now when we get into trouble, who do we turn to to bail us out? Often, it is our family. This is the way it has been for millennia. In the book of Ruth, for instance, Boaz redeemed the household of Naomi because He was one of their closest relatives. In fact, in Hebrew, the word for “redeemer” and “close relative” is the exact same word.

No wonder then, that God Himself ended up being our redeemer, for ultimately there was no one else in the family who could help us with our sin problem. We were slaves to sin as Romans teaches, and slaves to the law, as we read in Galatians 4:5, and as the law in the Pentetuech lays out, a man needs one of his kinsmen to pay out the redemption money before he can go free. We might have hoped for a fellow human being to help us out, but the Revelation to John tells us that they searched through heaven, and found no one who was worthy except the Lamb. He was our closest and only kinsman who could bail us out.

Thus we are told by Matthew and Mark that the Son of Man (a title of Jesus that really emphasizes His kinship to us) came to give His life as a ransom for many.

So what do we learn from all of this? Well, we learn that there is no “us” vs. “them” when it comes to the worth of the various peoples on the earth. Yes, we have different skin colors, and we speak different dialects and different languages, and we have different customs and traditions and heritages and strengths and weaknesses. And there is no need to hide these facts. Rather, I think we should celebrate them. But when it comes to whose family is better than whose, there is only one family. We are all sons of Adam, sons of God. We all look like Him. We all carry His name.

Maybe sometimes those in power want to divide us into groups, and foster hate between us in order to make us easier to control. Or maybe sometimes it has little or nothing to do with those in power, and it starts at the bottom and works its way up because we, as humans, are distrustful of those who are not like us, or who we perceive as a threat to our own way of life. But when it comes to human worth, there is no “us” and “them.”

There is, however, a very important “us” and “them” that does need to be addressed. It is the “us” who accept Him as our redeemer and the “them” that reject His sacrifice in favor of some other god. It might sound discriminatory, but truly, there is a group that is special in His eyes. He calls them “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.”

This special people is his church. And while many today perceive His church as being bigoted precisely because they perceive it as an elitist group who think they are better than others and exclude those who are different from them, the truth is that the requirements for entry still leave room for quite a bit of diversity.

You do not have to be any certain color. You do not have to speak any certain language or live in any certain country or belong to any certain political party. You do not have to be attracted to people of the opposite gender. You do not have to be in a certain income bracket. You do not have to meet a minimum requirement for good deeds done per week. You do not have to have a clean criminal record.

You do have to trust and obey.

Matthew 25 describes a scene in which God “separates the sheep from the goats.” There will be “sheep” and “goats.” There will be an “us” and a “them.” Both “us” and “them” will have “red,” “yellow,” “black,” “brown,” and “white,” rich and poor, old and young, men and women among our numbers. Both “us” and “them” will have those who had our own struggles with alcohol, drugs, sexual immorality, and a host of other problems. But “we” will be faithful to Him wherever He leads, while “they” will turn their backs on Him when the right idol comes along.

This is the only “us” and “them” that will matter in the end.

I will stand with you in this life. But when judgment day comes, there will be a separation. On that day, will you be one of us, or one of them?

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It Starts with You

In Acts 1:8, Jesus told His followers, “you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

These instructions paint a picture of widening concentric circles spreading out to cover the globe. And indeed, the influence of the church spread out all over the Roman Empire and to the ends of the earth, and it continues spreading to new places to this day.

The church here in Mankato would like to see this as a model for our own efforts to spread the good news. Start in this city, then spread out all over the state, the country, and the world.

But there are times when the Bible would teach us to think smaller for a moment, instead of always thinking big.

In Philippians 2, Paul told his audience to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Some translations even say “work out your own salvation,” in order to emphasize the fact that this is a personal task for the Philippians to think about themselves.

The church has a lot of work to do, but we must make sure that we know where are we are going before we try to lead others there.

In Luke 6, a parable of Jesus is recorded: “A blind man cannot guide a blind man, can he? Will they not both fall into a pit? A pupil is not above his teacher; but everyone, after he has been fully trained, will be like his teacher. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.”

If we go out to halfheartedly spread a gospel that we ourselves have not been transformed by, we risk succeeding only in converting people to the same apathy and hypocrisy that we are practicing.

If we go out with logs in our eyes trying to remove specks from the eyes of others, we may succeed only in making matters worse.

This is exactly what Jesus accused some of the religious leaders of His day of doing in Matthew 23:15, “You travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”

Consider also the common scriptural illustrations of salt, light, and leaven. Salt can be spread out all over a large peace of meat in order to preserve it, but what if the salt loses its unique quality? A lamp can shine out on a hilltop for all to see, but what if a bushel is placed over it? Leaven can spread out to affect an entire loaf of bread, but what if the leaven is dead?

Let’s be a light in our city, our state, and our world. But let’s also be a light in our local congregation, our own homes, and even when we are alone in our rooms with the door shut. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, then go and share what you have found with the world.

 

 

Is Your Church a Family?

The Bible is full of descriptions of the church as family.

We are fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters (1 Timothy 5:1-2). The term “brethren” refers to fellow Christians over 100 times in the New Testament, and is often translated as “brothers and sisters” in contemporary translations.

Paul set an example in this regard by taking Timothy under his wing as “my beloved son” (2 Timothy 1:2), as well as Titus, “my true child in a common faith” (Titus 1:4). He requested that the saints in Rome greet his friend Rufus, and “also his mother and mine,” or as the NIV puts it “his mother, who has been a mother to me, too” (Romans 16:13).

We have each been “adopted to sonship” (Romans 8:15), and we live together in the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19), united in “brotherly love” (1 Peter 3:8).

We not only have familial ties to each other, but to Christ. He is the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29), and a faithful follower of His is His “brother and sister and mother.” (Matthew 12:46-50)

This role of church as family is extremely important. Many, including some who we may not suspect, may have suffered the lack of a healthy or functional earthly family, and the church has a special opportunity to be supportive to them.

The truth is that all of us, in today’s fast paced, individualistic society need the social, emotional, and spiritual closeness and support that the church offers. What a tragedy when a church ceases to embody the role of a family.

What can you do to bring more familial love into your congregation? Family members ought to spend time with each other, teach each other, provide for each other, eat meals with each other, have fun with each other, and be supportive of each other. For some, these things come naturally while for others, they are a real challenge. But for each and every person, God’s invitation is to be a part of the family whose defining characteristic is love (John 13:35)
family group

Why The World Needs Christians

Many who live without the gospel pride themselves on leading the way towards a progressive, blissful, godless future. But is dispensing with all things Biblical really in our best interest?

The world needs people who have been profoundly impacted by the gospel.

These people embody the kind of unconditional love that only the cross makes logical. It is the kind of love that brings peace and prosperity at every scale from the individual to the international.

They have personally experienced a power strong enough to free the believer from addictions and damaging lifestyles. It is a power that realigns us, rescuing us each from our own unsustainable trajectories.

They give family the importance it will need if our society is to flourish. They champion God’s beautiful model of mothers and fathers lovingly investing in their children.

In a society that is increasingly individualistic, they maintain a sense of community that is vitally important to the human experience. They care enough to put down their electronic devices and invest in each other’s lives.

They are awake to the destructiveness of pornography. While marital sexuality falls to pieces in a world that has made even sexuality a selfish endeavor, they stand not simply against what is immoral, but also for what is most beautiful and fulfilling.

They value human life not simply for its utilitarian value, but for it intrinsic worth. In a world where abortion is a matter of convenience, they state clearly that each and every human life matters because it possesses an inherent worth, not simply because it meets the selfish needs of others.

There is so much to be done to improve our world as we march collectively into the future. There are so many social ills and so much unnecessary suffering for us to seek to eradicate. As Christians, we ought to be the ones leading the way.

Planet Earth from Space

Times of Rest

Dog taking a nap.

We all need periods of rest in our lives. Genesis 2:2 tells us that even God rested from His work when He was done creating the heavens and the earth. He also blessed the seventh day as a day of rest, and went on to instruct His people to rest, as He had done, every seven days.

Why would a perfect God need rest? Surely His muscles were not tired, and His mind was not weary. The fact that God Himself would choose to rest indicates that there is a sacred, special quality to rest that we all need in our lives.

  • It is a time to step back and survey the work that has been done.
  • It is a time to shift focus for a while, so that we may return with renewed energy.
  • It is a time to consider new ideas and concepts with the freedom afforded by a clear and uncluttered schedule.
  • It is a time to remember what things are really important that we may have been neglecting.
  • It is a time for family.
  • It is a time for solitude.

Jesus actually advocated vacation time for His apostles:

“The apostles gathered together with Jesus; and they reported to Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a secluded place and rest a while.” (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.) They went away in the boat to a secluded place by themselves.” – Mark 6:30-32

Times of rest also serve as times of renewal. What do you need to take a rest from for a while?

  • Work?
  • Television?
  • Internet?
  • Facebook?
  • Negativity?

“Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” – Luke 5:16