The Wandering Desert Monk

The Wandering Desert Monk

Saturday, April 11, 2015

What is your message?

Paul found himself standing in front of the Governor Felix defending his behavior and message. Felix was very interested in what Paul had to say because he had studied the Christian faith as well as the Jewish faith. The writer of the Apostles of the Holy Spirit summarized Paul’s conversations with Felix in the following words:

"As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you'" (Acts 24:25).

When is the last time you hard a sermon on any of these topics, righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come? Would our Christian culture be different if the preachers would address these three topics?

We can get an idea of what Paul would have said on these three topics from the letters he wrote to the churches he founded.

On righteousness. Paul discussed the perfection of God and the path toward perfection through faith (Romans 1:17). How do imperfect people stand before a perfect God? It is not by any faith at all according to Paul. It is by faith in the grace of God found in Jesus Christ. “It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!” (Romans 10 The Message)

On self-control. It is often believed that Paul’s teaching on self-control was a response to the popular Epicurean philosophy that could be summarized, "Pleasure is the beginning and the end of the happy life." When Paul catalogues the essential qualities of Christian character he places self-control in the middle of the list. Self-control is focused on self-restraint of one’s impulses, emotions and behaviors. How contrary is this message on self-control over the current cultural view that anything goes. Here is one critique of modern music: “Hence the emergence of a new, more disturbing popular music, one that adds violence to sex and is dually obscene for its celebration of both unrestrained physical gratification and the joys of uncontrolled spirited self-assertion” (Carson Holloway). Our culture is like a raging river that keeps overflowing its banks. Self-control does not deny passion or drive; it only reminds us that a river kept in its banks is much more useful and productive.

On judgment to come. Our culture appears to be very confused about judgment or justice. If a injustice is perceived, then judgment cannot come quick enough. One only needs to read the comments on a story such the death of Walter Scott, a black man, who was shot be a white police officer. On one hand we want speedy judgment, on the other hand, we have an attitude that says “live and let live.” On one hand we are increasingly become a culture that believes that we should accept and tolerate any and every human behavior. On the other hand, there is no room for personal values or behaviors that step outside of the prescribed norm. The CEO of Mozilla, Brendon Eich, ran into this cultural confusion when his employees demanded his resignation when they learned that Eich had donated $1,000 to the pro-marriage Proposition 8 in California.

For Paul, there was not confusion; there will be a payday some day for our behaviors: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10). The goal of any follower of Jesus is not to figure out the grays of Christian ethics, it is to live as Paul said, “ Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27).

Ron Friesen © 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

What is your hope?

In the account of the Early Church there are several accounts of Paul standing in front of his accusers. In one of these accounts, Paul is defending himself before the religious leaders of his day. Here is one of Paul’s defenses:

"I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6).

This defense created quite a stir because his accusers were divided about their view of the possibility of any resurrection. There were two sects of Judaism:  one did not believe in any resurrection (Sadducees) and one sect that believed in a resurrection (Pharisees).

While Paul was a member of the Pharisees he was also a follower of Jesus and believed in the resurrection of Jesus. Paul preached a message of resurrection and declared that Christian hope was based on the reality of Christ’s resurrection.

The debate over the resurrection of Jesus continues as strongly today as it did 2,000 years ago. Several theories about the resurrection have been proposed. There are numerous books that have been written to defend the historicity of he resurrection. Biblical scholar, N. T. Wright wrote one of the most recent. An older classical study was written by Frank Morison.

I believe that one of the significant points by the writer of the Acts of the Holy Spirit is to focus on the hope of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus points us the immortality of human existence. Some day there will be a new heaven and earth that we will occupy.

Are you focused on your hope?

Ron Friesen © 2015

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Does your life matter?

What is your life worth?

A few years ago emails were circulated discussing the value of a person’s life. Many of these emails pointed out the discrepancy between the salary of a schoolteacher and the salary of leading sports figures. It was noted that a schoolteacher contributed more to our society than a player on a basketball team yet the salary of the basketball player was thousand times that of a schoolteacher.

Followers of Jesus may be tempted to ask what value their lives have. In a society that values life based on fame, success, material possession, attractiveness, we may feel that our lives have little value. Well, we may actually be onto something. Read what St. Paul thought about the value of his life:

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (Acts 20:29).

The context of these words is Paul discussing how his life will likely end at the hands of a murderous crowd or magistrate. He finds that fighting for his life is not something he wants to do. The only value he finds in his life is doing what God has asked him to do and that is to talk about the good news of God’s graciousness to all.

What value is your life?

Ron Friesen © 2015

Monday, April 6, 2015

An Easter reprise

Yesterday was Easter Sunday in the Christian Calendar. As I was on Facebook yesterday, I saw various expressions of the meaning of Easter. For some people, Easter was celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For others, Easter was a time of puppies, rabbits, and dyed eggs.

St. Paul went to Athens to bring the Gospel. He preached a sermon to the leaders of the community. Here is part of his sermon,

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.  In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead" (Acts 17:29-31).

If St. Paul were on Facebook yesterday and evaluating the spirituality of our world in the 21st Century, I wonder if he would rewrite this part of his message to: Therefore since we are God’s creation, we should not think that the divine being is like a bunny, or a colored egg or a puppy – an image created out of human imagination. In the past God overlooked such foolishness, but now he command all people everywhere to change their thinking.”

Why should we tell God we are sorry about our misguided view of him? God is going to bring all of us before the Christ to judge us. How do we know that Christ be the final arbiter of right and wrong? Jesus the Christ was appointed God by the resurrection. The early Church believed that the resurrection proved that Jesus of Nazareth was the Lord of life and death. As the Lord of life and death, Jesus was supreme ruler of the world.

Remember the original audience for Paul’s speech is the people who thought they ruled their world: they believed they were supreme in their universe. The resurrected Lord is challenging their idea of who runs the world.

Do you think you run your world? Be careful how you answer. Remember we all have a powerful imagination: have you and I created a god in our imagination? Some day you and I will have to stand before the risen Lord to be judged for our thoughts on God. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

An Easter Table

Two disciples are walking along a dusty Palestinian road discussing the events of the last few days. They are unaware of the excitement in Jerusalem. About seven miles from Jerusalem, they are joined by a stranger who explains to them how what they have experienced the last few days regarding the death and resurrection of Jesus is a fulfillment of their Hebrew Scriptures.

As they enter destined village, the two disciples ask the stranger to be their guest in their home and to share a meal with them. Jesus, as he always does with such invitations, accepts. While they are “at table with them, he (Jesus) took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him” (Luke 24:30-31).

Jesus is still accepting invitations into the homes of people, especially disciples, who forget they are sinners saved by divine goodness. Jesus is still breaking bread and blessing it for those who are tired of the meal served by this world filled with greed, power, and false promises of prosperity.

Jesus says, “Take eat.”

Ronald Friesen © 2015